NRA’s big gun rolls into Albany

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    NRA’s big gun rolls into Albany

    Top National Rifle Association brass arrived in Albany Tuesday to issue a rallying cry for legislators to uphold Second Amendment rights and prosecute gun crimes vigorously. What the gathering lacked in specifics its speakers barely mentioned, positively or negatively, any pending state legislation it made up for with energy and zeal.

    Wayne LaPierre, CEO and executive vice president of the NRA, in his keynote speech railed about politicians who unsuccessfully use gun control measures as a crime-fighting tool, as well as the media that jumps on whatever politicians “cook up.”

    “Too much of the gun debate … is based on lies and deceit. The truth is that too many politicians in this state are out of step,” said LaPierre, a Siena College graduate who has held his post at the NRA since 1991.

    He called New York the “epicenter” of the gun debate, but insisted its residents reflect views on guns no different than the rest of the country when polled.

    “We’re not the fringe. The Bloombergs, the Schumers, the Clintons are the fringe when it comes to the Second Amendment,” LaPierre said. “We are the majority. So let’s start acting like it in this state.”

    Tuesday’s Sportsmen and Outdoor Recreation Legislative Awareness Day was put on by the state Assembly’s Republican minority, and organizers expect the first-ever event to become an annual one. Attendees spent the morning lobbying Republican assemblymen in their offices.

    Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, who said gun advocates must stop playing defense and demand an amendment to the state Constitution ensuring a right to bear arms and universal pistol licenses.

    Representatives from outdoor organizations emphasized the economic benefit the state sees from the outdoor industry. Larry Rudolph, president of Safari Club International, said the industry draws $250 million in taxes per year in New York. Sportsmen, he said, are “footing the bill for wildlife conservation.”

    “States are facing shortfalls, and programs and benefits are being cut in state capitals across the county,” said Rudolph said. “The outdoor industry is an economic powerhouse, and your representatives need to know that.”

    For his part, LaPierre focused on rhetorical issues of law and order over an economic message, interspersing his speech with news footage of himself arguing points on past news broadcasts.

    He proposed a focused local effort to prosecute gun offenses at the federal level, touting a successful such initiative in Richmond, Va., and he urged law enforcement to show no mercy to those who use guns to commit crimes. He specifically mentioned, among others, the case of Pierre Townsend, a Troy man acquitted in January 2009 of murder in a North Central murder after claiming self defense. He is currently serving 15 years in state prison after being convicted of a weapons charge for the incident.

    Townsend, then 19, had a previous weapons conviction at the time 25-year-old Dustin Smith was shot. LaPierre questioned why, given his past conviction, Townsend was on the street “where police said he was free to kill a father of four.”

    “Tell (politicians) to prosecute felons 100 percent of the time,” LaPierre said. “No more sending them back to the streets after serving half a sentence.”

    The well of the Legislative Office Building was full across several floors with activists, venders and citizens who came from across the state.

    Charles P. Sheridan, of Bethpage in Nassau County, said he came to offer support so that “the Constitution will stay the way it’s supposed to.”

    He said he spoke with his assemblyman, Joseph Saladino, and the legislator told him he was supportive of the rally’s goals.

    “He’s a good man to get the message out, but everybody has to do it,” Sheridan said.

    Bob Waite, another Nassau County resident, said it was also an issue of upholding the Constitution. He said that, along with himself, his grandfather, father and son have all served in current and past American wars.

    “Every solider that ever fought for this country fought to defend the Constitution,” he said.

    Waite then gestured above, to where the offices of elected legislators are situated, and said he was waiting for the day when they would do the same.

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