- Rep. Carolyn McCarthy(D–NY). Her husband was killed and her son injured in a 1993 mass shooting on a Long Island Rail Road train.
Police say the alleged shooter in the Aurora, Colorado, killings purchased more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition online as well as a high-capacity “drum magazine” large enough to hold 100 rounds and capable of firing 50 or 60 rounds per minute. Such a purchase would have been restricted under proposed legislation that has been stalled in Washington for more than a year. We speak to Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a leading advocate for gun control in Congress. She ran for office after her husband was killed and son seriously injured in the 1993 Long Island Rail Road shooting that killed six. “Large magazines, assault weapons do not need to be on the streets for the ordinary citizen. They are meant for the military,” McCarthy says. “I think that the American people understand that. The problem is, politicians, legislators across this country are intimidated by the NRA and the gun manufacturers who put so much money out there to say that 'we will take you down in an election if you go against us.'” Responding to the Obama administration’s dismissal of calls for new gun control laws, Rep. McCarthy says, “[President Obama] did say that we had to do something, we had to do something to stop this kind of violence in our country. It’s going to be up to me and certainly many members of Congress to convince him. We are willing to lose an election to save people’s lives, and the president should be doing the same thing.” [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We continue our conversation on the Aurora, Colorado, massacre that killed 12 and injured 58 at a midnight film screening of Batman last Friday. The Aurora rampage is leading to fresh calls for a national debate on gun control. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an advocate of stricter gun laws, said President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney need to lead that discussion on guns.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Somebody’s got to do something about this. And this requires—and particularly in a presidential year—the candidates for president of the United States to stand up and once and for all say, yes, they feel terrible; yes, it’s a tragedy; yes, we have great sympathy for the families—but it’s time for this country to do something. And that’s the job of the president of the United States. And I don’t know what they’re going to do, but I think it’s incumbent on them to tell us specifically, not just in broad terms.
AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Obama would not endorse any new gun control measures. Carney said, quote, “He believes we need to take steps that protect Second Amendment rights of the American people but that ensure we’re not allowing weapons into the hands of individuals who should not, by existing law, obtain those weapons.”
For more, we’re joined now, for the remainder of the show, by survivors of gun violence and family members of those who did not survive gun violence. We start by Democracy Now! video stream with Democratic Congressmember Carolyn McCarthy of New York. Her husband was killed, her son injured, in a 1993 mass shooting on the Long Island Rail Road that killed six people.
Congressmember McCarthy, welcome to Democracy Now! Before we talk about what needs to be done, go back to 1993, if you will, to talk about what happened to your husband and son.
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: It was December 7th, 1993. My husband and my son and so many other commuters were taking the Long Island Rail Road back home on the 5:33 train. Right before it pulled into a station in Garden City, Colin Ferguson, the shooter, got up. He had a—many magazines with 15 bullets in each gun and started just pointing his gun at everybody’s head and started shooting. The second person to be shot and killed was my husband. And my son, who was sitting next to him, was also shot in the head, but he did survive. Even during this time, he’s still partially paralyzed and certainly has to go to physical therapy a couple of times a week.
It was from there that—you know, people just don’t understand what these horrific wounds do to people. We did not know whether Kevin was going to live. It was months before we were sure that he was going to survive. We didn’t know at that time whether he would ever walk again. We didn’t even know at that time whether he would ever be able to speak again. But I have to say that he certainly was brave through everything. And all I kept telling him, that he was going to survive, he was going to survive. And we had a lot of work to do. As you know, my background was a nurse. I still consider myself a nurse. And it was at that time, when Kevin was learning how to speak again—and I’m making this sound very easy, but he asked me, “How could this happen?” And I didn’t know. And that’s when I started becoming an activist and looking at gun violence in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, describe what happened. You went to your congressman’s office. Who was it at the time, and how this really launched your political career?
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: Well, at the time, I did meet with our congressman. His name was Dan Frisa. He basically said that he supported Second Amendment rights. He was being backed by the National Rifle Association. And I was begging him that when the vote came up in Congress that he would vote against it, as the other members of the Long Island delegation at that time were going to vote. We knew it was going to be down to one or two votes to have it passed. Unfortunately, in the end, he voted against the bill.
And I happened to be in the Capitol at that time, as so many visitors do, was up in the balcony looking down. I didn’t know the rules or regulations of Congress at that time, and apparently you’re not allowed to yell out. And when the bill passed, I just, you know, yelled and said, “Thank you! Thank you!” Of course, then the security guards come over. But to know that my member of Congress, in the area that he represented—six people were killed, 21 injured severely—and I was coming down the Capitol steps after the vote, and a reporter asked me how mad I was at my congressman, and I said I was furious. And he said, “Well, what are you going to do about it? Would you run for Congress?” And it was at that moment I said I would.
And the next thing I knew, when I got home here in Mineola, my phone was ringing off the hook. People were showing up at my door just saying, “We want to help you. We want to help you.” And by the way, you know, at that time I was a registered Republican, but it didn’t matter. Republicans, Democrats were there to help me run for Congress, and that’s what I did.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, you won in what year?
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: I won in 1996.
AMY GOODMAN: And you’ve been in office ever since. You ran on a platform of gun control. What has been accomplished in that time? And what do you make of President Obama, through his spokesperson, through Jay Carney, saying that the current laws are adequate to stop someone like this, if we enforce them?
