Op-Ed | Three years later, echoes of El Paso in Buffalo

Body Armor Restrictions
FILE – Police secure an area around a supermarket where several people were killed in a shooting, Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. New York’s new law barring sales of bullet-resistant vests to most civilians doesn’t cover the type of armor worn by the gunman who killed 10 people at the Buffalo supermarket, a gap that could limit its effectiveness in deterring future military-style assaults. (Derek Gee/The Buffalo News via AP, File)

On August 3, 2019, a white supremacist terrorist walked into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and opened fire with a legally-purchased AK-47. Within minutes, he committed the deadliest hate crime perpetuated on Latinos in modern American history, murdering 23 innocent patrons. Three years have passed since that tragedy, but new versions of this horror have continued to transpire nationwide — including in my hometown of Buffalo, New York, which includes my district. 

The parallels between the mass shootings in El Paso and Buffalo are stark: people of color expect to run their errands freely and safely, only to be met with hatred and gunfire. The shooters in both massacres were terrorists who drove several hours to target communities of color. Before committing their atrocities, they wrote white supremacist manifestos filled with racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant themes.

And both could have been prevented.

Our state’s Assembly Majority, along with Gov. Kathy Hochul, passed a landmark legislative package to immediately strengthen New York gun laws, close critical loopholes exposed by shooters in Buffalo and Uvalde and protect New Yorkers from the scourge of gun violence that continues to infect our nation and endanger our communities.

The comprehensive gun-bill package that Gov. Hochul signed into law represents common sense measures that all law-abiding gun owners should be able to support, including banning the sale of semiautomatic rifles to anyone under 21 by requiring a license (S.9458/A.10503), prohibiting the purchase of body armor by anyone not engaged in an eligible profession (S.9407-B/A.10497), and strengthening Red Flag Laws by expanding the list of people who can file for Extreme Risk Protection Orders (S.9113-A/A.10502).

By closing loopholes in state laws that mass shooters have exposed in order to devastate communities and tear families apart, New York took yet another step forward in protecting its residents from the blight of gun violence that continues to destroy communities across our nation, as action at the federal level has been frozen and mired in a political stalemate.

This kind of instantaneous legislative proficiency is produced as a result of Democratic leadership in Albany. While the Supreme Court continues its descent toward total politicization, Gov. Hochul and Democratic officials in New York are focused on the work that will make communities safer and will produce tangible results for families most vulnerable to being shattered from gun violence.

Contrast these stances with those of Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee for governor. If elected in November, Zeldin would erase the progress we’ve made to protect New Yorkers from the devastation caused by rampant gun violence.

On June 23, the Supreme Court struck down a New York law that placed strict limits on carrying guns outside the home — a decision that has far-reaching implications, particularly in cities that had sought to address gun crimes by putting restrictions on who can carry them. The New York law required that people seeking a license to carry a handgun outside their homes show a “proper cause.”

Gov. Hochul called a special legislative session in order to strengthen state laws and rectify the inequities of the Court’s insular decision.

Conversely, Lee Zeldin’s long record of positions on guns ranges from opposing “Red Flag” laws to leading the fight to expand concealed carry laws. His recent “no” vote against a federal assault weapons ban speaks for itself.

As we remember the countless tragedies that have gripped our country — including those in El Paso and Buffalo — we move forward with a promise to fight against extremism and reject those who put party over public safety. This November, we must continue the fight by electing individuals courageous enough to stand up and say “enough” to gun violence.