On gun control, Kirsten Gillibrand (still) isn’t looking back

Kirsten Gillibrand rallies for Fort Hamilton. (Dan Rosenblum)
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On Christmas Day, the nadir of the holiday news cycle, Politico posted a headline that hinted at some news: "Report: Kirsten Gillibrand shifts on guns."

It was true; though the shift in question actually occurred back in 2009, shortly after Gillibrand was elevated to the Senate, when she moved to allay Democratic concerns about her "A" rating from the National Rifle Association by transforming, in conspicuously short order, into a strong supporter of gun control.

That transformation was criticized at the time, mostly by downstate Democrats who were considering primary challenges, and later by her underfunded Republican opponents in 2010, and again in 2012.

But Gillibrand's old shift has become news again as she's become an increasingly prominent figure outside New York, and as Democrats try to make their first real push in decades for tighter gun regulations in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

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The report cited by Politico (and later, Newsmax) was a Christmas-morning story in the New York Post, which reminded readers that Gillibrand, when she represented a more rural district in the House, had boasted of keeping two guns under her bed and favored a robust interpretation of the Second Amendment.

"I think gun owners probably view her in ways they view Mitt Romney," Richard Feldman, head of the Independent Firearms Owners Association, told the Post. "How do you trust someone when they change their stance and politics?”

(Gillibrand has been a frequent target of the Post, though the paper appears to have softened on her of late, and Rupert Murdoch's wife, Wendi, is among her recent contributors.) 

Just before Christmas, Gillibrand was also featured prominently on the National Journal website, alongside Rahm Emanuel, under the headline: "Republicans Aren't the Only Gun-Control Obstacle."

The story said Emanuel "starkly exemplified" the shifting political calculus for Democrats, after he bragged recently that he had stood by Bill Clinton's side when he signed the assault weapons ban, even though Emanuel unabashedly elected pro-gun Democrats when he later ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The story called Gillibrand's shift "an even more dramatic conversion," noting she voted to repeal a law banning semiautomatic weapons within the District of Columbia and requiring trigger locks.

Gillibrand's camp, reciting its longstanding response to stories about her transformation, has tried to stress that she evolved alongside her duties, from representing a rural district to a statewide constituency that included the big-city problems of illegal gun ownership.

Asked once again about the two rifles she claimed in her House days, National Journal quoted her spokesman, Glen Caplin, as saying: "I’m not going to get into this."

Gillibrand wouldn't seem to be much of an obstacle to enacting new gun regulations now. She has pushed for gun reforms periodically over the last three years, introducing, and reintroducing, a bill to prevent gun trafficking, which led one board member of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence to call her a "personal hero."

Despite the obvious opportunity for criticism, she's been relatively outspoken since the shooting in Sandy Hook.

Last week, she wrote an opinion piece in the Daily News last week that focused on the words "well-regulated" in the Second Amendment, and she sent an email to her supporters saying she felt their same concerns after the shooting.

"I share your resolve, as this has become very personal to me," she wrote in the email. "My own two boys are ages nine and four, the same ages as the children attending Sandy Hook Elementary School when those precious lives were taken. We have an obligation to do better for all of our children."