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Hochul's views on gun control have evolved

Gov. Kathy Hochul displays a weapon that falls through a loophole in the state's gun laws. She's proposing that it, and others like it, come under the state's existing laws.
Darren McGee
Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
Gov. Kathy Hochul displays a weapon that isn't covered under New York gun laws. She's proposing to close loopholes so it, and others like it, fall under the state's existing laws.

After last weekend’s mass shooting in Buffalo, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called for enacting new gun control measures in New York, which already has the strictest policies in the nation.

It’s a big change from Hochul’s time in Congress, when the National Rifle Association 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 said is too-easy access to military-grade weapons.

“That’s the intersection of two crises right now that are unfolding in our country,” she 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, as well as a measure to enable guns to microstamp ammunition so that bullets discharged during a crime could be more easily traced.

Hochul’s position on guns when she held a seat in Congress in a conservative western New York district was quite different.

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When she ran for re-election for that post in 2012, the NRA 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. Hochul said her positions about gun control had “evolved,” and she helped campaign for the passage of the state’s red flag law, which 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 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 said 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 was asked about the changes in her views after the news conference announcing the new gun control measures. She 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 when she was 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 said 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, said 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 the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.