CAPITAL REGION -- Regional Democratic legislators on Monday joined the chorus of people calling for new gun control regulations in the wake of last week's two mass shootings.
20th District U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said he supports calls for improved mental health care like one issued by President Donald Trump on Monday, but he also urged stronger gun control measures following the shootings in El Paso and Dayton that caused at least 31 deaths and injured scores of people.
"If this perpetual tragedy drove a real national mobilization to get mental health services to the millions of Americans who need them, that at least would be something," Tonko wrote on Monday. "But I also know that Americans are 29 times more likely to die from a gun homicide than the people of any other developed nation. And it’s not because America has 29 times more mental illness. Science tells us it’s because we have vastly more guns."
Tonko, who has long been an outspoken advocate of gun control, said he's been working, with some success, to convince colleagues to lift the existing ban on federal funding for gun violence research. "Gun violence is a public health crisis and we need to treat it as such," he wrote.
Tonko also urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow Senate votes on two bills that passed the House earlier this year, which would mandate background checks on all gun sales and extend the time before a sale can be completed if the federal background check is delayed, as happens when the check raises questions. "Leader McConnell won’t even bring them up for debate," Tonko said.
19th Congressional District Congressman Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, joined Tonko in urging the Senate to act.
"Enough. Is. Enough. The scenes from #ElPaso and #Dayton, not even 24 hours apart, are gutting. We cannot accept constant gun violence as a fact of life in America," he wrote on Facebook. "The House has passed both #HR8 and #HR1112, two bipartisan commonsense measures to increase background checks and close loopholes in the system. It's time for the Senate to do their job and pass these bills immediately. Americans cannot wait another day."
Most Republicans, including 21st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, voted against the enhanced background check bills when they came up in February.
“I am proud of my record as a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment and of working across the aisle to enact common-sense reforms that protect our children, our schools and our families from senseless gun violence,” Stefanik said at the time. “The legislation brought to the floor today infringes on the constitutional right of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms, with little to no effect on deterring criminals."
On Monday, Stefanik issued a statement calling the shootings "evil and heinous acts" and focused on thanking first responders in the two cities. Her district includes vast rural areas from the Capital Region to Canada.
She also pointed out gun access bills she has supported: one to expand information-sharing between the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and state and local authorities, banning bump stocks and seeking to strengthen school safety.
"I was encouraged to hear the president call on our nation to condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. This evil must be eradicated," Stefanik said after Trump spoke Monday morning. "I also echo the president's desire to strengthen existing background checks for criminals and the mentally ill."