In certain areas of New York, gun violence this year is at its highest level since the early 2000s.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, 51 people were shot across New York state, compared to 13 people who died from COVID-19. For a state that was once considered the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo says the state now needs to turn its attention to a different sort of epidemic.

Cuomo on Tuesday declared a first of its kind state of emergency around gun violence and committed almost $139 million to addressing root causes that could have led to this rise in violence around the state.  

This seven-point plan loops in not only New York State Police, but also the State Health Department, with the governor calling the rise in gun violence a public health emergency.

Thomas Mungeer, president of the New York State Troopers PBA, said they are glad the state is finally addressing what he calls a pervasive issue.

“Do you throw money at a problem?” Mungeer questioned. “Well, in this case, I think you do, when it comes in the form of manpower. I need more troopers at the ground level so they can promote investigators and be able to fight this.”

According to the governor’s office, 74% of guns used in criminal activity here in New York were purchased out of state.

Cuomo says they will now be creating a "Gun Trafficking Intervention Unit" within the State Police that will set up a “border wall.” This unit will trace gun traffickers and share this data with surrounding states.

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay says while he does think this rise in shootings needs to be addressed at a state level, he also blames certain laws passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature, such as bail reform and raise the age, as causes for some of this violence.

“I find it a little rich that both the governor and I guess some in the majorities in both houses are now talking about the crime issue in New York when they spent a couple years dismantling various laws in place that were tough on crime,” Barclay said. “And now we pass all this soft on crime legislation, and lo and behold, we've had a big boost sadly in violent crime.”

The state will also be creating a new Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the State Health Department.

Local police departments will be required to report gun violence data weekly to this office, which will then direct resources to areas where shootings are on the rise.

Glenn Liebman, with the Mental Health Association in New York State, praised having gun violence addressed from a public health standpoint rather than as a mental health issue.

“Unfortunately, there's this perception that people who have mental health issues are more violent than the general public,” Liebman said. “And the reality is that fact based, scientifically based, evidence based that that's just not true. We still have to get to the root cause. And I think that this could hopefully get us to that root cause.”

In response to the new Office of Gun Violence Prevention, a spokesperson for the State Health Department said in a statement, “Treating gun violence as a public health issue is critical so that we can utilize both short-term solutions to manage the immediate gun violence crisis and reduce the shooting rate, as well as long-term solutions focusing on community-based intervention and prevention strategies to break the cycle of violence.”