One day after Kirsten Gillibrand slammed the National Rifle Association (NRA) as the "worst organization in this country," the group on Monday posted an effusive letter it received from Gillibrand in 2008 in which she praised "the work that the NRA does to protect gun owners rights" and said she hoped to work with it "for many years in Congress."
At a fiery Fox News town hall in Dubuque, Iowa Sunday, Gillibrand charged that the NRA cares "more about their profits than the American people" and "lies" for the sake of profit. But the NRA has countered that Gillibrand, whose campaign has attracted at most 1 percent support in national and early voting state polls, was a cynical political opportunist trying to gin up support for her candidacy.
"Gillibrand called us the worst org in the country, but when she represented NY20, she wrote us: 'I appreciate the work that the NRA does to protect gun owners rights, and I look forward to working with you for many years,'" the NRA wrote on Twitter. "Now that she’s looking to crack 1%, she’ll say anything."
Gillibrand, according to the NRA, sent the letter to NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox on Sept. 19, 2008, when she was a member of Congress representing a rural district in upstate New York. The ILA, or Institute for Legislative Action, is the lobbying arm of the NRA.
"I want to be very clear that I always have and always will believe that the correct interpretation of the 2nd amendment [sic] is that it applies to an individual's right to carry guns, and does not apply generally to the National Guard or a group of individuals in a State," Gillibrand wrote to Cox, following what she described as a meeting with him the previous August.
Gillibrand, in the letter, went on to reject a slew of gun control measures, saying she was "adamantly opposed" to the idea "outright banning firearms for cosmetic features, bullets of an [sic] random size, or banning magazines from holding an arbitrary number of cartridges."
Those limitations, she said, were "random" and intended solely to "limit gun ownership or usage."
Gillibrand concluded: "I appreciate the work that the NRA does to protect gun owners rights, and I look forward to working with you for many years.”
"I appreciate the work that the NRA does to protect gun owners rights, and I look forward to working with you for many years.”
The letter was not out of the ordinary for Gillibrand at the time. Gillibrand boasted in 2009 about receiving a 100 percent "A" rating from the NRA and said she kept two guns under her bed. She was also a member of the conservative Democratic Blue Dog coalition when she represented New York's rural 20th congressional district in the House.
Gillibrand first began changing her views on guns upon her appointment by then-New York Gov. David Paterson to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton in 2009. As a senator, Gillibrand represented a far larger and more liberal constituency.
"I came from a district that was really rural -- Second Amendment was important, hunting was important," Gillibrand said at Sunday's town hall, when asked why she changed her views on gun rights. "I recognize people have different communities. ... The truth is, it wasn’t good enough to care only about your backyard — you’ve got to care about communities across this country.”
Pressed by moderator and Fox News host Chris Wallace on what exactly changed once she arrived in the Senate and quickly received an "F" rating from the NRA, Gillibrand continued: "Just realizing that not every part of this country is like my rural, upstate district."
In 2018, Gillibrand told CBS News' "60 Minutes" that she was "embarrassed" by her previous views on gun rights and "ashamed" of her stance on illegal immigration.
“After I got appointed, I went down to Brooklyn to meet with families who had suffered from gun violence in their communities," Gillibrand, who had lived in New York City for several years before holding elected office, said at the time. "And you immediately experience the feeling that I couldn’t have been more wrong. You know, I only had the lens of upstate New York.”
At the town hall, Gillibrand called for universal background checks, a bump stock ban, and a federal anti-weapons trafficking law. She also accused the NRA of having a "chokehold" on members of Congress. (The Trump administration has already banned bump stocks, over the objections of some conservatives who raised concerns about the constitutionality of the sweeping executive order.)
Wallace pointed out that Friday's shooting at the Virginia Beach municipal complex would not have been stopped by any of Gillibrand's proposed initiatives, and inquired whether she could provide more specific ideas that could have prevented the murders.
"Stop being beholden to the NRA like President Trump is," Gillibrand offered. "The NRA is lying to the American people. It is not about the Second Amendment. It is about gun sales. ... It is literally about greed and corruption, and making sure the status quo remains the same."
Democrats, including key donors, have accused Gillibrand of opportunism in other instances. Notably, Gillibrand said in 2017 -- after Hillary Clinton lost her presidential bid the previous year -- that Bill Clinton should have resigned during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. She made no mention of it, however, before then, including when Bill Clinton campaigned and fundraised for Gillibrand in 2006 and 2009.
And last October, when asked during a debate whether she would serve out her full term in the Senate or seek the presidency, Gillibrand responded: "I will serve my six-year term."
Gillibrand won re-election the next month, to a six-year Senate term, and announced her presidential candidacy in January.
Billionaire left-wing megadonor George Soros, in an interview with The Washington Post, said Gillibrand was the only Democrat he hoped would not win the presidency, because of what he termed her political opportunism.
Gillibrand's office did not respond to Fox News' request for comment. But by Gillibrand's own admission, time is running out to generate momentum.
"The first debate is coming fast, but we're still short of the 65,000 donors we need," Gillibrand tweeted June 1. "Help guarantee my spot on the debate stage by sending a donation tonight—even $1 helps!"