NY lawmaker touched by gun violence presses on

GARDEN CITY PARK, N.Y. (AP) -- Out of nowhere, a deranged gunman shoots into a crowd of innocent victims, firing until bystanders tackle him as he tries to load a new clip of ammo. Six people are killed and several injured; one person suffers a h...

GARDEN CITY PARK, N.Y. (AP) -- Out of nowhere, a deranged gunman shoots into a crowd of innocent victims, firing until bystanders tackle him as he tries to load a new clip of ammo. Six people are killed and several injured; one person suffers a head wound but survives to face a long period of rehabilitation.

That shooting on a Long Island Rail Road train in 1993 inspired Carolyn McCarthy, who lost her husband and saw her son paralyzed, to run for Congress. And the more recent shooting at an Arizona shopping center with which it shares eerie similarities has thrust her back into the spotlight as she seeks to outlaw the high-capacity magazines believed to have helped both gunmen.

McCarthy has been doing this for so long that she answers the Second Amendment question on gun ownership before it is asked.

"Many people are saying, 'Oh, you're taking away our rights to own a gun,'" McCarthy said. "This has nothing to do with taking away the right of someone owning a gun. The Supreme Court already came out and said everybody has a right to own a gun. The large-capacity clips, though, should only be for our police officers and our military."

McCarthy, a 67-year-old Democrat who won a tight race for an eighth term last year, was glued to the television for hours after the Tucson shooting, hearing echoes of Long Island in the news coverage, of why she ran for Congress in the first place and of why she's risking her precarious congressional seat.


Her son Kevin, now 43, suffered a head wound similar to that of Giffords, who is undergoing rehabilitation in Houston. Her son's recovery, she said, took two years and cost $1 million. These days, he is married with two children, 12-year-old Denis and 10-year-old Grace.

"They are my miracles as far as I'm concerned, given that I was told Kevin would never survive," McCarthy said.

Though McCarthy has expanded her portfolio to topics beyond gun control, including health care and family issues, the time after the Tucson shooting was ripe for returning to her roots.

"She realizes it's going to be hard to get all-encompassing gun control passed, but she's smart enough to know that it's important to make some progress," said Rep. Peter King, a Republican and fellow Long Island congressional member who supports McCarthy's ammunition clip legislation. "Deep down, I think she knows that."

McCarthy's bill, introduced shortly after the Tucson shooting, would limit ammo clips to 10 rounds. King is sponsoring a companion bill that would ban people from carrying handguns within 1,000 feet of the president, members of Congress or federal judges. Some conservatives have advocated carrying guns to political rallies, and a federal judge was killed in the Tucson shooting.

McCarthy is seeking a meeting with President Barack Obama as she elicits support, and she's reaching out to schools and through social networks. She spoke recently to seniors at Mineola High School, noting that some of them hadn't been born when mass violence hit so close to home.

"Young people today with social media have friends not only in the state, but in the country," she told reporters afterward. "Most of them are seniors who will go off to college, and again take this issue up and talk to their family and friends and hopefully we'll have a groundswell."

If McCarthy has opponents in the gun-rights movement -- the National Rifle Association says her bill would "severely violate the fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense" -- she also has them in her suburban Nassau County district. She replaced her chief of staff, communications director and overhauled her legislative staff after surviving a stiff challenge last November from a popular Republican.


In a tough year for Democrats nationwide, McCarthy won a 7-point victory for her eighth term. She insists she loves her job and won't even bring up the R-word -- retirement. But because New York is expected to lose two House seats in upcoming redistricting, some have speculated that McCarthy's could be vulnerable.

Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime Democratic strategist, called that "certainly a possibility."

McCarthy and her staff insisted she doesn't plan on going anywhere.

"There are days when I want to put this comforter over my head and say, 'Why am I doing this?'" she said. "Well, I'm doing this to try and save lives and try to prevent injuries."

The congresswoman said she has not contacted the Giffords family, preferring to let them focus on their loved one's recovery.

"She's going through the same kind of treatment that Kevin went through," McCarthy said. "It's going to be a very, very long journey for her and all the other victims."

Although he worked as a financial planner for a time, Kevin McCarthy is currently on disability because of his injuries.

"He's doing very well. He's still partially paralyzed. He struggles," his mother said. "He still has a little bit of anger in him. When something like this happens he won't even watch the TV because it brings him back to a place he doesn't want to go."


That place, she said, is the knowledge that nearly 20 years later, another Colin Ferguson was allowed to end or disrupt so many lives.

Ferguson, she noted, "had 15 bullets in a clip, and every one of his bullets hit somebody."

"We're saying that you can't have more than 10," she said. "That's common sense, as far as I'm concerned."

What To Read Next
Get Local