WASHINGTON -- New York Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, who argues her pro-gun stance aims to protect hunters' rights and the Second Amendment, last week said she and her husband, Jonathan, keep two rifles under their bed to protect their upstate home.

Gillibrand said neither she nor her husband is a hunter, and in a general discussion of gun control said, "If I want to protect my family, if I want to have a weapon in the home, that should be my right."

The mother of two young children has taken "gun safety procedures to ensure family safety," an aide later said, but declined to say what steps.

Gillibrand's guns are rifles, her chief of staff Jess Fassler said in an e-mail, and she won one of them in a raffle at a county fair while campaigning. He said New York does not require anyone to register rifles.

The disclosure came in an interview with Newsday a week before her first trip as a senator to Long Island, where gun-control activist Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) has threatened a primary challenge to Gillibrand in the 2010 election.

It drew headshaking from Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, who expressed concern about storing guns under beds, where children can find them and where burglars typically look first.

And it demonstrates the difficulty Gillibrand is encountering as she tries to recalibrate her public persona and political views in moving from upstate congresswoman to New York's junior U.S. senator.

An expanding agenda

Criticized by downstate gun-control and immigration-rights activists after being appointed three weeks ago, Gillibrand has been shifting some views and softening some stands as she travels across the state.

In an interview in the Senate dining room Thursday, Gillibrand and two aides argued she has a broad agenda that is only getting broader as she expands her representation from one district to the entire state.

Gillibrand said it includes the economy, education, health care reform, middle-class tax cuts, veterans' care, agriculture and, as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, even oversight of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton - whose Senate seat she holds.

In the hour-and-a-half interview, Gillibrand, 42, a former Manhattan securities attorney, displayed a no-nonsense approach to her new job, giving lengthy answers reflecting mainstream Democratic positions.

The move to the Senate has been a bit bumpy, she conceded, as she has scrambled to assemble a staff and set up her office in temporary quarters. Her e-mail and Web site are still being set up, she said.

With an election in two years, Gillibrand said she had taken on much of Clinton's staff, including the state director and the Long Island office.

Fighting for the people

As a senator, Gillibrand said, her "hallmark" will be to gather ideas for legislation from "my communities based on what their needs are." In the next year and a half she said would tour the state to tell people she'll "fight for their priorities."

Gillibrand said she would make her first trip as senator to Long Island on Friday, for a forum on the stimulus bill. She also said she'd meet with officials and issue advocates but final details weren't yet available.

Gillibrand said her meetings with three immigration groups resulted in new positions: she said she now takes the opposite view on federal immigration raids, for example, and is seeking to halt them. She dismissed criticism for flip-flopping as rhetoric from "potential political opponents."

After meeting with a gun victim's parents in Brooklyn last week Gillibrand said she would work for after-school programs as an alternative to gangs and to write "the first anti-trafficking bill" to halt the flow of illegal guns into New York.

"That's not an example of position change," she said. "It's an example of me broadening my focus on an issue to make sure I can be a leader in areas that I think are essential as a New York senator to protect our communities."

But even after living in Manhattan with its gun violence for 12 years, Gillibrand, who as a House member won the National Rifle Association's top rating, rejects city gun bans or limits on legally owned guns.

"It's a false debate," she said. "It's political rhetoric that's sucking you in to believe that hunters owning a gun or an American citizen who wants to protect his home owning a gun somehow increases gun violence."

Asked if she owned a gun, she said, "We own two."

Asked where she kept them, she said, "Under the bed."

Gillibrand said while she and her husband don't hunt, her mother, brother and father do.

"I grew up in a house where my mom owns about eight guns. She keeps them in a gun case," Gillibrand said.