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: Well, actually, that’s not true. If we were going to enforce the laws on the books, which, believe me, I fully support—we have the NICS system that basically does background checks, but as you know, the shooter passed that legally. If he had been adjudicated to be mentally ill, he would not have been able to buy the gun. The problem is, he was able to buy the large magazines. He was able to buy assault weapons. If everybody remembers, when that bill, the assault weapons bill, was passed, for years it was very, very difficult to get assault weapons. You also could not get the large magazine clips. Unfortunately, in the year 2004, Congress let it expire, even though at that time President Bush said that he would sign the bill, and so did Vice President Cheney. But unfortunately, it did expire, and now we have the assault weapons, and now we have the large magazines back on the market for anybody else—for anybody to buy.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the assault weapons ban did sunset then in 2004. Congressmember [McCarthy], I wanted to get your response to Republican Senator John McCain, who appeared on CNN’s State of the Union. He said he was skeptical more gun control is necessary.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I think that the strongest Second Amendment rights people would be glad to have a conversation, but to somehow leap to the conclusion that this was somehow caused by the fact that we don’t have more gun control legislation, I don’t think has been proved.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Senator McCain. We’re speaking to Congressmember Carolyn McCarthy of Long Island, New York. Your response to the man who was beaten by President Obama, by Senator McCain?
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: Well, how I would respond to the senator—and I certainly have a great deal of respect for him on so many different issues, but with that being said, when you have had these mass killings going back to 1993, when my husband was killed and my son was shot, all the way up to Friday night, large magazines were not being able to be bought. Now they’re on the streets. All these major shootings, what was the common denominator to them? They had large magazines that could kill as many people as possible in as short a period of time. In that movie house that night, the police responded in 90 seconds. Ninety seconds. And the shooter was able to wound 70 people and kill. And the only reason he didn’t kill or maim other people, because his gun jammed. Can you imagine if he had gotten off the hundred rounds? Yes, the courts have already said people have a right to own a gun to defend theirselves in the home. We are not infringing upon that. What we’re saying is, large magazines, assault weapons do not need to be on the streets for the ordinary citizen. They are meant for the military. They are meant for certainly safety officers or police officers, who, by the way, are being killed by these particular guns now.
And I think that the American people understand that. The problem is, politicians, legislators across this country are intimidated by the NRA and the gun manufacturers who put so much money out there to say that “we will take you down in an election if you go against us.” Common sense will say we can take prudent gun safety legislation and try to save people’s lives. That is the bottom line. And if people would really look at what it costs this health—this country on healthcare, billions of dollars are spent every single year for those that survive.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember McCarthy, I know that you have to leave, but asking you this question now, what, some—almost 20 years later, you’re coming down the steps of Congress. We now have now seen this next mass killing. What are you doing about this in Congress? What is the legislation that you’re pushing specifically now? And as you said, you were a Republican, you then ran on the Democratic ticket. It doesn’t matter, your party. Yet you are a Democrat now, and President Obama says that we don’t need new legislation. So what are you doing?
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: Well, you know, from what I saw, the president did not say that, his spokesperson said that.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: Last night, I did watch him speak at the services for the victims and after visiting the victims. He did say that we had to do something, we had to do something to stop this kind of violence in our country. It’s going to be up to me and certainly many members of Congress to convince him. We are willing to lose an election to save people’s lives, and the president should be doing the same thing.
AMY GOODMAN: The legislation that has been stalled in Congress this year that would have stopped the high-capacity drum magazine large enough of holding a hundred rounds, capable of firing 50 to 60 rounds per minute, would have been restricted under this legislation—what is it called?
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: Well, actually, your audience could certainly help. We’re trying to get people to sign on to support H.R. 308. We want people to call the White House, we want people to call the speaker of the House, to say this is commonsense legislation that will stop these large magazines being on our streets, being in the stores, being on the internet. I think it’s important that people have to start saying we need to get involved more. We can certainly outnumber so many of those NRA members that keep fighting us back. We have the numbers in this country, but we need to hear their voices.
So, basically, what it would do is ban—it would bring it back to the Assault Weapons Ban Act, where the large magazines could not be sold. We need the Americans’ support. Your listeners can be part of that solution. We’re asking everybody to share their voice. Let the president know there is support from the other side, us, us that have been trying to fight to reduce gun violence in this country. Are we going to wait for another massacre? Are we going to have this discussion six months, another year, 12, 13, 20, a hundred people die? We can’t wait anymore. We need help. I can do what I need to do in Congress, but I do need the support of many other members of Congress, and I hope—I hope—your message and my message gets out to your listeners, that they are capable of doing something. But we need help.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Congressmember McCarthy, to those who say, “The victims have not even been buried yet. To use this as a political opportunity to start debating gun control is unconscionable,” which I’ve heard on various networks—your response to that?
REP. CAROLYN McCARTHY: Listen. You know, the only time, unfortunately, that we even even talk about this issue is when we see a slaughter, as we saw Friday. The only time that we got to talk about this issue was last January, when Gabby Giffords and other people were shot and killed. So I, speaking as a victim, I have the right to use that voice. And, yes, I am now a member of Congress, so I do have that right, because no one pays attention to this issue until there’s killings like this. We need to do something to try to prevent the killings in the future, which will happen, unfortunately.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Carolyn McCarthy, I thank you for being with us, Democrat of New York, actually formerly a Republican, but ran for office after her husband was killed and son injured in the 1993 shooting on the Long Island Rail Road.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re turning to the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007, and we’ll speak with one of the survivors. He was shot four times and now campaigns across the country for gun control. His name is Colin Goddard. Stay with us.