Rep. Lee Zeldin, left, with U.S. Senate candidate Joe Pinion, center,...

Rep. Lee Zeldin, left, with U.S. Senate candidate Joe Pinion, center, and GOP state chairman Nick Langworthy on Monday join other Buffalo leaders as they walk to a memorial at the scene of the mass shooting at a Tops Supermarket in Buffalo that killed 10 people on May 14. Credit: Craig Ruttle

ALBANY — Republican candidate for governor Lee Zeldin at a recent campaign stop said he opposed the state’s Red Flag Law, which provides due process to remove firearms from people shown to be a threat to themselves or others.

“We should not have red flag laws that have a — I mean, it’s a very slippery slope that could be targeting you, law-abiding gun owners,” Zeldin said in the video obtained by NY1/Spectrum News.

Zeldin, a congressman from Shirley, made the comments days before Saturday’s mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket that killed 10 people and injured three others. Eleven of the victims were Black.

But critics said the law needs to be improved, not abolished. They note that the Buffalo suspect had been evaluated under the law last spring after he made a violent comment, but was released. They want, for example, more thorough mental health analyses done in such cases before the person goes before a judge.

 "Law-abiding New Yorkers have a Second Amendment right to self-defense," Zeldin said Thursday in a prepared statement. "I support that right."

"Red flag laws shouldn't target law-abiding New Yorkers and more should be done," he added. 

New York’s Red Flag Law was passed in 2019 and the extreme risk protection order law was passed last year to strengthen it. Together they allow people, including family members and teachers and school administrators who hear or see threats of violence from an individual to begin a process in which the person is evaluated by mental health professionals. A judge can then weigh evidence and order the person to turn over their firearms temporarily and prevent further purchases of firearms as they get help.

“Red Flag laws make sense conceptually, and there is good scientific evidence that they are saving some lives,” said David Hemenway, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University. “In logic, the slippery slope argument is called the ‘slippery slope fallacy’ for a reason. It is typically used to shift the argument from the issue at hand to a hypothetical outcome with little good evidence that such a bad outcome is likely.”

Red flag laws also protect legal gun owners, said Jaclyn Schildkraut, associate professor of criminal justice at SUNY Oswego.

“Red flag laws are not designed to permanently strip law-abiding citizens of their firearms,” she said. “They are designed to temporarily remove firearms from individuals who have a heightened risk of harming themselves or others.”

“A judge will review this information and, if sufficient support is provided, grant the order,” she said. “It is not a mechanism to just take people’s guns away without cause, but to protect law-abiding gun owners and non-gun owners alike from the danger of firearm violence when there are factors that increase the likelihood of such harm.”

Republican State Chairman Nick Langworthy supported Zeldin Thursday over his Red Flag Law comments. Langworthy incorrectly claimed the law “denies due process to law-abiding citizens” and added that it “clearly failed in the case of the Buffalo shooter.”

But Sen. Pete Harckham (D-Peekskill), a prime sponsor of the extreme risk protection law, said Zeldin “is dead wrong on this."

"He is out of touch with what this law actually does,” Harckham told Newsday. “He is running to attract the right in a Republican primary. This is a safety measure for people who have shown themselves to be a threat to themselves or others, with judicial review."

“We need to do more education and outreach,” Harckham said, including a more extensive evaluation of a person’s mental health, alerting more people to know they can and should report violent messages, and more coordination between schools, police and the courts to make sure the best decisions are made in each case.

The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association endorsed Zeldin this month. Tom King, the group’s director and National Rifle Association board member, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the Buffalo shooting, police said 18-year-old Payton Gendron of rural Broome County targeted shoppers at a supermarket in a Black neighborhood after posting racist diatribes online and livestreaming the shooting. A year before as a senior in high school, Gendron had said he wanted to commit mass violence, but later contended he was joking. Although he was evaluated by mental health officials, he was released after a day and a half and graduated with his class.

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