MANHATTAN (CN) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to impart a domestic-terrorism label on mass shootings by white supremacists is earning accolades from political and activist leaders.
“It is imperative to properly identify and name the threat if we are to fight it,” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said in a statement. “Domestic terrorism poses as great a danger as its international counterpart.”
Cuomo introduced the Hate Crimes Domestic Terrorism Act on Thursday, just over a week after 22 people were killed at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, by a gunman who had posted an anti-immigrant screed online earlier in the day.
In a state that saw the worst international terrorist attack in the nation’s history on Sept. 11, 2001, Cuomo’s proposed law recognizes that threats come from the inside, too.
“We still treat terrorism as an act committed by foreigners,” Cuomo told an audience Thursday at the New York Bar Association. “It is. But only in part. It is now a two-front war on terrorism.”
If the bill passes the Legislature, New York will be the first state to have such a law. It already has strict gun laws.
Under the proposal, mass shooters attacking groups of people based on “their actual or perceived race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, gender identity or expression, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation” could spend life in prison without parole if convicted.
“This change would effectively treat these acts as they should: as terrorist crimes, carrying the same penalty as other terrorist crimes,” says the announcement from Cuomo’s office.
The new law would define “mass casualty” as the murder of one person and attempted murders of at least two more. It would also designate a domestic terrorism task force to investigate and help prevent mass shootings.
Convicted mass shooters in the U.S. are already punished harshly, sometimes even with the death sentence.
Rich Azzopardi, senior adviser to Governor Cuomo, said the new law is different because of the way it classifies mass casualties.
It’s also an update to pre-existing terrorism law. Written in the aftermath of Sept. 11, U.S. terrorism legislation is a product of its time, but Azzopardi said our existing understanding of terrorism is that one of the goals is destabilizing a government.
“That is not necessarily what you can say about the hate crime,” said Azzopardi. “If you’re motivated by hate, a lot of these guys don’t care about the larger implications of what they do.”
He referenced hate-motivated mass shootings in the last four years that have left a total of 80 people dead: at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida; historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina; and at the Wal-Mart this month in El Paso.
“That’s not ideological terrorism,” Azzopardi said. “That is hate-fueled mass killings, and we believe that’s domestic terrorism. We believe we should call that what it is — we believe it should be treated the same.”
Cuomo called on Congress to enact similar legislation. Republican Senator Martha McSally has said she will introduce a bill next month that would make domestic terrorism a federal crime.
Republican State Senator and Deputy Minority Leader Joseph Griffo appeared open to Cuomo’s proposal in a statement Thursday, and put in a good word for McSally’s as well.
“The recent acts of mass violence that we have seen throughout the country are unacceptable, intolerable and must be addressed,” Griffo said in a statement Thursday. “While I am willing to consider the Governor’s proposal, I believe that the proposal put forth by Arizona Sen. Martha McSally should be considered at the national level.”