NEW YORK NOW – Top lawmakers in Albany said on Monday that they would examine areas where the state’s gun laws could be strengthened following the weekend’s mass shooting in Buffalo that killed 10 people, and injured three others, at a local grocery store.
Democrats from the state Legislature rallied at the State Capitol Monday in response to the shooting, which has stirred national outrage over the racial motive of the attacker.
“This coward manifested white supremacy in a violent and tragic way,” said State Sen. Zellnor Myrie, a Democrat from Brooklyn who co-chairs a legislative subcommittee on gun violence.
No specific gun measures have been proposed in response to the shooting, but Gov. Kathy Hochul said over the weekend that she’s planning to announce a package of ideas sometime this week.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Westchester, told reporters Wednesday that, while New York already has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country, lawmakers would consider if new changes should be made in the coming weeks.
“I’m sure in these waning weeks we will come together,” Stewart-Cousins said. “If there’s things that we’ve missed, we need to be able to tighten those loopholes.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie- D-Bronx, said he would support new federal gun laws, including limits on what types of guns could be sold to consumers.
Heastie is expected to travel to Buffalo Tuesday, when President Joseph Biden is also expected to visit the city in the aftermath of the shooting. Heastie said he would make the case for stronger gun laws directly to Biden if the two have a chance to speak.
“This country’s insane obsession with guns and assault weapons needs to be talked about,” Heastie said. “You want to have a gun to protect yourself, your property, or your family? Fine. What the hell do we need military weapons in the hands of civilians? It’s uncalled for.”
Assm. Chantal Jackson, a Democrat from the Bronx who co-chairs the gun violence subcommittee with Myrie, suggested that New York pair gun ownership with mental health evaluations.
The shooter, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, was previously held for a mental health evaluation after he threatened to attack his high school in Broome County last year, law enforcement officials in Buffalo said over the weekend.
“We need tougher gun laws, even though we have some of the strictest here,” Jackson said. “But they don’t include mental health checks.”
Lawmakers who represent parts of the city of Buffalo railed against the racial motivation of the shooter, who wrote in a document posted online ahead of the attack that he intended to target people of color.
There was a sense of frustration among lawmakers over the shooter’s alleged white supremacist ideology, which they said was influenced by far-right extremists and cable news pundits without concern over consequence.
Assm. Jonathan Rivera, a Democrat who represents part of Buffalo, said he was shocked to learn of the shooting.
“If you could have told me something like this could happen practically within walking distance from where I live, I would have never believed it,” Rivera said. “What happened on Saturday was a racially-motivated, terrorist-led hate crime on a Black neighborhood.”
Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Democrat whose district includes the supermarket where the shooting happened Saturday, said the shooter’s racial animus should be a wake-up call for politicians and personalities who’ve encouraged ideas rooted in white supremacy.
The shooter was reportedly influenced by a racist conspiracy theory that claims an intentional effort from those on the ideological left to increase their political power by growing the country’s nonwhite population.
Reports on Monday suggested that theory had been used by influential individuals on the political right in the past, including New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, and Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
“There are 10 souls who won’t see today or tomorrow … because of the hate that’s been legitimized on the internet, on social media, in the news, everywhere you look,” Kennedy said. “There are political parties that are rising up, allowing this hate, and this white supremacy, to take root in our nation.”
Along with a new package of gun-related measures, Hochul has also called on social media companies to develop new ways to detect when someone posts an intention to harm someone, and refer those intentions to members of law enforcement.
Stewart-Cousins said she wasn’t sure if the state Legislature could do anything about that, but said something should be done at the national level if they’re unable to act.
“I don’t know what the end is,” Stewart-Cousins said. “But I do know if we continue to prevent it’s not an issue, the end will be dangerous for everybody.”