Guest Column: Congressman Zeldin sticks to his guns

When the Daily News ran a photo of Congressman Lee Zeldin last week, it was the kind of publicity our representative could do without. 

You see, Mr. Zeldin, like all his Republican colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives, had just blocked debate on a bill that would prohibit purchases of firearms by people barred from boarding airplanes because they’re on the government’s no-fly list for known or suspected terrorists.

The News, which to its great credit has been crusading day after day to close this outrageous loophole, reported that the First District’s freshman congressman was among Republicans being targeted for ouster next year by pro-gun-control Democrats. They can certainly make a good case against him on this issue.

They could start with what the F.B.I. found: Between 2004, when the government began keeping track, and last year, 2,233 people on the terrorist watch list were involved in firearm or explosives purchases requiring a background check; 91 percent of those transactions were allowed to proceed. Quite a loophole!

Hillary Clinton had it exactly right when she said last week, “If you’re too dangerous to fly in America, you’re too dangerous to buy a gun in America.”

Ironically, Mr. Zeldin, a member of the House subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade, is so concerned about what he perceives as the terror threat posed by an influx of Syrian refugees into the United States that he has co-sponsored legislation calling for the Government Accountability Office to conduct a sweeping review of security gaps in the current refugee screening process.

Though none of the approximately 2,000 Syrian refugees admitted into the country so far reportedly has been arrested or deported for terrorism, he’s more concerned about gaps — real or imagined — in the screening process than he is in eliminating the demonstrated risk of letting known or suspected terrorists on the no-fly list buy firearms.

If I weren’t so polite, I’d call Mr. Zeldin a hypocrite.

But you have to understand where he’s coming from. By all appearances, the congressman and the state’s gun-rights lobby are in lock step. Consider his stand on the SAFE Act, the landmark legislation enacted in Albany soon after the 2012 Newtown, Conn., massacre, that expanded the state’s ban on assault weapons and contained measures to keep guns away from the mentally ill.

The legislation passed the state Senate, where Mr. Zeldin was then serving, by a margin of more than two to one. According to Newsday, eight of Long Island’s nine senators, all Republicans, voted yes. Although Mr. Zeldin didn’t vote, because he was on military reserve duty, he opposed the law because it didn’t strike “the proper balance” between targeting illegal guns and those who use them, and preserving Second Amendment protections for law-abiding gun owners.

Less than a month later, he was listed as one of the speakers at a Gun Rights Lobby Day event planned to protest the SAFE Act outside the state Capitol. Sponsors included the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, the state’s most powerful firearms advocacy group, which would go on to endorse Mr. Zeldin in his congressional campaign last year.

“He has assured us he will continue to help preparing the litigation for the NY SAFE Act lawsuit” to overturn the act, the group’s president, Thomas H. King, said of Mr. Zeldin at the time.

Fortunately, however, this October a federal appeals court ruled that the “core provisions” of the SAFE Act, and a similarly strict law passed in Connecticut after the Newtown shootings, didn’t violate the Second Amendment. And on Monday, gun-control advocates won another victory when the Supreme Court declined to review such laws, effectively letting the appeals court’s ruling stand.

That’s good news for us — if not for Mr. Zeldin — because there’s a close correlation between the strictness of gun laws and deaths from firearms.

A recent study by National Journal magazine found that New York State, which has some of the nation’s toughest laws, had the third lowest rate of gun deaths per 100,000 residents (right behind two of the other strictest states, Hawaii and Massachusetts). At the bottom of the list was Alaska, a state with light firearms regulation and a gun-death rate more than four times higher than New York’s.

Imagine how many lives could be saved if gun controls were tightened through federal legislation. Just don’t expect Lee Zeldin to lead the charge.

The author is a former copy editor for Times Review Media Group. He lives in Orient.