McCarthy Urges Gun Law Reforms

By Emily Nash Hoya Staff Writer

Last night, less than two weeks after National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston spoke to a near-capacity crowd in Gaston Hall, the opposing side of the gun control debate delivered its message, this time to a group of only 30 or so students. In an ongoing effort to highlight the issue of gun violence in America, the Lecture Fund brought Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) and Michael Barnes, a former congressman from Maryland and current President of Handgun Control, Inc., to campus.

McCarthy, whose husband was killed and son paralyzed by random gun violence on a commuter train in December of 1993, described how she went from a nurse and housewife to one of the country’s strongest supporters of gun control legislation. Detailing the emotional and financial toll of her son’s paralysis, she said, “I can put myself in the place of all those victims because I know the long journey that lies ahead of them.”

When her congressman voted to repeal the assault weapons bill she had lobbied for in 1994, “I got mad,” she said, and her anger drove her to challenge and win New York’s fourth congressional seat. Now in her second term, Barnes praised her efforts to fight gun violence. “Out of her family’s pain,” he said, “she has risen up and fought for all of us.”

“In this country it’s almost acceptable to allow kids to die every day,” McCarthy said, noting that each day in the United States 12 children under the age of 18 lose their lives to gun violence. Likening the epidemic proportions of gun violence to cancer, the former nurse observed, “If you don’t stop it, it’s going to spread.”

But both McCarthy and Barnes emphasized that legislators who support stronger gun control measures cannot fight the issue alone. “Unless we have the voices of the nation saying ‘We want something done,’ we will most likely fail,” McCarthy said, citing the NRA as a powerful organization that threatens legislators into compliance with its aims.

According to McCarthy, the NRA has hindered not only the passage of gun control laws but also merely discussing them in Congress. Barnes agreed, calling gun lobbies such as the NRA and “gutless politicians” elements of the “insane circle of death” that produces gun violence. He cited gun manufacturers/distributors and criminals as the other two groups within the circle and stressed that all four must be attacked in order to effectively combat the problem.

Alleging that the NRA has manipulated the government such that guns are the only consumer product that remains unregulated, Barnes noted that toy guns must meet firmer government standards than real guns. “Any sensible person would realize this is crazy,” he said. “I’ve got to have a license for my car, for my dog, to practice law . but I don’t have to have a license to hold a lethal weapon?”

Despite the speakers’ outspoken positions on the gun issue, both emphasized that they do not wish to challenge the right to bear arms. “We can make this a safer country for all of us without infringing upon anyone’s right to own a gun,” McCarthy said, stressing the need to direct the collective focus of the American people toward precautionary measures such as gun locks and mandatory background checks for gun owners.

“To talk about some utopia [without guns] may be nice, but it’s a total waste of time,” Barnes added, suggesting that instead people should exercise their voting rights to elect a president and Congress that supports stronger gun control measures.

Noting that recent polls have shown most Americans support gun control, McCarthy and Barnes urged the students in attendance to speak up for the silent majority. “Each and every one of you has a vested right to make a difference,” McCarthy said, reassuring them that voting can make a difference, as in her campaign, and that gun violence can be significantly reduced.

“We can do this, but we need help,” she said. “We need a lot of help.”

Related Links

Gun Control Debate Ignites Around Heston (3/31)

Students, Community, Politicians Gather to Rally for Gun Control (3/31)

Heston on Political Life, Gun Violence (3/31)

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