Updated: New York’s most prominent gun rights and gun control advocates

an AR-15, the weapon used in the Parkland, Florida school shooting
an AR-15, the weapon used in the Parkland, Florida school shooting
Anatoly Vartanov/Shutterstock
An AR-15, the weapon used in the Parkland, Florida school shooting

Updated: New York’s most prominent gun rights and gun control advocates

The latest mass shooting splits New York politicians.
February 21, 2018

The carnage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., was the latest mass shooting to rock the country, provoking outrage and activism from gun control advocates, including the surviving students themselves. Politicians across the country are reacting to the 17 deaths with typical announcements of thoughts and prayers, but some are also calling for greater support of mental health and gun control initiatives. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo touted the 2013 passage of the SAFE Act in the state Legislature, which banned guns with assault-style features, including AR-15s, the weapon used in the Parkland massacre, as the best response to mass shootings.

Republican lawmakers have been more hesitant to consider passing stricter gun control legislation as a solution, instead calling for greater investment in mental health initiatives, or preventing individuals with mental health issues from obtaining guns.

As the debate over how to respond to the high number of mass shootings roils the country, here is a guide to a few of New York’s most prominent gun rights and gun control advocates.

Gun rights advocates:

Rep. Claudia Tenney

The NRA PAC donated $5,950 to Tenney in the 2016 election cycle, and she has received $1,000 from gun rights advocates in 2018. She obtained the NRA’s endorsement in 2016, two years after she criticized them for endorsing her opponent, incumbent Rep. Richard Hanna, in the Republican primary. With Hanna’s retirement and Tenney vying for a now-open seat, she accepted the support and the “A” rating from an organization she once accused of putting “politics over principles.” Tenney has described herself as a “life member of the NRA, gun owner and shooting sports enthusiast.”

The freshman congresswoman tweeted on the day of the Parkland shooting that she was “Praying for everyone involved in today's terrible tragedy in Florida.” A week later, she said in a radio interview that many mass shooters "end up being Democrats.” She later doubled down on that comment, accusing “the media and liberals” of demonizing gun-owners and saying her comments were “in response to a question about the failure to prosecute illegal gun crime.” Tenney may be in a politically precarious position, as her seat is designated a toss-up by the Cook Political Report.

Rep. John Katko

Katko received $9,900 from the National Rifle Association’s political action committee in the 2016 election cycle, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group tracking money in U.S. politics. He received $3,000 from gun rights PACs or individuals in the 2018 election cycle. Katko was endorsed by the NRA in his 2014 bid against Democratic incumbent Rep. Dan Maffei, and received an “A” rating from the organization. He was also an original sponsor of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which passed the House in December and is now under consideration in the Senate, and would allow someone with a state-issued permit to carry a concealed weapon to carry it across state lines. It has been strongly opposed by law enforcement officials in New York, who say the bill represents a threat to security in New York City.

After the Parkland shooting, Katko said in a statement that he was frustrated by the inability of Congress to address mass shootings, and that he was launching a bipartisan effort with California Democratic Rep. Grace Napolitano to examine the link between mental health issues and gun violence. "The common thread in most, if not all, of these instances is mental illness,” Katko said, and suggested that he would support legislation that would prevent individuals with mental health issues from obtaining guns.

Rep. Lee Zeldin

Like Katko, Zeldin received $9,900 from the NRA’s political action committee in 2016, and $2,420 from gun rights PACs or individuals in the current election cycle. Another co-sponsor of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, Zeldin also has an “A” rating from the NRA. Zeldin was a state senator during the debate over the Secure Ammunition and Firearm Enforcement Act, but he was on Army Reserve duty and could not cast a vote when it was passed in early 2013. However, he said in a statement at the time that he would have voted against it if he could. Zeldin has advocated for some gun control measures; in 2015, he drafted legislation which would prevent known or suspected terrorists from obtaining weapons, but it has faced opposition from more conservative Republicans in Congress.

In response to the shooting last week, Zeldin said in a statement that he supported a Congressional hearing to investigate how the shooter was able to obtain weapons despite warning signs brought to the attention of law enforcement. He reiterated his support for gun ownership among “law abiding citizens,” but said “we must ensure lunatics manifesting violent criminal intentions to murder with firearms have access to none.”

