Cuomo confronts Dicker on guns and, of all things, a question about process

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Fred Dicker watching Andrew Cuomo. (Matt Ryan via New York Now)
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Governor Andrew Cuomo denied he rushed his gun control legislation through the New York State legislature to in order to garner headlines and beat President Obama's unveiling of similar legislation on the federal level.

"I started talking about this before there was any suggestion that there was any report coming out by the vice president," Cuomo said in a radio interview. "We were talking about this in December," and said there was speculation in September about having a special session to consider gun-control legislation, "so this predated all of that."

Cuomo made the remarks in the course of his weekly appearance on the radio show of New York Post state editor Fred Dicker, a longtime booster of the governor who has been harshly critical of the gun-control package, which he called unprecedentedly "divisive". 

"This is about the constitution, our founding fathers," Dicker said.

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The gun owners who stand to be affected by it, Dicker said, are "people of principle, they love their country, and they see themselves as under attack."

Cuomo, a skilled political tactician whose public approval rating has rarely dipped below 70 percent since he took office as attorney general in 2006, said Dicker's description was wrong.

"If the question is divisiveness, this is overwhelmingly popular," Cuomo said.

"That's what Steve Greenberg found," Cuomo said, referring to the Siena pollster whose methods Cuomo has criticized in the past. "It's not divisive, it's passion."

Dicker had pummeled previous guests, like State Senate co-leader Jeff Klein, with hypothetical scenarios of a homeowner trying to ward off three armed burglars with a gun that can only fire seven bullets before needed to be reloaded. Dicker has said restricting access to high-capacity magazines, as Cuomo's legislation does, will make New Yorkers in rural areas less safe.

Cuomo, though, had an ready response, saying it was a matter of odds.

"There is some statistical probability for that situation," he told Dicker, referring to the home-invasion scenario.

But, he said, "I think the probably is higher" that the weapon could be used by a mentally ill person or a criminal.

The govenor also defended the process by which he got the bill passed.

When asked by Dicker why he used a "message of necessity" in order to circumvent the three-day waiting before the legislation could be voted on, Cuomo said he wanted to avoid a rush of people buying the guns that would soon be outlawed.

"I'm not going to give the public notice, 'I'm going to do an assault weapons ban in three days. Quick, run out and buy an assault weapon before the ban went into place,' which is exactly what happened," Cuomo said.

That argument didn't apply when Cuomo used a message of necessity to pass legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, formalizing gerrymandered district lines or creating a new, cheaper pension plan for future public employees, Dicker pointed out.

"I think it's a red herring in the arguments," Cuomo responded. "It's always opponents to the argument who argue process over substance."

That is a patently false generalization, of course: the pro-gun-control but also pro-good-government Times editorial page, for example, praised Cuomo's bill while saying that it passed with "disturbing speed."

Cuomo's comment almost seemed to be aimed specifically at Dicker, who, in other circumstances, has been a great admirer of Cuomo's willingness to ignore process-obsessed ninnies to get things done.

In a column earlier this year headlined "Andy puts best feats forward," Dicker wrote, "New York politics isn’t high-school civics and, as Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck famously observed: If you want to sleep well at night, it’s best to avoid watching the making of sausages or politics. ... Cuomo’s success this year ... and his achievements last year strike many as a profoundly important paradigm shift, ushering in an era of smooth-running government in Albany."

That was all before Barack Obama won re-election, and Sandy Hook happened, and the governor decided to take up gun control.