ALBANY – A sea of middle fingers rose in the air from a crowd of about 500 protesters as they were asked by a rally speaker to turn around and face the state Capitol to express their opinions of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the state’s new gun control laws.
“Cuomo must go,’’ they chanted.
A half hour later, sitting on the steps of an ornate staircase down the hall from Cuomo’s office, a far smaller group had a decidedly different theme. “Thank you Gov. Cuomo,’’ chanted the group of pro-gun control advocates.
In a town well-accustomed to protesters who disappear after their cause has been settled, Tuesday’s demonstrations for and against the gun control law illustrate the political and legal fight over the matter is far from over.
The dueling sides promised the new law has galvanized them – depending on their beliefs – to press for its rollback, or to help other gun control advocates expand the New York law’s restrictions to other states.
Threatening his own legal challenge to the law, Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, who lost to Cuomo in the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, spent the day bashing anyone who backed the statute, which includes crackdowns on purchases of assault-style weapons, an ammunition-tracking system and stricter registration procedures.
“It’s about a right that we have that we’re not going to give up,” Paladino told the protesters, many from Western New York, who traveled to the Capitol to press their opposition.
But Paladino and the protesters acknowledged that there is little they can do legislatively to change the law, and that their strategy relies on the courts and the ballot box in 2014. For his part, Paladino, a Republican, offered up his harshest rhetoric at Senate Republicans who voted for the bill, calling Senate co-leader Dean Skelos “a cowardly bum” and Sen. Mark Grisanti, R- Buffalo, “a misery from our area.’’
Skelos’ office, borrowing a line from Cuomo campaign supporters in 2010, noted that Paladino has received “millions of dollars in tax breaks from the same state government he so often criticizes.’’ Skelos’ office also said it would not comment “on any statements from a failed former gubernatorial candidate looking to extend his 15 minutes of fame.’’ Earlier in the day, Paladino called on Skelos to resign and get a job at a car wash.
The signs and clothing told the story.
Outside, a group of mostly white men wore baseball caps with “NRA’’ across the front and “Don’t Tread on Me’’ flags were as abundant as the American flag.
Off to the side, organizers were registering people to vote and to sign on as plaintiffs to a lawsuit to challenge the new law.
“You’ll get my bullets first before you get my gun,’’ read one sign, while several protesters said they would not abide by the new law’s provision requiring owners of assault-style weapons to register them with the state.
Inside the Capitol, a couple of people held a banner from the liberal MoveOn.org group, and the pro-gun control event – which attracted only about 30 people – seemed as much about praising Cuomo, who was not at the Capitol during the demonstrations, as lobbying for gun controls.
“The difference now is now there’s hope. Andrew Cuomo has given us hope,’’ said Robyn Ringler of the New Yorkers Against Gun Violence group.
“We are strong. We are determined,’’ added Kim Russell, of One Million Moms for Gun Control, who survived gunshot wounds during a robbery a decade ago and said New York will serve as a model for other states and Washington as gun control proponents push their cause.
Cuomo, who was in Dutchess County while his gun policies were being attacked and praised in Albany, acknowledged that gun control “is a politically charged issue and a lot of people have very strong feelings about guns. I understand it. I respect it.’’
But, he said, government has been too slow to respond to chronic gun-related violence and that the new, “common-sense gun control law’’ respects the rights of legal gun owners.
Back outside on a windy day, Clair Updyke, who lives in Hartsville in Steuben County, was holding a sign and listening to the gun control critics condemn the New York law as everything from the work of the United Nations to comparisons of British attempts to seize guns from colonists in the run-up to the American revolution.
Updyke became emotional as he talked about the new controls, and like other protesters, sought to characterize the gun issue as one separating upstate and downstate New Yorkers. “I’m just hoping people get on the bandwagon to vote out some of these people. It seems we get no representation on this side of the state,’’ he said.