The killings at Virginia Tech have inevitably put the spotlight on the debate over gun control. Virginia police have traced the store where they say the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, bought one of the weapons five weeks ago. New York Democratic Congressmember Carolyn McCarthy is known as one of the most ardent gun-control proponents in the House. In 1993, her husband Dennis was killed and her son Kevin seriously injured when a gunman opened fire aboard a Long Island Rail Road commuter train. [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: The killings at Virginia Tech have inevitably put the spotlight in the debate over gun control. Virginia police have traced the store where they say the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, bought one of the weapons five weeks ago. Cho paid $571 for a Glock 19 handgun and a box of ammunition. The shop’s owner, John Markell, was asked for his reaction.
JOHN MARKELL: Responsibility—he would have gotten a gun—he could have bought one legally anywhere. I’m just sorry he chose us.
AMY GOODMAN: Markell told ABC News it’s the fifth time a gun sold in his store has been used in a homicide, but he said nothing in Cho’s manner at the time of his purchase raised any suspicions. Virginia has some of the laxest gun laws in the country. We’re going to turn right now to Carolyn McCarthy, New York congressmember who came to Congress because of gun violence, her own husband killed in the Long Island Rail Road shooting and her son grievously wounded.
We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Congressmember McCarthy.
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: Thank you for having me here this morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about gun control right now and what you plan to do in response to what happened at Virginia Tech?
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: Well, as you know, the Assault Weapons Ban expired two years ago. They would not allow us to renew it in Congress. And unfortunately, yesterday’s shooting possibly could have been prevented to a certain extent. Large-capacity clips, which the shooter used, were banned under the Assault Weapons Ban, but he was able to buy them legally.
Now, you’ll hear the other side basically talk about, "Well, he would have been able to buy a clip with 10 bullets in it." Yes, he would have. But the unfortunate thing is that maybe some lives could have been saved. You know, this debate has been going on for a long time, and I think it’s time that we try to look at how are we going to change the debate. Shouldn’t our job be, on the federal government, to try to save as many lives as possible?
On the shooting that happened on Monday, which is a tragedy to have so many young people’s lives just totally wiped out, but yet people keep forgetting that over 30,000 people a year die from gun violence, and thousands and thousands more are wounded every year from guns. So, we certainly are not trying to take away the right of everyone to own a gun. But we need to do a better job on protecting the citizens and the people of this country against the violence that’s here.
AMY GOODMAN: How powerful is the National Rifle Association? And do you think you’ll be able to effect any kind of gun control?
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: Absolutely. You know, you have to give the National Rifle Association credit. They certainly put the fear of God into the majority of congresspeople. They threaten them with—by not being re-elected. They have a very well organized machine. The sad part is, the majority of the American people—and, by the way, this is also with gun owners. I was on a talk show earlier this morning, and a number of gun owners did call up and say they owned guns, but they did believe there needed to be tighter rules on how people buy guns. So, with that being said, until the American people really get together and say enough is enough—but the NRA will count on delaying, delaying, delaying, knowing that the American people will forget about this in a couple of weeks, and nothing will get done. Working with the leadership on the Democratic side, I’m trying to get legislation through Congress that possibly could help save lives in the long run. And I think that’s our goal, and that should be the goal, and that’s why I came to Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember McCarthy, ABC is reporting that—talking about the guns in Virginia, saying the New York City Police Department says Virginia is the top source for illegal guns used in crimes committed in New York, that they’re having—can you respond to that?
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: Absolutely. I mean, New York state, out of all the states, really has very good gun safety laws. But with that being said, the majority of guns that are used in crimes and in homicides in New York are coming from Virginia and other outlining states. And that’s one of the big problems. You know, you’ll hear constantly from the other side, the NRA and some of the other pro-gun clubs, basically saying, "Well, a criminal is always going to be able to get a gun." Well, you know, to a certain extent, somebody that really wants a gun is going to probably be able to find a gun. But what the problem is, is that if we don’t start doing a better job and stop this debate that goes nowhere, and just say we can do a better job on preventing those that shouldn’t own guns, they shouldn’t be able to get them. We cannot save every single person. We cannot stop every single crime. But to stop the debate by saying nothing should be done is the wrong way to go.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember McCarthy, a lot of people say Democrats have backed off the issue of gun control, that in this presidential race that is coming up, that has already begun, that the candidates are afraid to really take on that issue.
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: I’m afraid that the statement that you just made is true. Most likely we will not hear from any of the presidential candidates. Certainly the Republican side will probably, you know, basically—John McCain came out yesterday and said, "I’m sorry about the tragedy, but certainly I believe that everyone has the right to carry a gun." And so I’m sure that you’re going to hear that, and you’re not going to hear anyone supporting about trying to reduce gun violence in this country either on the Democratic side.
AMY GOODMAN: How much progress do you think has been made since your husband and so many others were killed in the Long Island Rail Road killings that took place, oh, well over 10 years ago? Maybe for listeners and viewers who don’t know your story, if you could just briefly summarize what happened?
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: Well, back in 1993, a commuter train was coming back from New York City. My husband, my son and many other people were on that train. And Colin Ferguson, who was a passenger, had a nine-millimeter gun with large-capacity clips and just started going down the aisle of the train and shooting everybody in his path. Six people died. Over 21 people were injured, my son being one of them. My husband was killed. My son was severely injured. He had a head wound, left him partially paralyzed, and it took him quite a few years to get back his life. But with that being said, what we saw at Virginia Tech was almost the same scenario, and the large-capacity clips were used.
And what we have done in Congress since I’ve been here has been a battle. It has been truly a battle. Any time you try to do a gun-safety issue, basically the majority of Republicans, and certainly a large amount of Democrats, are afraid to vote for anything. What the NRA has basically done with the power that they have has even put into law what they call the Tiahrt bill, and that is stopping our police officers from even being able to trace a gun when a gun is used in a crime or in a homicide. With that being said, we have gone backwards as far as gun-safety issues. And I know the NRA will say that everybody should be—if campuses had guns, if the students had guns, they could have taken this young man down before he killed everybody. Is this what we want as a nation, that our schools have to be fully armed? Is this what we are going to be doing for a nation? Putting at risk, you know, especially in a college situation or any school situation—kids are kids. And unfortunately, when they have too much to drink, what are they going to do? Start shooting instead of having a black eye? That’s what we’re facing right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Carolyn McCarthy, you, yourself, ran because your opponent, the incumbent, said he would not take on this issue, is that right?
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: That’s right. Basically, when I ran, obviously, you know, I had people saying, "Well, she’s only running on one issue, and that’s the gun issue," and I’m proud to say that I’ve run on that issue. But in my 10 years in Congress, I’ve been working on educational issues, healthcare issues, because I happen to think those two areas do tie into the gun issue. The gentleman, the person that slaughtered the students at Virginia Tech was obviously mentally ill. Why? Why didn’t anybody pick up those signals that he was—now we’re hearing about it, and apparently his former roommate actually had reported him to the police and also to the authorities, and yet nothing was done. We have to look at mental illness and see how can we help these people. So, I mean, it’s a difficult situation, but if you look at it holistically, there are things that we can do. We need to reach these students at a very young age, in grade school, in high school. This young man just didn’t just become mentally ill; there were probably signs when he was in school. Why weren’t those signs picked up? Why didn’t he get the help that he needed?
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Carolyn McCarthy, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Democratic congresswoman representing New York’s Fourth Congressional District.
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: Thank you so much for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you. Thank you. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’ll talk about school killings with a person who’s written a book called Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings. We’ll speak with Professor Katherine Newman. Stay with us.