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Once given an 'A' rating by the NRA, Hochul's views on gun control have evolved

Gov. Kathy Hochul announces a package to combat domestic terrorism and strengthen state gun laws May 18, 2022, in wake of a racist mass shooting in Buffalo four days prior.
Darren McGee
Office of the Governor
Gov. Kathy Hochul announces a package to combat domestic terrorism and strengthen state gun laws May 18, 2022, in wake of a racist mass shooting in Buffalo four days prior.

After last weekend’s mass shooting in Buffalo, Gov. Kathy Hochul called for enacting new gun control measures in New York, which already has the strictest gun control measures in the nation. It’s a big change from Hochul’s time in Congress, when the NRA gave her an “A” rating.

After 10 people were killed in the mass shooting in her hometown, Hochul released a detailed package to fight the spread of white supremacist theory and what she says is too-easy access to military-grade weapons.

“That’s the intersection of two crises right now, that are unfolding in our country,” the governor said.

Among the proposals is one that would close a loophole and outlaw a category of weapons designed to evade the state’s gun control laws, and a measure to enable guns to microstamp ammunition so that bullets discharged during a crime could be more easily traced.

It’s a long way from Hochul’s position when she held a seat in Congress in a conservative Western New York district.

When she ran for re-election for that post in 2012, the National Rifle Association endorsed her and gave her an “A” rating for her votes, including one to allow licensed gun owners in any state in the nation to carry a concealed weapon. The gun rights group also credited her for streamlining the gun ownership application process when she was Erie County clerk.

Hochul was lieutenant governor under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who championed the 2013 strictest in the nation gun control laws, known as the SAFE Act. She said her positions about gun control had “evolved,” and she helped campaign for the passage of the state’s Red Flag law allows law enforcement and others to petition a judge to order the confiscation of weapons of someone who is deemed a potential danger to themselves or to others.

The Red Flag law was not invoked during a 2021 incident involving the alleged Buffalo gunman, when he made threats against his high school, and Hochul is now calling for the Red Flag law to be mandatory whenever someone makes a violent threat.

One of Hochul’s opponents in the Democratic primary for governor, Long Island Rep. Tom Suozzi, accused Hochul of being hypocritical. He says when Hochul was in Congress a decade ago, she opposed federal legislation strengthening background checks for gun buyers.

“That isn’t leadership,” Suozzi said. “That’s hypocrisy.”

Hochul, asked the changes in her views after the news conference announcing the new gun control measures, did not want to discuss it.

“This is not a time for politics,” Hochul said. “And if people don’t realize that, well, I’ll let the media judge and everyone else can judge.”

Hochul said as lieutenant governor, she saw firsthand the effects of gun violence.

“I’ve gone, for eight years as lieutenant governor, to countless funerals,” Hochul said. “I have made this my calling, because too many lives have been lost. And I will continue to make sure that New York state leads on this.”

Another of Hochul’s opponents in the governor’s race, Republican nominee Lee Zeldin, recently told a group of supporters that he backs repealing the state’s gun control laws. In the recording, obtained by Spectrum’s New York One News, Zeldin , speaking before the Buffalo mass shooting, also said he opposes the red flag laws.

“We should not have red flag laws, it’s a very slippery slope that could be targeting you, law-abiding gun owners,” said Zeldin, who also advocated for so-called “Stand your Ground” laws in New York, which permits people to use deadly force if they believe their life or property is being seriously threatened.

Zeldin also says he hopes the U.S. Supreme Court overturns New York’s rules restricting the carrying of concealed weapons. That case is now before the court.

Hochul, who 10 years ago in Congress voted to allow widespread concealed carry, says she is now working on legislation to retain the state’s restrictions on the practice, even if the court acts.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.