ALBANY, NY — National Rifle Association President David Keene railed against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during a brief appearance at a rally with thousands of gun rights supporters Thursday at the state capitol.
Battling rainy weather, the crowd was smaller than the 35,000 people organizers hoped would turn out to protest of the state’s new gun control law, known at the NY SAFE Act, which Cuomo signed into law in January. But attendees said it was still by far the largest of three held in the capital in recent weeks.
Keene accused the governor of being willing to “sacrifice” the Constitution “on the altar of his own ambition and the ego of Michael Bloomberg.”
“He’s like a bad penny that keeps turning up,” Keene said, referencing Cuomo’s tenure as Housing and Urban Development secretary during the Clinton administration.
Attendees arrived in dozens of buses, some organized by local gun clubs, from counties all over the state. While expressly focused on the SAFE Act, Thursday’s event was also the 5th annual “Lobby Day and Rally” organized by the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. Attendees were encouraged ahead of time to make appointments with state legislators.
“We’re with you,” Keene told the energized and receptive crowd. “We’ll help you defeat the politicians that would deprive you of your rights.”
In January, Cuomo signed the package of new firearm and mental health regulations that’s full name is the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013. The measures were a response to the massacre in Newtown, Conn. the month before, and touted as giving New York the “most comprehensive gun laws in the nation.”
“When society confronts serious issues, it is the function of government to do something, and the NY SAFE Act will now give New York State the toughest, strongest protections against gun violence in the nation,” Cuomo said in a statement on the day he signed the act into law.
But gun owners in the state have been loudly voicing their displeasure ever since. Thursday’s rally was not the first to be held in Albany this month. Lawsuits have been filed against the NY SAFE Act, and local and county officials have passed resolutions opposing the law.
Members of the crowd on Thursday expressed anger and frustration with both the act itself and the speed with which it was passed.
Among the speakers were also a number of state lawmakers who had voted against the law. Several voiced frustration with the way gun control advocates framed the debate over fire power and magazine size in terms of hunting.
“We do not have a constitutional right to deer hunt,” State Sen. Mike Nozzolio said. “We have a constitutional right to bear arms.”
Assemblyman Steve Katz echoed a sentiment shared by many in the crowd when he announced that the SAFE Act would “make me a criminal as well.” Katz noted that his wife and daughters have a gun in the house when he is away in Albany for legislative sessions.
“You can bet that before I leave home to do the people’s work, there will be more than seven rounds in the magazine,” Katz said.
The SAFE Act lowered the magazine limit in the state to seven rounds, down from ten.
Attendees ranged from suburban hunting enthusiasts and 2nd amendment advocates to “oath keepers” and other more strident anti-government people. Much of the anger was directed personally at Cuomo. Sporadic chants of “Cuomo’s got to go” broke out during the day, and several signs were spotted comparing Cuomo to Hitler or depicting him as Hitler.
“I’m here to give Gov. Cuomo his last rights for his political career,” a reverend who gave the invocation told the crowd early in the event.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com