After the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, Rep....

After the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) issued a statement defending gun rights and urging Congress to give more resources to law enforcement and school staff to prevent violence. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

WASHINGTON — Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) remained silent about guns most of Wednesday, a day after a gunman killed 19 schoolchildren and two teachers, while Democrats representing Long Island demanded passage of expanded background checks.

At the end of the day, Zeldin, a four-term congressman who is running for New York governor, responded to queries from Newsday with a statement defending gun rights and urging Congress to give more resources to law enforcement and school staff to prevent violence.

“This violence and evil has no place anywhere in our country or world,” Zeldin said. “Law abiding New Yorkers have a second amendment right for self-defense. I support that right.”

Other lawmakers representing Long Island endorsed or proposed bills focused on ways to keep guns away from those who might harm others, as they mourned two mass shootings just 10 days apart at a Buffalo grocery store and Texas elementary school.

Authorities identified 18-year-old Salvador Ramos as the shooter who bought two AR-15 rifles for his birthday and then shot his grandmother before going to the elementary school, where he killed 19 fourth-graders and two teachers.

Payton Gendron, 18, of Clinton, New York, has been charged with first-degree murder for fatally shooting 10 people at a Buffalo grocery store as he allegedly targeted Black people.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he would seek a Senate vote on two bills the House passed last year to expand background checks to cover private transactions and to lengthen the time for those checks to 10 days.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) outlined a proposal to combat domestic terrorism and violent extremism.

Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Glen Cove Democrat who also is running for governor, said, “I've been on the text exchanges with Democrats and the Problem Solvers Caucus this morning, talking about how we have to find some bipartisan solutions here.”

Suozzi told Newsday, “Universal background checks is the most simple common-sense piece of legislation.” 

Suozzi, who has backed gun safety laws and has a National Rifle Association rating of 'F', said Congress should pass a red flag law authorizing courts to issue protection orders to allow police to temporarily confiscate firearms from people deemed be a danger to themselves or to others.

Suozzi said New York State should offer better training on use of the state red flag law.

He also called for raising the age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21.

Both Ramos and Gendron were 18 when they legally bought their firearms.

Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport), who has a 'C' NRA rating, issued a statement that blamed mental illness as a cause of such gun violence.

“It takes a seriously deranged, evil person to commit such atrocities. There has long been a mental health crisis plaguing this country that Congress has failed to address,” Garbarino said.

“Enough is enough," he said. "It’s past time we take serious steps to address this epidemic.”

Garbarino, however, did not point to any specific legislation or offer his own proposal.

Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Garden City Democrat with an 'F' NRA raring, retweeted a post by Gov. Kathy Hochul calling for raising the age from 18 to 21 to buy firearms in New York State, after Gendron at age 18 legally bought an AR-15 assault-type rifle.

“Agreed,” Rice wrote, then added, “Let’s ban AR-15s too while we’re at it.”

The Long Island delegation split primarily along party lines when the House on March 11, 2021, voted on two bills to expand and toughen background checks.

The delegation similarly was split on the vote this past May 18 to create domestic terrorism offices in the Department of Homeland Security.

Suozzi and Rice voted for the background check bills and the domestic terrorism bill.

Garbarino voted to extend background checks to private transactions but against the terrorism bill and expansion of background check time to 10 days.

Zeldin, who has an 'A' NRA rating, voted against all three pieces of legislation.

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