Kirsten Gillibrand, a newly minted senator, finds herself in something of a tug of war because of her positions on gun control legislation.
Downstate gun control advocates are expressing cautious optimism that Gillibrand, despite her 100 percent rating from the National Rifle Association, will temper her views now that she represents the entire state. Her Senate colleague, fellow Democrat Charles Schumer, has supported Gillibrand’s appointment, but he predicted “her views would evolve” on gun control.
Albany resident Joe Sullivan, a gun owner but not a hunter, expressed hope Tuesday that Schumer’s assessment of Gillibrand is wrong.
“They’re going to put the pressure on her,” said Sullivan, adding, “Let’s get behind her and give her some support from upstate. I want to bring her back on track because I sense she’s drifting away,” said Sullivan of his perception that Gillibrand may compromise her gun rights positions to make herself electable downstate.
“She’s been right on the gun issues,” said Fulton County Clerk William E. Eschler, a Republican. “Regardless of party affiliation,” Eschler said, “at least we have some representation upstate. It’s a step up from being represented by someone from Arkansas,” he said, referring to Gillibrand’s predecessor, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“Our other senator,” Eschler said of Schumer, “makes no bones about the fact he wants to take our guns away.”
Gun owners seem heartened by Gillibrand’s gun positions. “That’s why she got elected in a Republican district,” said gun enthusiast David Blakeslee of Bleecker, expressing his approval for what he said is the two-term congresswoman’s support for the Second Amendment.
That view is echoed by Harold L. Palmer, president of the New York State Conservation Council, an organization of more than 300,000 members dedicated to the promotion of hunting, fishing, trapping and other outdoor sports.
“We think she does the right thing on gun rights issues,” said Palmer. He said Gillibrand’s positions have been distorted by gun control advocates. Palmer said Gillibrand simply supports the constitutional right of “law-abiding citizens to own guns,” and he predicted that when she runs for election in 2010, a large percentage of downstate residents will vote for her despite this.
Gillibrand’s spokeswoman, Rachel McEneny, was busy Tuesday as her boss was about to take her Senate seat. But she took a moment to point out: “[Gillibrand] is from upstate New York, and she wants to protect hunters’ rights.”
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Gillibrand seemed to open the door to the compromise Sullivan said he fears.
While declaring hunters’ rights a “core value for our region and for our state,” she acknowledged the concern “in our city communities about gun violence” and said with her new statewide role, “my advocacy will be broader.”
Gillibrand does not own a gun, McEneny said, but her parents and her brother are hunters. McEneny said the gun control community has mischaracterized Gillibrand’s positions on the legislation that forms the bulk of her gun rights record in Congress.
Gun control advocates say there is no confusion about the two bills Gillibrand supported: one that sought to lift gun ownership restrictions in Washington and one that gun control advocates contend limits the ability of police agencies to trace guns trafficked across state lines.
“It is clear that the public at both the national and state level want reasonable regulations of guns and Kirsten Gillibrand stands outside that mainstream,” said Jackie Hilly, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.
Each time gun control advocates raise an issue, Hilly said, Gillibrand characterizes it as a threat to hunters.
She said the bills Gillibrand sponsored “are straight out of the NRA playbook” and “have nothing to do with hunters. We’re talking about crime guns, not hunters,” said Hilly. She said the most recent bill Gillibrand backed would affect the ability of law enforcement agencies to trace the more than 40,000 handguns purchased in 2007 in states where control laws are lax and then used in crimes in other states.
“New Yorkers Against Gun Violence is not against hunters,” said Hilly. But, she said, Gillibrand shields her actions under the guise of protecting hunters. “Every time we say apple, she says orange,” Hilly said.