ALBANY — The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the rights of law-abiding citizens were the chief themes Thursday as thousands of gun supporters rallied at the Capitol against the recently enacted NY SAFE law, including some local officials who spoke during the event.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is “willing to sacrifice the Constitution, your rights as a citizen and the prerogatives of his legislature on the altar of his own ambition and the ego of (Mayor) Michael Bloomberg of New York City,” David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association, told the crowd.
The line drew a chorus of boos from crowd in West Capitol Park.
Cuomo signed the NY SAFE Act into law Jan. 15, within a half-hour of its approval by the state legislature.
Its restrictions, described as some of the toughest in the United States, ban magazines that hold more than seven rounds, classify more guns as assault weapons, ban their sale and require people who already own them to register them with the state, among other provisions.
Keene was unsparing in his criticism of Cuomo, accusing the governor — when he was secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the 1990s — of threatening to destroy gun manufacturers who didn’t go along with then-President Bill Clinton’s attempts to rein in firearms.
“We fought them off in the ’ 90s,” Keene said. “We’ll fight them off now.
“For those of us who believe in those (constitutional) rights, and who, unlike some of our political leaders, have not only read the Constitution (but) know that the Second Amendment doesn’t apply simply to squirrel hunting, and understand the importance of the Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights to the nature of the country we live in, we all have a special interest in our future and the kind of country we’re going to pass on to our children and grandchildren.”
Keene was the featured speaker but far from the only one. Among the others to address the crowd were state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford; Assemblyman Clifford Crouch, R-Guilford; and Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford.
The law was enacted a month after a mentally disturbed man, armed with an AR-15 rifle, massacred 20 students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. But Newtown was rarely mentioned Thursday.
Seward was one of the few speakers to bring up directly, referring also to an ambush attack on firefighters in a Rochester suburb at the end of December.
“I was as horrified as anyone with what went on out there at Sandy Hook at that school, with what went on in Rochester with our first responders being killed,” he said. “I understand the sensitivities of gun violence, but I also recognize the reality of gun violence. It’s the criminal element, it’s the dangerously mentally ill, it is not you, the responsible, law-abiding gun owners of New York state. You are not the problem.”
Seward also ticked off the list of counties his district covers, saving for last “Herkimer County, the home of Remington Arms.”
“I’m very proud of my A-plus rating from the NRA, and I’m very proud to be one of the 18 no votes on the governor’s gun bill,” he said.
Crouch, among the most vocal opponents of the law, made note of the women present, although they appeared to make up no more than 10 percent of the crowd.
“A lot of people think this is a testosterone game here,” he said. “It is not. It’s a game for all of us, women, children, everybody is involved.”
He also was in no mood to amend the law or for compromise.
“Repeal this law,” he said, repeating the sentence several times until the crowd took up the chant.
Mentioning the counties he serves, including parts of Delaware, Chenango and Otsego, he described their residents as “good, honest, law-abiding citizens; good, honest law-abiding gun owners.”
“We are not criminals,” he said. “We are criminals here in this crowd. We refuse to be called and made criminals by taking our Second Amendment rights away.”
Several speakers estimated the crowd size at 10,000 for the noon rally, but the state police put its size at a more modest “5,000 plus.” It filled most, but not all, of the park. In any case, the crowd was large enough and recent rains heavy enough to turn the park into a shoe-sucking expanse of mud.
After nearly two hours of intermittent showers and with the sky darkening about 1:45 p.m., many of the participants started leaving, even though there were still speakers.