Western New York politicians are preparing to pay a price for their pro or con stands on gun control, and the bills already are starting to arrive.
After new gun-control legislation on the state and federal fronts sparked a fury of controversy over the past few days, legislators and other elected officials alike must now deal with the political fallout. From the giant pro-gun rally slated for today in Niagara Square to letters to the editor criticizing those who oppose stricter legislation, gun control is already surfacing as a major issue for election days stretching years into the future.
“I certainly will remind everyone at election time. Absolutely,” said 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl P. Paladino. “
Others who support new gun limits, however, are betting their votes will be accepted and even welcomed by their constituents. For example, State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy’s vote in support of sweeping new controls has not exactly lit up the switchboard of the Buffalo Democrat’s office.
“The vast majority of people in the 63rd Senate District agree with my position in support of making New York State safer,” he said Friday. “New York State had to do something, because doing nothing was not an option.”
County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz offered a similar view.
“Last year in Erie County, firearms played a role in 78 fatalities,” he said. “Thanks to Gov. Cuomo and the State Legislature, residents of Erie County and all New Yorkers can feel safer today knowing that responsible, appropriate legislation has been passed to keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.”
But Mayor Byron W. Brown, who presides over a city that recorded 50 homicides last year (many committed with guns), did not return a call to comment. The mayor is expected to again seek backing for re-election this year from the Conservative Party – a vocal opponent of gun control.
Brown’s silence on the issue is in stark contrast with New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has emerged as one of the nation’s most vocal gun-control advocates following a string of mass murders committed with guns around the nation in recent months.
County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs, meanwhile, entered the controversy this week by refusing to issue data requested by The Buffalo News under the Freedom of Information Act regarding gun ownership in Erie County. But he also raised new questions about the law – apart from pure gun control – by asking who will pay for it.
“I have concerns about the financial implications of an unfunded mandate,” he said.
He also raised constitutional questions of his own surrounding new requirements that could “bog down” the right of citizens to quickly obtain the pistol permits issued by his office.
But most attention is already focusing on key legislative figures like State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti of Buffalo, the only upstate Republican in the Senate to vote for the new gun-control law.
“All he worries about it getting re-elected,” Paladino said.
While state Republican leaders have avoided the merits of the bill, they are lambasting Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for the process by which he gained swift passage of such a controversial measure. State GOP Chairman Edward F. Cox said this week that Cuomo “rammed through” the legislation in a “intellectually dishonest and downright absurd” manner.
“The way Mr. Cuomo is governing in Albany should raise serious concerns among New Yorkers who cherish the democratic process – even among those who agree with the governor on the issues,” he said.
Paladino, who will address the pro-gun rally expected to jam Niagara Square today, also is criticizing the “total lack of transparency” in the way that Cuomo sought quick passage of the bill and then immediately signed it into law.
“It’s all how this guy can serve his own vanity,” Paladino said. “It’s all about saying, ‘Look how liberal New York State is and that our Republicans bought right into it.’ ”
Paladino saved his harshest rhetoric, however, for Republican State Sen. Dean G. Skelos of Rockville Centre. He said the Senate majority leader could have exercised his power and never allowed the measure on the floor for a vote.
He also called Grisanti and Kennedy “cowards” for voting in favor of the gun law, claiming Grisanti’s vote stemmed from pressure exerted by State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, a frequent Paladino target. He said Maziarz was safe to vote against the measure once he realized it would pass, and urged Grisanti to vote yes.
“It’s absolutely and totally untrue. I’m strongly opposed to this legislation,” Maziarz countered. “Carl is delusional.”
While only Kennedy and Grisanti among the Western New York delegation voted for the Cuomo measure in the Senate, and only Democrats Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes and Sean M. Ryan in the Assembly, it appears most other local lawmakers may be out of sync with the rest of the state.
The latest Siena College poll released this week shows the Cuomo proposals to restrict assault-style weapons and limit rifle magazines to seven bullets are strongly supported by the public. The Siena Research Institute survey found New Yorkers view the National Rifle Association unfavorably by 57 percent to 36 percent, overwhelmingly support the ban on assault weapons and nearly unanimously support increasing penalties for purchasing illegal guns and using guns on school grounds.
Now, attention shifts to Washington after President Obama proposed similar measures. So far, the support pattern among the local delegation mirrors the state representatives – city-based congressmen like Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, favor stricter measures; suburban and rural types like Republicans Chris Collins of Clarence and Tom Reed of Corning do not.
Collins this week said his father taught him lessons of responsible gun ownership and believes other residents of his 27th Congressional District received similar instruction.
“It is not the job of the federal government to tell responsible gun owners how to live their lives, nor is it the job of the federal government to dictate gun-control legislation down onto the states,” he said. “The administration should not force through gun-control legislation that tramples the rights of responsible gun owners as an emotional reaction to recent tragedies.”
Reed views the proposal in a constitutional light. “I remain concerned that eroding one of our constitutional rights will lead to more limits,” he said.
And Higgins this week praised the Obama proposal as “comprehensive” because it included not only new gun regulations but also emphasized mental health issues.