New York’s New Senator

Controversy erupted last week when New York Governor David A. Paterson announced U.S. Representative Kirsten Gillibrand as his appointee to fill the Senate seat vacated by now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Senator Gillibrand, an upstate Democrat from New York’s 20th District, has drawn strong criticism from politicians and advocacy groups in her home state regarding her positions on gun issues. While in the House of Representatives, Senator Gillibrand continually supported legislation to weaken gun regulations and received an ‘A’ grade and 100% rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA). Jackie Hilly, Executive Director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, stated that, “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.”

GillibrandGillibrand has stated that she is “very pro-Second Amendment” and supports the rights of hunters and sportsmen, but also believes that “gun safety, keeping guns out of the hands of children [and] making sure our guns are the safest in the world” should be goals of lawmakers of both sides of the aisle. Her voting record, however, suggests that she has shown little inclination towards compromise.

Last year, Gillibrand co-sponsored H.R. 4900, the “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Reform and Firearms Modernization Act,” in the House. This NRA-drafted legislation would have made the “Tiahrt Amendment” restrictions on crime gun trace data permanent, allowed law-breaking gun dealers to claim ignorance of the law as a full defense, blocked ATF from modernizing and updating its recordkeeping procedures, and codified the “Fire Sale Loophole” which allows crooked dealers to sell off their inventory without conducting background checks aftertheir federal licenses have been revoked. H.R. 4900 would have effectively gutted law enforcement’s ability to curb the illegal trafficking of firearms across state lines, which occurs on a daily basis in the United States. As a New York representative, you would think Gillibrand would have been familiar with the scope of the problem—in 2007, 70% of New York’s crime guns were trafficked in illegally from outside states.

In 2008, Gillibrand also co-sponsored H.R. 6691, the “Second Amendment Enforcement Act.” This NRA-drafted bill would have repealed the District of Columbia’s registration requirement for handguns, legalized semiautomatic assault weapons, allowed individuals who have been voluntarily committed to psychiatric institutions within the last five years to own firearms, and prohibited the D.C. Council from enacting any gun-related legislation in the future. Most disturbingly, H.R. 6691 would have allowed individuals to openly carry loaded rifles and assault weapons on D.C.’s streets. Gillibrand has frequently stated that “hunting rights” are very important to her. After two years of living in the District of Columbia, you would think she would be aware that the only thing hunted in the city is human beings.

Due to Gillibrand’s strong pro-NRA stance, New York Representative Carolyn McCarthy has promised to challenge the new Senator in the 2010 Democratic Senate Primary. Rep. McCarthy has long advocated for stronger gun laws, having lost her husband in the 1993 Long Island Rail Road shooting massacre. To her credit, Senator Gillibrand has been gracious to her colleague, and even offered to work on Rep. McCarthy’s “signature bill,” the “NICS Improvement Act.” This bill was initially drafted to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to prevent individuals disqualified under federal law from purchasing firearms. However, the NRA was allowed to rewrite the bill during the 11thhour to include provisions that would restore gun-purchasing rights to veterans who have been deemed mentally incompetent by the VA. Time will tell if this was a serious offer by Senator Gillibrand to work to improve our background check system (which lacks millions of mental health records that would disqualify purchasers), or yet another attempt to appease the gun lobby.

Senator Gillibrand replaces a legislator with a strong history of support for gun control measures. Hillary Clinton made repeated efforts during her days as First Lady and Senator to reduce gun violence. While running for president, Senator Clinton advocated reinstating the federal Assault Weapons Ban, repealing the Tiahrt Amendment and closing the Gun Show Loophole that allows individuals to buy guns from private sellers without a background check. Senator Gillibrand’s views on gun control appear to stand diametrically opposed to those of her predecessor.

Despite her past record, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence is eager to work with Senator Gillibrand and educate her about the problem of gun violence in New York and the country as a whole. Like Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), we hope that Senator Gillibrand’s views will “evolve” and that she will represent all of her constituents—statewide—during her time on Capitol Hill.

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