21st CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT -- Republicans and supporters of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik are circulating a secretly filmed video in which Democratic congressional candidate Tedra Cobb expresses her support for an assault weapons ban, but says she can't voice that support publicly.
Cobb made the statements while meeting with a group of teenage supporters on May 18, though the video was not posted on YouTube until Monday. By Wednesday afternoon, it had been viewed more than 2,000 times. Saratoga County Republican Chairman Carl Zeilman was among those who shared it.
"When I was at this thing today, it was the first table I was at, a woman said, ‘How do you feel about assault rifles?' And I said they should be banned," Cobb can be heard saying in the video recorded by one of the attendees. "And I said -- you know, people were getting up to go, to go get their lunch because it was a buffet -- and I just said to her, 'I want you to know Cindy, I cannot say that ... I won't win.'"
It remains unclear what role gun control will play in the general election, but all the Democrats who were running in the spring for Stefanik's seat favored some increased gun access restrictions. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, outspokenly supports gun rights.
After the video controversy surfaced, Cobb's social media posts focused not on guns, but on what she said were Republican health care policies that would raise insurance premiums and threaten coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
When the video was taken, Cobb was one of five candidates competing ahead of the June 26 Democratic primary in the 21st Congressional District, which represents the Adirondacks and North Country. The district has many hunters and a strong gun culture.
Cobb, a business consultant and former St. Lawrence County legislator, won the primary handily, and will face Stefanik in the fall.
Some of the students present at the informal porch meeting -- the location was unclear, but conversation indicates it's in the Saratoga Springs School District -- had been involved in nationwide student protests in the spring, protests sparked by the Parkland, Florida, school shootings in February.
At the meeting, the students pressed Cobb on gun control. May 18 was the day of the Sante Fe High School shootings in Texas, in which 10 people were killed.
On Wednesday, Cobb's campaign released a statement saying an assault weapons ban was "a stalemate issue," and politicians should be searching for common ground on gun violence.
"I was meeting with some young people who were speaking about their very real fear of gun violence in their schools," said Cobb, in the prepared statement. "I told them the truth -- that the inability of our political system to talk about issues and practical solutions without politics getting in the way is why Washington has not made any progress to protect them. Even on things we agree on -- like universal background checks and prohibiting the mentally ill from getting a firearm.
"Young people show a lot more common sense on these issues than the politicians do. We need to follow their lead."
There was an assault weapons ban in the United States from 1994 until 2004, when it expired without serious discussion about renewing it. There have been no serious legislative efforts to restore it since then.
"There are a lot of common sense things we need to do right now to make our kids safer without getting stuck on a stalemate issue like an Assault Weapons Ban that would not pass this Congress and would not get signed by this president," Cobb said in the Wednesday prepared statement. "It’s a moot point, and voters in the North Country know that. Let’s talk about the things where there is common ground, where we can make progress right now. Our kids deserve no less."
Stefanik, who is seeking her third term representing the North Country congressional district, is an outspoken supporter of Second Amendment gun rights. Her spokesman, Lenny Alcivar, commented in several tweets.
"Asked today by MULTIPLE
#NY21 reporters about misleading voters for fear of losing the election, Cobb offered MORE dishonesty and hypocrisy, refusing to publicly affirm what she said when she thought no one was looking," Alcivar wrote on Twitter.