We ran a Daily Q yesterday on gun-control measures bottled up in Albany, and the resounding response we got from gun-control advocates is that the National Rifle Association and its lobbying arm are formidable heavyweights when it comes to setting the policy agenda.
Yesterday, in announcing a new campaign against “stand your ground’ laws like Florida’s, invoked by the accused killer of Trayvon Martin, Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared that the NRA has supported a “license to murder” by backing such measures. These castle doctrines, or “shoot first” laws, have spread rapidly among other states, and worried advocates say New York’s weakening gun-control stance could make it vulnerable to a similar law being passed here.
At the New York World, we wanted to hear from the firearms advocates themselves, whose absence from most of the recent media coverage has been conspicuous. How does the NRA and its state affiliate choose legislative bills to back? And is the growing unpopularity of gun-control in the state legislature really the NRA’s fault?
We spoke to Jacob Rieper, vice president of legislative and political affairs at the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association (NYSRPA), the NRA state affiliate. It is the state’s largest — and the nation’s oldest — firearms advocacy organization.
Your association keeps a “Legislative Report” on ongoing firearms bills and its position on each of them. What is the process behind that?
I put it out a report about every two weeks when the state legislature is in session, so about 10 or 11 times a year. I basically read the bills and, you know, you can generally tell what’s good and what’s bad — only a few of them require some extra thought. It’s mostly me, but sometimes I ask our president Tom King and once or twice I have the NRA’s legal team look at it, but it’s really not difficult to come up with decisions, almost a no-brainer.
So what’s bad?
It’s not hard. What’s considered a bad bill is basically anything that restricts access to firearms. Anything by [Assemblymember] Amy Paulin is bad, anything by Michelle Schimel, Brian Kavanagh is also bad. They have never put forth any bill worth considering, they have never done anything worthwhile. An example of a bad bill is the hot issue of microstamping — Schimel has written the bill in a way that would require the redesign of handguns and pistols [to change] the way it’s been in the last 100 plus years, and there’s no way that’s going to happen. What she says is a total bunch of baloney.
Another bad bill is the one about mandatory storage [known as the “Children’s Weapon Accident Prevention Act,” which “creates crimes related to the unsafe storage of a weapon and criminally negligent storage of a weapon to protect children, and others, from injury and death due to unauthorized access, discharge and use of weapons,” according to the bill]. This would prohibit keeping a loaded firearm readily available in the home for self-defense.
And what’s considered a good bill?
What’s good is this bill that would allow anyone without a criminal record to be issued a pistol license and would bring New York into law with 41 or 42 states with similar laws. It basically removes the arbitrary discretionary authority of pistol license agents.
What are your association’s goals when establishing a position and is there any collaboration with the NRA’s lobbying arm?
The NRA does have a professional lobbying team responsible for a number of states. The purpose of the state association like us is to support the NRA and its programs. Some do more shooting sports, some do more political stuff — it depends on where you are in the country. The NRA leaves most of the legislative stuff to us. They know what’s going on but they’re based down in Virginia — although they were originally formed in NYC — and they don’t have people on the ground like we do. I’ve been involved in this stuff for nearly 20 years here. You can say that the NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, relies on us for much of legislative and political stuff. The NRA works with ILA to promote a legislative agenda in Albany and they do rely heavily on the legislative report, that’s why I put it out there.
What is the NYSRPA’s biggest priority and is Mayor Blooomberg a strong opponent?
Microstamping a huge priority. Look, the mayor has a pile of cash and you do have to take that seriously, but Bloomberg has just thrown so much money in Albany and around the state, and it’s not getting him anywhere. His two main problems are, first and foremost, pushing an unpopular agenda, and two, I don’t think people like Bloomberg personally. The way it was described to me is he acts like a spoiled rich kid and when he doesn’t get his way he starts throwing money around and it doesn’t work. I don’t think he has the ability to push something through in Albany, because the gun-control agenda has been getting more unpopular in there and anything he tries is dead on arrival.
What about Governor Cuomo, who’s also known to lean toward gun-control?
It’s not that simple. When he was at HUD and trying to move up the political chain, he adopted that because it was fashionable at the time, but now he’s in Albany and I think he realizes there’re a lot more important things than dealing with gun control. New York is against gun control, generally, but these groups are fringe groups for a bunch of politicians — they don’t have a membership like we do. I think the governor recognizes that, and the legislature recognizes that. To Cuomo’s credit, he knows there’re a lot more important issues in the state, fiscal issues, and I think the governor is doing what the people want him to do.
How and why is gun control becoming increasingly unpopular?
A couple of years ago the state Assembly would bring up a dozen or so gun-control bills each time but they don’t seem to be able to do that anymore, and even microstamping is now struggling. It’s because gun-control flat out doesn’t work. If it did, New York would be safest state in the country but that hasn’t happened and it’s not going to. The second big thing I would say is recent Supreme Court decisions, and New York has to recognize that people have the right to own guns.
Does it have anything to do with the NRA throwing money behind selected legislation?
No, no, no, no. It’s nothing to do with the NRA spending money. No, no, no. What the Daily News did in their article was to go to the Board of Elections and type “NRA” in. Well, go type in Bloomberg’s name and you’ll see a ridiculous amount of money. If money bought you influence in Albany, Bloomberg would have gotten his way. If the NRA were able to buy their way, they would have won years ago. I just have a better grasp of the situation here than NRA does, and money is not an issue.
What do you think of Assemblymember Schimel saying anything that involves gun safety will be opposed?
First of all you have to understand when Schimel says gun safety she means gun control. I don’t accept the premise of anything she says, she simply has no credibility. She’s on the board of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and she has an agenda, but she can’t back up her agenda with facts. She can’t produce any sort of public support for her bill. If people wanted gun control, why don’t they call their legislators? She’s never produced evidence that people have called in.
What’s the difference between gun-control and gun safety?
I’m an NRA- certified firearms instructor and safety refers to how to safely load and unload the firearm. Gun control means restricting acess to firearms, and we’re against that. “Gun control” is flat-out nonsense. It’s what politicians come up with to use against unsuspecting people. “Gun violence” is also another buzzword and we don’t accept the way it’s used by policitians and organizations such as the New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. To them, it means any incident where someone is shot or killed. But that’s not inherently a bad thing, okay. If I use a firearm to defend myself and someone gets shot, most people would say, good for you, and too bad for the thug that was shot. We believe that ordinary citizens have the right to have and possess firearms for all lawful purposes, incuding self defense and recreational use.
Will the NYSRPA and the NRA be responding to the furor around the Trayvon Martin shooting and the gun-control debates it has sparked?
No, we at NYSRPA won’t be responding to that. Bloomberg is trying to get some political mileage out of it. I don’t know what the NRA is going to do but they’re having their annual meeting soon so they’re busy with that. [Martin’s case] is not going to change anything here — we’ve seen these things before, something happens and you try to make some political hay out of it, but we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing.