It is no question that the United States has a gun problem. Whether you want to frame the issue as a constitutional debate over personal liberties ascribed to citizens in the Second Amendment, or are simply concerned with the frequency and severity of mass shootings in the country, it is undeniable that guns and gun culture permeate American life. What is up for discussion, however, is who will win New York state’s gubernatorial election and whether the state’s gun laws will slide backward — opening up the potential for further gun violence and mass shootings.
Lee Zeldin, the current representative for New York’s first district in Eastern Long Island and the Republican nominee for governor, is not a fan of strict gun laws. Zeldin holds an A-rating from the National Rifle Association of America (NRA), opposes any bans on semi-automatic weapons and has co-sponsored the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which lays out requirements for lawful concealed carry across state lines and allows for gun owners to do so in states that forbid it. Just weeks before a mass shooting killed 10 in a Buffalo supermarket, Zeldin also stated in a video that he wanted to target and remove New York’s Red Flag Law, which “prevents individuals who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing any kind of firearm.”
Whether or not stricter firearm legislation actively results in less gun violence is a point of contention among Democrats and Republicans, with many in the latter party citing the fact that certain cities, such as Chicago and Los Angeles, have strict legislation yet expansive crime and gun violence. A study completed by the National Library of Medicine in 2018, however, found “stricter laws result in safer states” and that states without extensive gun legislation have “higher firearm related injury rates, [a] higher firearm related mortality rate and significant potential years of life lost” compared to those with more restrictions.
After a Supreme Court case struck down a New York law which limited concealed carry to only those who could prove it necessary, Zeldin not only championed the Supreme Court’s decision, but also signed onto the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association’s (NYSRPA) initial amicus brief against the state. Zeldin was also endorsed by the president of NYSRPA for both the primary and general elections, further proving his commitment to defending firearms over saving lives.
Zeldin argues that the United States should not pass stricter gun laws and should allow more people access to carry guns, under the premise that they have a constitutional right to defend themselves and that the government cannot infringe upon this right. However, stricter gun laws mean less gun violence — and yet, Zeldin wants to remove legislation that prevents those with mental health issues and other potential problematic limitations from getting firearms under the guise that these laws might target select “law-abiding gun owners.” There are smart policies that would prevent more mass shootings, but Zeldin is not worried about the potential killings of innocent people, just access to guns for certain people.
Zeldin also voted against the House of Representatives’ 2022 attempt to renew the Assault Weapons Ban, which would have banned the “sale, manufacture, transfer or possession of semiautomatic assault weapons.” According to Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, the United States’ initial Assault Weapons Ban, which was in effect from 1994 to 2004, “resulted in a significant decrease in public mass shootings, number of gun deaths and number of gun injuries.” Zeldin is devoted to attacking laws like these regardless of the overwhelming evidence that renewing them could have saved countless lives.
Legislative measures like the Assault Weapons Ban would be helpful in preventing gun violence. The RAND Corporation, a think tank that offers research specifically directed toward the United States Armed forces, ranked laws that would be most effective in preventing gun violence. They ranked child prevention laws as among the most helpful. Restricting children and young adults from getting access to guns by raising the age requirement to buy a gun has been a particularly relevant argument, as many shootings in recent years have been carried out by young men. Additionally, stricter background checks have also been proven to decrease murders and other gun violence related incidents (8).
Nonprofit organizations dedicated to reducing mass shootings and gun violence, such as March for Our Lives and Everytown for Gun Safety, have lobbied Congress in recent years to consider other programs that might curb gun violence, including gun licensing, which has been proven to reduce homicides after being introduced. March for our Lives and Everytown have also advocated for developing violence prevention training and increasing access to mental health care as ways to solve that gun crisis. These programs, while indirectly attempting to stop gun violence, have been shown to be helpful, and could prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands as well as ensure that people who have them know how to use them safely.
Despite New York’s current status as a state with strict gun laws and relatively low gun violence, Zeldin’s history of voting against common sense gun safety laws and his proposed measures for getting rid of existing laws prove that, should he win the election this November, it will be both easier to get a gun in New York and more dangerous to live within the state. As multiple studies have demonstrated, easier access to guns and less governmental control over where they are allowed lead to more gun violence. Zeldin’s proposed policies, such as getting rid of New York’s Red Flag Law, would be a disaster for New York.
Samantha Rigante is a freshman majoring in philosophy, politics and law.