Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) always says meeting a mother grieving the death of her daughter in 2009 led to her dramatic shift on gun rights.
The 2020 presidential hopeful has invoked 17-year-old Nyasia Pryear-Yard in interviews, speeches, and her 2014 memoir Off The Sidelines. Pryear-Yard was killed by a stray bullet at a teen dance club, and her death stunned her Brooklyn community. Gillibrand visited Pryear-Yard's Nazareth Regional High School to meet her mother Jennifer Pryear two weeks after being appointed to Hillary Clinton's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
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Bearing an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association at the time, Gillibrand later said she realized after meeting Pryear that she "couldn't have been more wrong" on guns and vowed Nyasia's death would not be "in vain."
Gillibrand's stance on guns has changed since she represented a Republican-leaning district in upstate New York, going from writing the NRA friendly letters to calling it the "worst organization in the country." But according to the Washington Post, Pryear had no idea Gillibrand mentions her daughter on the campaign trail and hasn't heard from her in nearly 10 years:
And after standing behind Gillibrand at a news conference about gun control a few months later, Pryear never heard from Gillibrand again. She had no clue that the senator still spoke about her daughter until a Washington Post reporter told her.
Gillibrand’s office said the reason it never contacted the mother again was that it couldn’t find a way to get in touch with her — even though Pryear still lives in the house she lived in when she met the senator, with the same phone number she said she originally shared with Gillibrand’s office.
Gillibrand has tried every year, unsuccessfully, to pass the Hadiya Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard Gun Trafficking & Crime Prevention Act. Gillibrand's promise to start an internship program in Nyasai's honor was a "bust," the Post reported. Pryear told the Post she doesn't think Gillibrand was genuine in her promises.
"I think I did help to change her mind, but I’m not sure she really felt it," Pryear said. "You would think she would give a phone call or send a card. If you really care, you follow up … Meanwhile, I am still coming home to an empty home and kids are still getting shot in Brooklyn."
Gillibrand has always shrugged off criticism that her shift on gun control was politically expedient. She has blamed having the "lens of upstate New York" for blinding her to the plague of gun violence in New York City, even though she worked there as a corporate lawyer in the 1990s when there were as many as 2,100 homicides a year.
Following her appointment to Clinton's Senate seat when the latter became secretary of state, Gillibrand rapidly adapted her gun views and is now one of the chamber's most liberal members.
"I gave them my word that I would fight, and I meant it," Gillibrand wrote in Off The Sidelines. "I committed myself to doing whatever I could to end gun violence in this country. My decision wasn't a calculated evolution, as some speculated, and it wasn't a political consideration. It was my clear answer to the intensity of Nyasia's parents' pain and the collective misery of her community. There was no other possible course."