The NRA vs. Authoritarianism

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RxCowboy

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From the WSJ Opinion (not news, for those of you who don't know the difference) page:

The NRA vs. Authoritarianism
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo thinks Second Amendment supporters are not entitled to the First Amendment, either.

By James Freeman
May 15, 2018 2:50 p.m. ET

Some leftist pundits are too busy claiming that Donald Trump’s reduction of federal power amounts to authoritarianism to notice the genuine article in the state of New York. Or maybe they don’t care.

But if there are any civil libertarians in the so-called progressive movement, they might benefit from the following thought experiment: Read the lawsuit filed on Friday by the National Rifle Association against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, his Department of Financial Services, and its Superintendent Maria Vullo. Also check out the governor’s April 19 press release on the topic. Then imagine that the target of Mr. Cuomo’s recent assault on political speech is anyone other than the gun-rights group.

Mr. Cuomo has often found the NRA to be a useful foil as he appeals to New York’s liberal electorate. And perhaps he has never needed to shoot at the NRA target more than right now, as he faces a surprisingly strong challenge for the Democratic nomination. The Daily Beast writes:

Cynthia Nixon on Monday picked up a major endorsement from the left in her race against incumbent New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo.​
The former Sex and the City star and longtime political activist won the official backing of Our Revolution, the political organization spun off from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) presidential campaign.​
But his latest effort to silence gun-rights advocates could have an impact long after this election is decided. Last month Mr. Cuomo’s office announced:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today directed the Department of Financial Services to urge insurance companies, New York State-chartered banks, and other financial services companies licensed in New York to review any relationships they may have with the National Rifle Association and other similar organizations. Upon this review, the companies are encouraged to consider whether such ties harm their corporate reputations and jeopardize public safety.​
The same day, Ms. Vullo sent a warning to the financial companies she regulates under the heading: “Guidance on Risk Management Relating to the NRA and Similar Gun Promotion.” New York’s top financial regulator wrote:

While the social backlash against the National Rifle Association (the “NRA”) and similar organizations that promote guns that lead to senseless violence has in the past been strong, the nature and the intensity of the voices now speaking out, including the voices of the passionate, courageous, and articulate young people who have experienced this recent horror first hand, is a strong reminder that such voices can no longer be ignored and that society, as a whole, has a responsibility to act and is no longer willing to stand by and wait and witness more tragedies caused by gun violence, but instead is demanding change now.​

It might be hard to tell from the letter, but Ms. Vullo’s department was created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Its ostensible mission is to prevent fraud and protect the safety and soundness of New York financial institutions. As she reveals in the letter, Ms. Vullo has accepted Mr. Cuomo’s broad definition of financial risks:

Our financial institutions can play a significant role in promoting public health and safety in the communities they serve, thereby fulfilling their corporate social responsibility to those communities. They are also in the business of managing risks, including their own reputational risks, by making risk management decisions on a regular basis regarding if and how they will do business with certain sectors or entities...The Department encourages regulated institutions to review any relationships they have with the NRA or similar gun promotion organizations, and to take prompt actions to managing these risks and promote public health and safety.​

So banks wishing to avoid the reputational risk of doing business with people who say things the governor doesn’t like are strongly encouraged to cease such business.

And it’s more than encouragement. Having selected the target, Ms. Vullo’s agency has over the past year been finding alleged offenses involving insurance that covers legal costs for lawful gun owners involved in self-defense shootings. The Journal reports:

New York’s Department of Financial Services began probing the NRA “Carry Guard” insurance policies last fall, and the program halted sales in New York in the wake of the probe. Sales continue in other states, but that could change.​
Earlier this week the agency fined the broker who administers the program and the carrier underwriting the policies. Missouri-based Lockton Cos. agreed to a $7 million fine, and Chubb Ltd. settled with a $1.3 million fine.​
The NRA says in its lawsuit that similar products not marketed as part of an affinity program for NRA members haven’t been targeted. The suit also says that settling companies have had to agree to stop doing business with the NRA, even for products that the state still considers legal.

It turns out that Mr. Cuomo has a habit of pursuing gun control using governmental powers never intended for such a purpose. The Washington Post editorialized in 1999:

The announcement by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo that his agency would assist public housing authorities in suing handgun manufacturers is disquieting even for those who, like us, strongly support rigorous controls on handguns. Mr. Cuomo’s objective -- to do something about the gun violence that has devastated public housing projects -- is laudable...​
...But it nonetheless seems wrong for an agency of the federal government to organize other plaintiffs to put pressure on an industry -- even a distasteful industry -- to achieve policy results the administration has not been able to achieve through normal legislation or regulation. It is an abuse of a valuable system, one that could make it less valuable as people come to view the legal system as nothing more than an arm of policymakers.​
And it’s wrong to use powers intended to ensure the health of financial institutions to silence those with whom the governor disagrees on public policy. The main “reputational risk” here for financial companies is that they will serve clients who are unpopular in the governor’s office. If Mr. Cuomo can then freeze the otherwise law-abiding clients out of the financial system, he can put them out of business.

That’s tyranny, and if the Cuomo precedent stands against the NRA, count on it being used against other controversial speakers in the future.