In a 2009 book highlighting the over-criminalization of modern society, criminal defense attorney Harvey Silverglate explains how the federal government abuses its regulatory powers in order to effect policy changes it is unable to achieve through legislation.
While the primary culprit in Three Felonies A Day is Uncle Sam, the current governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, deserves at least an honorable mention as a practitioner of this dark art.
Cuomo’s ongoing crusade against the National Rifle Association presents a textbook example of how a governor can employ the regulatory tools at his disposal, to punish an otherwise lawful organization against which he harbors deep animosity.
The tool with which Cuomo has been hammering the NRA is the general power of his State to regulate insurance companies so as to protect its citizens against unscrupulous purveyors of insurance products. Few would argue against the state regulating providers of insurance products as a general matter, in order to clear the marketplace of corrupt insurance salespersons or insolvent carriers.
What is highly questionable and clearly unethical (if not illegal) is the manner by which Cuomo and his cronies within the Empire State’s bureaucratic labyrinth, are targeting insurance companies for doing nothing more than offering to defend insured persons who have used a firearm in self-defense.
Unlike many politicians who try to hide their anti-gun sentiments under a cloak of “public safety,” Cuomo flaunts his gun-control sentiments openly; wearing his hatred of the NRA as a badge of honor. A decade prior to being elected Governor in 2010, Cuomo had used his position as a then-federal government official (Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) to press his gun control agenda against firearms manufacturers, and even to limit the ability of residents in federally-subsidized housing to lawfully own firearms.
It is Cuomo’s zeal to damage the NRA while serving as Governor, however, which should worry all citizens concerned with having limits on the regulatory reach of government, and on those in positions of power to pursue personal vendettas.
The latest chapter in the ongoing war between Cuomo and the NRA started last year, when the civil-rights organization found itself in the crosshairs of the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS). This Department, headed by Cuomo-appointed Maria Vullo, had begun to investigate insurance companies doing business in New York that had agreed to underwrite policies offered by “Carry Guard.” What drew the interest of Vullo and her boss, was the fact that Carry Guard was a recently-launched program under the auspices of the NRA.
Carry Guard’s mortal sin was that it offered to insure individuals against liability for using a firearm in lawful self-defense. That was deemed sufficient basis for DFS to exert pressure on insurance carriers to stop doing business with the NRA. A multi-million dollar fine against one carrier (Lockton), drove home the point that any insurance company wishing to do business in the Empire State had best not have any connection to the NRA.
Cuomo’s anti-NRA vendetta is made somewhat easier because the NRA happens to have been incorporated in New York (in 1871); obviously the organization made this decision in an age in which gun ownership was not deemed by state authorities to be the mark of Satan. In today’s regulatory-heavy environment, of course, any company doing business in a state subjects itself to myriad regulatory edicts. Those regulatory powers, unfortunately, are prone to abuse by elected and appointed officials empowered to exercise them; here, Cuomo excels.
Cuomo and his trusted DFS sidekick have made it clear that a corporate entity conducts business at its own peril in New York, if it pursues – even indirectly – a policy at odds with his strict, bordering on obsessive, anti-gun agenda. These rogue regulators have turned on its head the policy of employing the regulatory power of the government legitimately to minimize “risk” in the insurance arena. The “risk” insurance companies in New York now face is the very real danger of being targeted, fined, and very possibly put out of business, for nothing more than having a connection to or relationship with the NRA.
So confident is Cuomo in his regulatory tyranny that he declares it openly and proudly in public. Hopefully, a lawsuit filed by the NRA to put a stop to this regulatory intimidation will succeed where ethics, common sense and fair play have thus far failed.
Bob Barr is president and CEO of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation (LEEF) and a member of the NRA Board of Directors. From 1995-2003, he represented Georgia’s Seventh Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.