Gov. Kathy Hochul introduced an array of executive orders and new legislation Wednesday in response to a mass shooting in Buffalo that left 10 dead last week.
The shooting, which authorities said was racially motivated, unfolded at a Tops Friendly Markets store in a historically Black neighborhood. The 18-year-old suspected gunman shot shoppers inside and outside the store, taking the lives of mothers, fathers, friends and longtime activists in the community.
Hochul, speaking with the determined conviction that has characterized her public appearances in recent days, vowed to immediately combat the factors that appeared to lead to the radicalization and arming of the shooter.
"This is a case of an 18-year-old male who was radicalized by white supremacists and white nationalist beliefs," she said, adding that social media platforms provide spaces for that sort of incendiary discourse.
"He was so taken by these racist philosophies…that he drove three hours with one goal - and that was to execute Black New Yorkers," Hochul said. "This is white supremacy at its worst…and now it has taken members of our family away."
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How will NY fight extremism, threats?
She signed an executive order to establish a unit within the state's Office of Counterterrorism, which is part of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, that would focus exclusively on the rise of domestic terrorism and extremism.
Counties would be required to perform reviews of their systems meant to identify terrorism threats in their areas and to submit plans to confront racially-motivated threats to the state by the end of the year, Hochul said.
Additionally, New York will create a dedicated State Police unit within the state Intelligence Center to monitor social media for these threats.
"The most serious threat we face as a nation is from within," Hochul said. "There's a feeding frenzy going on on social media. Hate breeds more hate."
Attorney General Letitia James simultaneously announced the launch of an investigation into social media companies that the suspected shooter allegedly used to discuss his plans for the killings.
Domestic terror attacks and plots have tripled nationally in the past decade, the governor's office noted Wednesday. There were 73 terrorist attacks or unearthed plots in the U.S. last year, including 38 white supremacist and similarly like-minded attacks or plots, the office stated.
Also at issue was New York's red flag law, which allows courts to issue an extreme risk protection order that temporarily prevents people who pose a threat to themselves or others from buying or possessing firearms.
The suspected shooter, Payton Gendron, made a threat last year at Susquehanna Valley High School near his Southern Tier hometown of Conklin. The threat was reviewed by authorities and resulted in a referral for a mental health evaluation.
A red flag law request was not filed in connection to Gendron's school-related threat and mental health evaluation in 2021, state police said this week. The Broome County District Attorney, Michael Korchak, determined state police, educators and medical workers acted appropriately in determining the suspect did not pose a danger when he made the threat last year.
Now, via executive order, state police will be required to file a red flag law request when they believe an individual is a threat to themselves or others, Hochul said, adding that the state would provide criteria for law enforcement to follow.
"We believe that together these steps are necessary to confront rising hatred and white supremacism in our state," she said.
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How could NY's gun laws change?
Hochul hinted this week that she'd tighten New York's gun laws in the shooting's immediate aftermath, saying legal loopholes should be closed to prevent future gun violence.
New York's Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, passed in 2013 following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, narrowed the state's gun laws by imposing universal federal background checks on gun sales, and banning the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons with one or more specific characteristics, including types of magazines, stocks or grips.
The weapon used in the Buffalo massacre was legal in New York, but had been illegally modified with a high-capacity magazine.
"We're always trying to stay ahead of the criminals, but we find out that they take advantage of loopholes in laws and I'm going to keep closing them," Hochul said Sunday.
She highlighted weapons labeled as AOWs, or "any other weapon." These are defined by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as any weapon or device that can be concealed on a person and discharge a shot fueled by the energy of an explosive.
AOWs could include pistols and revolvers with specific characteristics, such as certain firing capabilities or lengths of the barrel.
"They're concealable, high powered, and can be modified to have a high capacity magazine," Hochul said.
She plans to work with lawmakers to introduce legislation that would revise the state definition of a firearm to include those weapons.
Another piece of new legislation would require that all pistols manufactured or delivered to licensed New York dealers be "microstamped," meaning that all cartridge casings would be imprinted with a unique set of small characters to trace the casing back to the gun that fired it.
This legislation would also require all law enforcement agencies to report the recovery of any crime gun within 24 hours of its discovery.
The governor has been focused on combating crime and gun violence across New York, promising in her January State of the State address to "address every factor contributing to the pervasive unease many are feeling on our streets."
In October, Hochul signed a law that addressed "ghost guns," which can be purchased as components that are then assembled and used as a complete operating weapon. The sale of ghost guns is now banned in New York, and only licensed gunsmiths or dealers can possess the unfinished frames.
How could Supreme Court ruling factor in?
The Buffalo shooting comes as the Supreme Court is considering whether to loosen New York's laws around gun licensure. The case before the court has to do with whether New Yorkers have to show "proper cause," or a need for personal protection, in attempting to obtain a concealed carry license.
"I call on the Supreme Court, which is actually considering rolling back some of the protections that we put in place here in New York to protect citizens from gun violence - we encourage them to leave the law alone," Hochul said Sunday.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams sounded the alarm on the pending ruling at a Harlem press conference last week, saying that the ruling could have "a major impact" on "a densely populated community like New York."
"We should be very afraid," Adams said.
Sarah Taddeo is the New York State Team Editor for the USA Today Network. Got a story tip or comment? Contact Sarah at STADDEO@Gannett.com or on Twitter @Sjtaddeo. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Please consider becoming a digital subscriber.
This article originally appeared on New York State Team: Buffalo shooting: Kathy Hochul signs executive order, proposes gun laws