Rep. Lee Zeldin at a candidates forum in Riverhead in October 2016. File photo: Denise Civiletti

With the country still reeling from the two mass shootings this weekend that claimed 31 lives and injured 51 other people, a rancorous debate is in full swing over the causes of gun violence and whether stricter gun control laws are needed.

Both the shooter in El Paso and the shooter in Dayton purchased high-capacity, semi-automatic rifles legally, according to law enforcement officials.

Democratic lawmakers on Sunday began calling on Senate Republicans to take up legislation passed by the House in February that would require background checks on all firearm sales. The pair of bills would require background checks for every firearms sale and would extend the time federal authorities have to complete a background check. Both passed the House along party lines and have been stalled in the Senate.

First Congressional District Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) voted against both measures, which “zeroed in on law-abiding citizens” rather than address the real problems in a “flawed” system, he said in a statement provided yesterday by a spokesperson, who said the congressman was unavailable for a phone interview yesterday.

Zeldin on background checks

“We need to improve our nation’s background check system by ensuring state reporting and the compilation of all relevant information,” Zeldin said in the statement. “We cannot determine if certain people are unfit to own a firearm if we don’t have the necessary available information,” he said.

Zeldin said in the statement yesterday that’s why he supported the “Fix NICS Act.”

That law requires every federal agency and court to certify whether its has provided to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System “disqualifying records” of people prohibited from receiving or possessing a firearm, and to establish an implementation plan to “maximize record submissions and verify their accuracy.” It also directs the Department of Justice to report to Congress on the use of bump stocks in the commission of crimes, including the number of instances and the types of firearms.

In February 2017, Zeldin voted to nullify a Social Security Administration rule that would have authorized the agency to provide the National Instant Criminal History Background Check System (NICS) the name of an individual whose benefit payments are made to a representative because the individual is determined to be mentally incapable of managing his own benefits. Current law prohibits firearm sale or transfer to and purchase or possession by a person who has been adjudicated as “a mental defective.”

Zeldin said in the statement yesterday he supports the “Mass Violence Prevention Act” which, he said, “would improve information sharing to prevent and deter violence caused by criminal use of firearms, reduce the flow of firearms onto the black market and provide law enforcement with increased resources to keep our communities safe.”

The bill would codify “a fusion center at DOJ to help local, state and federal law enforcement share and process intelligence so they can swiftly and appropriately respond to potential instances of mass violence,” according to its sponsor, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga), the ranking Republican member on the House Judiciary Committee. It would also authorize stiffer penalties for burglaries of licensed firearms dealers and authorize DOJ to hire additional assistant U.S. attorneys to prosecute gun violence cases.

Collins introduced the bill in February and it remains before the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

Zeldin also supported the “STOP School Violence Act of 2018” which amends a federal school grant program to improve security in schools, including the placement and use of metal detectors and other deterrent measures, at schools and on school grounds. It passed the House 407-10 on March 14 and was signed into law by the president nine days later.

In 2017, Zeldin cosponsored the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would authorize an individual who holds a concealed-carry permit or license issued by one state to carry a concealed firearm in any state, provided that such state authorizes the concealed-carry of a firearm. The bill passed the House in December 2017 but stalled in the Senate.

‘No acceptable excuse’

“The events that took place this past weekend are tragedies, and there is no acceptable excuse whatsoever for this deadly behavior,” Zeldin said in the statement yesterday. “We need to ensure lunatics manifesting violent criminal intentions to murder with firearms have access to none.”

On Sunday, he issued a statement in which he called the El Paso shooter as a “domestic terrorist.”

In December 2015, in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre, Zeldin introduced legislation aimed at preventing terrorists from purchasing firearms or explosives. It would require the DOJ to notify relevant law enforcement or intelligence agencies when it receives notice of a request to transfer a firearm to a known or suspected terrorist. The bill would have authorized the DOJ or a U.S. Attorney’s office to delay the transfer for up to 72 hours and file an emergency petition to prohibit the transfer. The bill also died in committee.

Opposition to sweeping state reforms in 2014

As a N.Y. State Senator, Zeldin opposed the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, which was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January 2013, after the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

Known as the “S.A.F.E. Act,” the measure contained a series of sweeping reforms, among them:

  • a stricter definition of assault weapons and banned their possession in New York (unless possessed prior to the legislation);
  • reporting by mental health professionals when there is reason to believe a patient is likely to engage in conduct that will cause serious harm to themselves or others;
  • suspension of the patient’s license to possess a gun and removal of the firearm by law enforcement authorities;
  • ban on high-capacity magazines;
  • registration of ammunition dealers;
  • state background checks for ammunition sales and reporting of ammunition sales to the state police;
  • recertification every five years of handgun and assault rifle licensees;
  • universal background checks for nearly all private sales of firearms;

Zeldin, a reservist, was absent from the State Senate on the day of the vote because he was on Army Reserve duty in Virginia. In a press release issued that night, he said he would have voted against the bill if he had been able to.

“The actions government takes to protect its citizens through gun laws must strike the right balance of targeting illegal guns and the criminals who use them without eroding the basic protections of the Second Amendment for law-abiding gun owners,” Zeldin said in the Jan. 14, 2013 press release. “If there was some common sense solution to take away every illegal gun from criminals without disarming law-abiding gun owners, I would be all for it.”

Bills that would ban assault weapons at the federal level have been introduced in the current Congress — and past Congresses — but have not been adopted.

Opponents plan protest at Zeldin’s district office

Zeldin has come under criticism from some constituents for accepting campaign contributions of over $66,000 from the National Rife Association and affiliated PACs since his election to Congress in 2014, according to Federal Election Commission online records. The NRA gives the NY-1 congressman a 93 percent rating on gun issues and endorsed him in his campaigns for re-election. Zeldin also enjoys high ratings from other gun rights lobby groups, such as Gun Owners of America and New York State Rifle and Pistol Association.

Critics of Zeldin’s record on gun control are planning a protest at Zeldin’s district office in Patchogue on Thursday evening at 7:30.

“Our representatives refuse to take action, and instead take money from organizations such as the NRA,” protest organizers said on social media.

“We will let [Zeldin] know the people will not stand for his inaction. We will remember all those who have died and work to make these massacres a thing of the past,” organizers said.

Similar protests have taken place or are planned around the country since the mass shootings over the weekend, which occurred within a week of a gunman opening fire at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, killing three and injuring 12. In 2019 so far, 246 people have been killed and 979 wounded in mass shooting incidents in the U.S., according to Wikipedia.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.