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Tonko: ‘We have a terrible gun violence problem in this country’

Some Republicans offer only general statements of sympathy, mourning
Pedestrians take photos of the broken windows on the 32nd floor where a gunman fired on an outdoor concert.
Pedestrians take photos of the broken windows on the 32nd floor where a gunman fired on an outdoor concert.

Sunday night’s mass shooting in Las Vegas is again re-igniting the decades-old debate about whether new laws are needed to control access to some kinds of guns and prevent such incidents in the future.

U.S. Rep Paul D. Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said his “heart is broken after the senseless mass violence in Las Vegas,” and renewed his calls for federal restrictions on semi-automatic weapons and taking other “common-sense” measures.

“Obviously doing nothing is not the answer here,” Tonko said in an interview.

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“Congress has had many, many opportunities to take up common-sense firearms reform, hundreds of devastating attacks from Columbine to Sandy Hook, and has repeatedly failed to adopt any meaningful protections. That must change,” said Tonko, who is in Congress’ Democratic minority.

There was a federal assault weapons ban in place from 1994 to 2004, but that law was not renewed when it expired, and Congress has not passed new legislation since then.

Tonko has co-sponsored a bill that would create a Select Committee on Gun Violence Prevention to look at the connections between mass shootings and potential legislation.

“We have a terrible gun violence problem in this country,” Tonko said. “Special interest groups have made it nearly impossible for us to move forward but Congress needs to act.”

Tonko said he supports universal background checks for firearms purchases, limits on high-capacity magazines and legislation to restrict silencers. He urged the public to contact their legislators, as he said they did on health care legislation, helping defeat efforts to repeal Obamacare.

“Things are not hopeless because we are definitely not helpless,” Tonko said.

Local Republican legislators offered only general statements of sympathy and mourning.

Asked whether there’s a push for new federal legislation, U.S. Rep Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, issued the following statement on her Facebook page: “I am heartbroken over the devastating news out of Las Vegas overnight. I am praying for all the families of those we lost, a full recovery for those who were injured and for the first responders who bravely took action. Our nation mourns for Las Vegas right now.”

U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, also didn’t address the possibility of new legislation.

“This evil and senseless act of violence is horrifying,” Faso said in an emailed response. “My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Las Vegas and all of the victims and their families in this trying time. I also want to recognize all of the law enforcement personnel and first responders who bravely and selflessly ran toward danger, risking their lives to try to save and protect the thousands of individuals directly in harm’s way.”

While there are currently no restrictions on semi-automatic weapons at the federal level, New York state has the SAFE Act — the law, deeply unpopular in rural upstate areas, passed in January 2013 in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut.

Upstate Republicans have supported repeal of or deep changes in the law, which prohibits semi-automatic weapons and requires re-registration every five years for pistol permit holders, among other provisions.

State Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, is among lawmakers who has called for repeal of the SAFE Act, doing so as recently as last May. Tedisco did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Gun company stocks rose Monday, as has happened after other mass shootings. Gun sales generally rise.

Target Sports, a gun shop in Glenville, was expecting an uptick in sales, as the gun industry has often seen in the wake of mass shooting tragedies — sometimes from people fearing it could lead to new firearms restrictions, and sometimes for personal protect.

“You get people who come in. I haven’t heard too much about taking rights away, I think it’s more of, ‘Where is it safe anymore?'” said a Target Sports employee who asked that his name not be used. “It’s not the gun that’s the key. You could run people down with a truck. It’s just sick people, sick motivations. I think the intent (of gun control proposals) is to limit the damage, but that simply isn’t realistic. People shouldn’t concentrate on the inanimate object.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered that flags in the state be flown at half-staff through Friday evening in honor of the victims.

He said additional security measures are also being taken at key points in the state “as a precaution.”

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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