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Members of NY Congressional Delegation Talk About Guns

2:20 AM, Feb 5, 2013   |    comments
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By Brian Tumulty

Gannett Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Four members of New York's congressional delegation say they own a gun. Two delegation members declined to say if they are gun owners.

Among those who don't own a gun, some say they grew up in families where gun use was common.

New York's senators

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., does not own a gun. He won a National Rifle Association sharpshooter badge at age 12 in summer camp in Pennsylvania. Schumer went pheasant hunting in Nebraska a year or two ago with former Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

"I got three pheasants,'' Schumer said. "I really enjoyed it.''

He supported the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which included a 10-year ban on certain types of assault weapons. Schumer supports another ban but believes a proposal to require universal background checks for all gun purchases stands the best chance of passage.

"I think that's the sweet spot,'' he said. "In other words, if you had to measure both the effectiveness in reducing gun violence and the chance of it passing, this is the sweet spot. We are going to try our best on other parts, but this is the place people seem to be coalescing around.''

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., owned shotguns when she served in the House, and she grew up in the Albany area with a mother who shot the family's Thanksgiving turkey.

Gillibrand locked up her guns in a secure location after Newsday reported in early 2009 that she stored her shotguns under her bed.

Her spokeswoman declined to say if Gillibrand still owns guns, citing safety concerns in the wake of the January 2011 shooting of former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who is Gillibrand's friend.

Gillibrand said in an interview she agrees with Schumer that the gun violence proposal with the best chance of becoming law is a proposal to require universal background checks.

"The other piece that I think has great hope, is the trafficking legislation,'' Gillibrand said, referring to her bill to ban the interstate transportation of illegal guns. "The combination of those two would be extremely meaningful because about 40 percent of the weapons purchased today have no background checks and because such a high volume of guns used in crimes are trafficked. Those two reforms I think could transform the access criminals have to illegal weapons.''

Gillibrand thinks there also may be bipartisan support for legislation to address access to guns by the mentally ill and for limits on the size of ammunition clips, but not for an assault weapons ban.

New York House Republicans

Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, Chemung County, owns about a half dozen guns, including his dad's hunting rifle.

"I am supportive of the mental health provisions that the president has been trying to promote, getting the resources to our mental health providers,'' he said. "Things like the screenings for felons and convicted criminals we're interested in being part of that conversation. But this talk about outright bans I think goes too far and crosses the line and that's a position I'm not interested in supporting.''

Asked if he supports universal background checks for gun purchases, Reed said, "I don't know if 'universal' is a term I would use, but making sure that people who have been criminally convicted or known mental health issues, that is something I am interested in seeing strengthened.''

Reed said he has not looked into the legislation to ban interstate gun trafficking and could not comment on whether he would support it.

He did say he supports more federal money for community policing.

"I have been very supportive over the years for our school resource officers,'' he said.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, Erie County, owns four pistols and has had a concealed carry permit for 25 years.

"I don't hunt,'' he said. "My son being an Eagle Scout, at summer camp we not only did rifle shooting, but through the Scope organization you could take your teenagers under proper supervision and shoot pistols. We would go shoot my dad's military 45. It was pretty cool. Gun safety and teaching youngsters proper gun safety and respect for guns. I am an assistant scoutmaster and I am also active on the executive board of the Greater Niagara Frontier Council and I am running this year's 2013 National Jamboree for Western New York.''

Collins opposes legislation to limit the types of guns that can be purchased.

"It is not the job of the federal government to tell responsible gun owners how to live their lives, nor is it the job of the federal government to dictate gun control legislation down onto the states,'' Collins said in a statement. "The administration should not force through gun control legislation that tramples the rights of responsible gun owners as an emotional reaction to recent tragedies. The proposals being advanced today by the president would have done nothing to prevent the massacre in Newtown, Conn. or the ambush in Webster, N.Y."

Rep. Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld, Oneida County, said he has "a couple" of revolvers and a gun for target practice. He has a concealed weapons permit but does not carry a gun.

"My cousins are all hunters and skeet shooters," he said. "If you live in the Adirondacks, guns are much more a cultural norm for us."

He cited differences between upstate and downstate New York.

"The kind of social ethos around guns is completely different where we are," he said. "Whereas, I'm sure if you are in Manhattan and see someone walking around with a shotgun, you run the other way. Up where I live, it's no big deal and you don't pay attention.''

Hanna pointed to a Remington Wingmaster, a popular shotgun that hangs on the wall of his office and was a gift from the Remington factory located in his congressional district just outside Utica.

Hanna recently spoke to about 150 employees of the Remington Arms factory, all of whom are members of the United Mine Workers union.

"I said, 'We're here because of what someone did with something you could have produced. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't misused,'" Hanna said. "So the logic is, for the gun owner and I think the NRA as well, to work to keep the guns out of the hands of the wrong people. The question is, how do you do that and not infringe on what people so clearly feel so strongly about? And I understand that. How do you do that in a way that produces an outcome that doesn't interfere with the rights of law-abiding citizens? I think it's an extremely hard thing to do.''

