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Lawmakers from N.Y. draw sharp contrast on gun control

For Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, the Arizona mass shooting that claimed six lives and left Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded was all about America's lack of gun-control laws -- like the one that expired seven years ago that might have prevented the shooter from getting the 33-round magazine he used.

But for Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, the shooting was more about mental illness, and each person's responsibility when they meet someone who seems dangerous, and who may be armed.

Meanwhile, for Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Chris Lee, R-Clarence, the shooting was a very personal tragedy. They know Giffords well, and speak of her as an extraordinarily amiable colleague whose demeanor contrasts with the loud and mean political environment that she had managed to overcome and thrive.

And they, as well as Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said the shooting would do nothing to change their interactions with the public.

The local House members were back in Western New York on Monday, meeting with their shaken staffs, consoling families and putting on a brave face over a danger that they themselves must confront.

"You've got lunatics out there," said Reed, a congressman for only two months who acknowledged that his wife, Jean, is "very troubled" by the shooting.

Among local lawmakers, the shooting provoked division over gun laws.

"Basically I'm very angry," said Slaughter, who noted that 36,051 Americans died of gunshot wounds between 2005 and 2009.

Still, she acknowledged that most Democrats have joined Republicans in opposing gun-control legislation, leading to dim prospects for anything such as a revival of the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

Under that law -- pushed by then-Rep. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., now the state's senior senator -- the suspect in the shooting, Jared L. Loughner, would not have been able to legally purchase the 33-round magazine for the 9 mm Glock handgun that he used in the shooting.

That law banned magazines of more than 10 rounds, and Schumer is among those now pushing a bill to revive the ban.

"Why would a citizen need a gun that shoots 30 times?" Slaughter asked. "I think the end of the assault weapons ban has really allowed anybody who wants one to have access to these weapons."

But Reed, an avid supporter of Second Amendment rights to bear arms, sees things differently.

"I believe gun ownership is an individual fundamental right," Reed said. "And regardless of the regulation and prohibition you put on it, weapons are a fact of our society worldwide, and a lunatic is going to be able to get those."

Higgins and Lee said that someone such as Loughner -- who had a drug arrest and was thrown out of college because of his threatening behavior -- should not have access to weapons. "I think what we need to look at is ensuring there are sufficient background checks to make sure that those who are unstable don't have access to weapons of that nature," Lee said.

Lee, whose office is near Giffords' and who has frequently walked with her to the House floor, seemed shaken by the shooting. "I don't think anyone would think Gabrielle Giffords would be a target, based on her personality," Lee said. "She's just a very compassionate, warm, sincere person."

Meanwhile, at an appearance in Buffalo, Gillibrand said she is a "very close friend" of Giffords and praised her as someone who opted for public service "for all the right reasons." She also expressed optimism that Giffords will recover from her wounds. "If anyone can pull through it, it would be her," she said, citing Giffords' "strength and character."

Gillibrand said the Arizona shooting rampage will not change her interaction with the public. "It's what we do," she said. "It's what this job is all about."

Higgins agreed, even though noting he received a death threat last year. The caller left his telephone number, he said, and investigators went to interview the man and deemed it not to be a serious threat.

In spite of that, Higgins said, he continues to go to public events as always.

"You can't live your life in fear," Higgins said. "You have to live your life with purpose and joy and empathy, and recognize that things like this happen, unfortunately."

News Political Reporter Robert J. McCarthy contributed to this report.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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