As part of her swing through Iowa, New York Democratic Senator and presidential aspirant Kirsten Gillibrand attempted to explain why she was once an NRA-endorsed backer of gun rights in an upstate New York congressional district but later became an outspoken gun control proponent as the state’s U.S. Senator.
Gillibrand explained her evolution through the lens of hunting.
“So, I had an A-rating as a House member,” she said of the NRA’s support, according to a CNN reporter. “I only really looked at guns through the lens of hunting. My mother still shoots the Thanksgiving turkey. But when I became Senator, I recognized I had a lot to learn about my state and all of the 20 million I was going to represent.”
Now, I went to high school in a town that literally passed a law requiring the head of every household to own a gun. My friends loved their guns, and they loved to hunt.
Gillibrand’s explanation is understandable enough. Theoretically, anyway.
But is that really what the record shows – did she really view gun rights entirely through the prism of hunting?
At the time she was appointed to the Senate in 2009, Gillibrand had a “perfect NRA rating,” as Politico noted at the time. While the NRA does occasionally advocate for hunters, most of their activism is based at promoting armed self-defense. Much of then-Congresswoman Gillibrand’s NRA “A” rating was unrelated to hunting.
Presumably someone who grew up in a family of hunters knows that regulating handguns is not related to hunting. The NRA gave Gillibrand a positive rating in 2008 partly because she signed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court’s Heller decision, which struck down the D.C. handgun ban. Surely Gillibrand understood that nobody is hunting wildlife in D.C. with handguns.
In February of 2009, Gillibrand admitted to the press that she and her husband keep two guns under their bed. She said that neither parent hunts, but that “if I want to protect my family, if I want to have a weapon in the home, that should be my right.”
That makes sense. You don’t keep a gun under your bed because you might be able to score dinner if a deer jumps through the window for a midnight snack.
As a gun moderate myself – I’m to the right of Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders; he has always supported an Assault Weapons Ban, but I think it’s pretty pointless – I don’t really have any problem with Gillibrand explaining her affinity for gun ownership in either case. But her explanations are in conflict.
There’s a more simple explanation here. Gillibrand supported the NRA’s positions in her upstate district for short-term electoral reasons. She then became a gun control supporter as a Senator for short-term electoral reasons. She then slammed Sanders – who had a D-minus from the NRA, a far more negative rating than Congresswoman Gillibrand – over the issue of guns because it benefited her candidate of choice former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (again, short-term electoral behavior).
What she would do as a president would likely also be determined by short-term electoral calculations, which are very different when you’re the President versus when you are campaigning in a competitive primary within your party.
I’ve been writing about the government and elections for more than a decade now. I’m not shocked there’s politics going on in politics. But it’s worth trying to parse out why a politician actually takes the positions they do, because it can help you predict future behavior.