CAPITAL REGION — With a national debate underway about gun control, two local lawmakers are shifting their stances, despite having received financial support from the National Rifle Association.
With pressure for congressional action growing in the wake of the Feb. 14 murders of 17 people at a Parkland, Florida, high school, 19th Congressional District representative John Faso, R-Kinderhook, has called for a vote on legislation to improve the federal background check system. So far, that measure hasn’t come to a vote.
21st Congressional District representative Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, on Tuesday announced she would also back the background check bill, as well as separate legislation to ban “bump stocks,” devices that allow assault-style rifles to be fired more rapidly. Such a device was reportedly used in the Florida school shooting.
“I am a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights and will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress on bipartisan solutions to help end tragic incidents like in Parkland, Florida,” Stefanik said in a prepared statement. “These two pieces of legislation that I am supporting today are common-sense reforms to prevent gun violence in schools and better protect our children.”
The positions are notable because both Republicans have had the firm support — and have been firm supporters of — the NRA, which has taken a near-absolute position against any new restrictions on firearms access.
Since 2014, Faso’s campaign committee has received $7,950 from the NRA, and Stefanik has received $3,000. Faso, who represents the Hudson Valley and eastern Mohawk Valley, is believed to be vulnerable in his 2018 re-election bid, as he represents a district in which Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans.
Democrats also hope to unseat Stefanik in what has been a historically conservative North Country district.
Both legislators last November voted for the Fix NICS Act, which would require federal services and agencies to promptly submit information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — a response to a November mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in which 26 churchgoers were killed by a former member of the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force had not reported the shooter’s military misconduct history, which would have disqualified him from buying a gun.
In November, though, the fixes were tied to legislation that would have expanded the right to carry a concealed firearm. That legislation passed the House but stalled in the Senate. Now, Faso and 18 other Republicans are calling for a separate vote on the background check legislation.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has yet to respond to calls for a vote on the background check measure.
The Capital Region’s other Congressional representative, U.S. Rep. Paul D. Tonko, D-Amsterdam, is a consistent vocal supporter of much stronger gun control measures and has received no money from gun rights groups.
At the state level, the NRA — which spent more than $5 million on campaign donations last year and was the top gun rights lobbying group nationally — has spent little in New York since the state Legislature, in late 2012, passed the New York SAFE Act, one of the toughest gun control laws in the country. The NRA has donated $16,000 to the Conservative Party since 2013 but has not donated to individual Capital Region candidates, according to state records.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, however, has donated about $26,000 to state-level candidates in the Capital Region since 2014. All of it has been given to Republicans, who in upstate New York generally oppose the SAFE Act, which is unpopular with many of their constituents.
The Shooting Sports Foundation, which nationally spent about $3.3 million last year, is more clearly affiliated with the gun manufacturing industry than the NRA is.
The top local recipient has been state Sen. George A. Amedore, R-Rotterdam, an outspoken opponent of the SAFE Act, who has received $2,750 from the Shooting Sports Foundation since 2015.
In 2014, when Amedore defeated Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk in a hard-fought and expensive race, he received $900 from the foundation and $200 from Gunsmoke Trading Co., a private gun store in Rotterdam.
Amedore did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
State Sen. Kathleen Marchione, R-Halfmoon, received $500 from the Shooting Sports Foundation in 2014, and Sen. James Seward, R-Oneonta, received $500 from the foundation in 2016. Other local Republicans in the Senate, including Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, and Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, have not received any gun lobby funds.
In a procedural vote in Albany on Wednesday, all the Senate Republicans declined to take up Democratic legislation that would have banned bump stocks, expanded background checks and allowed judges to order removal of guns from their owners. The Republicans have a working majority in the chamber.