Rep. Chris Collins

Collins, one of President Donald Trump’s key supporters in New York, received $2,000 from the NRA PAC in 2016, as well as $3,000 from gun rights advocates in 2018, and has an “A+” rating from the NRA. In July, Collins introduced the Second Amendment Guarantee Act, which would invalidate key sections of the SAFE Act by prohibiting states from exceeding federal regulations on design and sale of a rifle or shotgun.

Collins said last week that the mass shooting in Florida was not an issue of gun control, but of mental health.

State Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco

DeFrancisco, currently the leading contender for the GOP nomination in the 2018 gubernatorial race, has long been an opponent of stricter gun control laws. He was one of the SAFE Act’s most vocal critics in 2013, and voted against it, although he voted for amendments to it in 2015. The issue of gun control created fissures in the Republican caucus in the internal race for state Senate Majority Leader in 2015, when Republicans were divided between John Flanagan, who supported the SAFE Act, and DeFrancisco. Although Flanagan ultimately won the title, the SAFE Act remains deeply unpopular in parts of upstate New York. DeFrancisco may use the issue to appeal to upstate voters in his quest to unseat Cuomo.

Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin

McLaughlin was elected Rensselaer County executive in 2017, but he had a history of being a proponent of gun rights while serving in the Assembly. In 2013, McLaughlin voted against the SAFE Act, and compared Cuomo to Hitler and Mussolini for pushing the gun control bill through the Legislature and then approving it hours after it was passed. In his bid for county executive, McLaughlin was endorsed by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, the state affiliate of the NRA. NYSRPA President Tom King told Politico New York after McLaughlin won the election that his core supporters were Second Amendment advocates.

Gun control advocates:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

The controversial SAFE Act was one of the signature legislative accomplishments of Cuomo’s first term. Cuomo has also referred to it as a model for the country after other mass shootings, such as the one in Las Vegas in October. The governor sought to expand the state’s strict gun control laws with his first proposal in his 2018 State of the State address, legislation which would remove all firearms from individuals convicted of domestic violence.

Cuomo’s positions on gun control have made him a bogeyman of gun rights activists, inspiring the acronym in Second Amendment-supporting circles “FUAC.” On Thursday, that opposition was seen on a national level, when NRA head Wayne LaPierre singled out Cuomo and other progressive lawmakers as “intellectual elites” leading a “tidal wave of new European-style socialists.” In response, Cuomo said in a statement that “if Wayne LaPierre is attacking you, you know you're doing something right,” and that he was proud of his “F” rating from the NRA.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Although no longer a sitting elected official, Bloomberg is directing much of his considerable funds and influence towards enacting stricter gun control legislation nationally. Bloomberg founded and largely bankrolls Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit gun control advocacy organization. After the shooting in Las Vegas, Bloomberg announced that he would match donations to Everytown. The group released a political action plan after the Florida shooting to elect more officials that support gun control and hold lawmakers supported by the NRA accountable. Everytown had previously threatened to spend $25 million in the 2018 election to advance their policy positions.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

The upstate congresswoman who once bragged about keeping guns under her bed changed her tune upon becoming a senator, and her significant swing to the left on gun control has been both scrutinized and applauded. In a “60 Minutes” interview earlier this month, Gillibrand attributed her more conservative values as a congresswoman to her overwhelmingly white, right-leaning district. A year after entering the Senate, her “A” rating from the NRA was downgraded to an “F.” Gillibrand has pushed for stricter gun control laws during her time in the Senate.

State Sen. Brian Kavanagh

Kavanagh is the president of American State Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention, a national, bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in state legislatures. Kavanagh is sponsoring bills in the state Senate Democratic Caucus’s gun control package, including one prohibiting individuals convicted of hate crimes from owning firearms, and a bill that would allow someone to petition a judge to have a gun removed from another person.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance

Vance has been a vocal opponent of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, asserting that it would threaten the safety of New York City residents. He has said that he is “sure” ISIS supports the bill, and has spoken out against it alongside NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. He has also rallied in favor of stricter gun control measures, and is a member of the group Prosecutors Against Gun Violence, which backs banning bump stocks. His support for gun control measures got him into some trouble when he used funds for his campaign to produce a video against the concealed carry bill.

Correction: This article originally stated that the SAFE Act was passed during Cuomo's second term. It was in his first term. 

Grace Segers
is City & State’s digital reporter. She writes daily content on New York City and New York state politics.
20200124