Hanna said he "absolutely'' supports universal background checks for gun purchases.

"Even though some people would object, I would say those people are not being realistic,'' he said. "One of the things I think gun owners sometimes lose sight of is that every time you get a maniac with a gun who does something that's unspeakable, it's a threat to them as well.''

Rep. Michael Grimm, R-Staten Island, carried a gun when he worked as an FBI agent, but said he doesn't own one anymore.

"I think prudent measures like closing loopholes, background checks, ensuring that the mentally ill don't have weapons - I can't imagine there not being a consensus on that,'' he said. "That should be a bipartisan effort. It makes sense.''

Grimm has spoken to other House Republicans who oppose proposals to restrict the size of ammunition clips and to ban the sale of assault weapons.

"I have already said I would support an assault weapons ban," he said "But what I am asking for in return is to broaden the conversation to talk about trying to get to the root of the problem, which is the growing violence. Why is our youth in American becoming more violent? How do we deal with that? Is it that mental illness is increasing?''

Grimm also supports posting armed plainclothes security guards in New York City schools

"We're talking about someone in a blue blazer that's plainclothes security who no one knows is carrying a weapon,'' he said. "That might be a prudent measure. It's an option that should be on the table. It's a decision that should be left to the schools and the parents. I would just say the flexibility should be there. I want parents to feel that their children are safe and I want them to actually be safe.''

New York House Democrats

Rep. Sean Maloney, D-Cold Spring, Putnam County, does not own a gun but hopes to inherit a rifle he used while growing up in New Hampshire.

"It's an old 22 rifle,'' he said. "I grew up shooting it with my dad and my brothers all hunted. And we used to target shoot. I think one of the important things that is happening is that people understand we can all make a distinction between hunters and sportsmen, who we all support, and taking common sense steps to take military style assault weapons out of the hands of the wrong people.''

Maloney supports the recent gun control legislation enacted in New York. "It's a common sense measure that I think attacks the problem where it exists, military style assault weapons in the hands of the wrong people,'' he said. "I think it will make us safer and want to congratulate everybody on both sides of the aisle who made it possible.''

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Harrison, Westchester County, has never owned a gun.

"I am extremely proud that under Gov. Cuomo's leadership, New York is leading the way on common-sense gun safety measures,'' she said. "I support banning high-capacity magazines. I support strengthening our background check system, closing the gun show loophole (and) banning military-style assault weapons.

Lowey, ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said she wants to use her position there to reverse a law that she said prevents the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from researching the causes and prevention of gun violence.

"Tragedy after tragedy, special interests stand in the way of enforcing gun laws and any attempt to prevent even the most common-sense gun measures," she said. "This has to change and change now. Look, I think there's no doubt there's going to be a challenge to pass legislation that would reduce gun violence, but frankly, there's more momentum for this cause than I've ever seen. Of course, progressive members of Congress representing socially progressive areas like me will definitely support these measures, but frankly there aren't enough of us in the Congress. We need support from Republicans and conservative Democrats who have traditionally opposed new gun laws. And frankly, if the Newtown massacre doesn't convince members of Congress to reject the absolutist positions of special interest groups, I'm not sure what will.''

Rep. Elliot Engel, D-Bronx, has never owned a gun.

"I think the president's recommendations are right on the money," he said. "I think they are excellent. I wish all of them could be implemented and passed. I think it's what the American people would consider common-sense gun control. It doesn't restrict the right of anyone to own a gun or Second Amendment rights. I am proud of New York leading the way, but the problem of course is that since guns are carried into New York state that are purchased elsewhere, it won't make of a much difference in New York.''

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, Monroe County, has never owned a gun. But she grew up with extended family members who owned guns.

"My family grew up in the Kentucky (and) North Carolina mountains and they killed what they ate,'' she said.

Her congressional district includes the Rochester suburb of Webster, where two volunteer firefighters were ambushed and killed recently.

"I am really proud to live in a state where the Legislature does such incredible work in such a hurry,'' Slaughter said in reference to the state's recently enacted gun control legislation. "I thought it was remarkable. I think it will make a great difference. We do have to have a federal law because we know so many of the guns in New York that cause mischief are from out of state.''

Slaughter couldn't predict if Congress will enact gun legislation as far reaching as the New York law.

"I want it all,'' she said. "When someone walks into a schoolroom and kills our babies, we can't tolerate that. It's gone way too far for us to ignore.''

Rep. Tim Bishop, D-Southampton, Suffolk County, does not own a gun.

"I certainly hope that we can put in place some common-sense gun legislation," he said. "I think what New York just passed with bipartisan support, at least the Senate passed with bipartisan support, is a very good piece of legislation. I would hope we can do something similar in the House, although it's an uphill climb.''

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