The mass shooting in Texas appears to have done little to sway opinions on gun reform for GOP candidates running in New York’s gubernatorial primary.
Shortly after the shooting in Uvalde, Texas – during which a gunman killed at least 19 children and two teachers inside an elementary school on Tuesday – three of the four GOP candidates issued statements that offered sympathies while avoiding the issue of guns altogether.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Long Island congressman who is considered the front-runner in the GOP primary race for governor, tweeted a brief statement expressing condolences.
Andrew Giuliani, a former Trump aide and the son of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, did the same, urging his Twitter followers to “pray together with me for them.”
Harry Wilson, a millionaire hedge fund manager and candidate, called the shooting “unimaginable and unacceptable” on Twitter.
Late Wednesday morning, Rob Astorino, the former Westchester County executive, posted a lengthy thread on Twitter that called for “enhanced background checks” — the only Republican to mention guns in his response — while also criticizing politicians who “rushed out to shamefully politicize this tragedy.”
Bruce Gyory, a political strategist, says the GOP candidates might be looking at the long game, avoiding discussion of a hot-button topic that might be unpopular with pro-gun Republicans they’ll need in the primary, while still courting independent voters they’re trying to win over in the general election. There are 2.8 million registered Republicans in New York and 2.9 million people who do not identify with a political party, voter records show. Meanwhile, there are more than 6 million registered Democrats in New York.
On issues like Roe v. Wade and school shootings and the Buffalo massacre, independents will gravitate sharply away from the Republican position
“On issues like Roe v. Wade and school shootings, and the Buffalo massacre, independents will gravitate sharply away from the Republican position,” Gyory said. “Now you have the Republicans in a dilemma of having a disconnect between what's popular in their primary and what they would need to win a general election.”
Even so, past and recent statements from the GOP candidates indicate staunch support for gun rights, most notably Zeldin, who appeared at a campaign rally recently opposing the 2013 NY SAFE Act in a video leaked to Spectrum News/NY1. Zeldin voted against the measure when he was in the state Senate.
“[You] should not have your right taken away by the government,” Zeldin told attendees, according to the video.
Katie Vincentz, a spokesperson, reiterated his stance in a statement to Gothamist.
“There's no doubt that the Buffalo shooter and others intending to do harm to innocent civilians should not have access to a firearm, but attempts to prevent that cannot target law-abiding citizens,” said Vincentz.
Giuliani, however, remained non-committal. In a statement, Giuliani said increasing the police budget will help make a difference in making it harder for “criminals to get their hands on guns to commit crimes.”
“We need to fully support law enforcement to protect families and most importantly, our children,” Giuliani wrote.
Astorino, meanwhile, has also voiced strong support for gun rights. This month, he backed the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court allowing for concealed carry, a ruling that has significant consequences nationwide and could potentially water down New York’s strict gun laws. He did not return an email seeking further comment.
Harry Wilson most recently expressed support for Second Amendment rights, telling the Adirondack Daily Enterprise newspaper that gun violence should not infringe on individual rights. His campaign did not return an email seeking comment.
The comments stand in stark relief to those of Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is seeking a full term as governor and has introduced stricter gun law proposals. Hochul’s stance on guns, though, represents something of a reversal for the Democrat who received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association in 2012 when she ran for Congress.
Gyory, the political strategist, says the gun debate will continue to rage during the race as election season heads into November, but it’s likely to take a different turn when candidates are looking to win a general election.
“Sometimes you can get away with words, but there's just something about protecting students in schools. On top of the predisposition, we know of a large majority, somewhere between 60 and 65% of voters who support gun safety measures in New York, that words are not going to be enough,” Gyory said. “And that if you're perceived as being dismissive of those views, and voters are placing a priority on it. You're going to have a problem."