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Capital Region Congressman Paul Tonko discusses Jan. 6 hearings, gun reform efforts

Congressman Paul Tonko addresses reporters at his Dove Street office in Albany, NY, June 12, 2022g
Dave Lucas
Congressman Paul Tonko addresses reporters at his Dove Street office in Albany, NY, June 12, 2022

Capital Region Congressman Paul Tonko spoke with reporters Sunday about legislation the House has advanced aimed at stopping gun violence and recalled his personal experience the day the U.S. Capitol was stormed.

The Democrat from the 20th district characterizes the House Select Committee on January 6th hearings as "forceful," recalling the terror he felt that day.

"You could have heard a pin drop in that room and it was jam packed," said Tonko. "And it's a huge committee room. And sitting there with my colleagues, eight of us that were clustered from the gallery gang. I could feel the emotion they were feeling as we sat next to each other. And when they ran the vignette where a police officer said 'we still have some folks trapped in the gallery,' I could see some of my colleagues unraveling. And it was just painful to have it all come back to the traumatic recurrence in there, you know, feeling the whole thing over again, was very difficult to absorb that evening. But our democracy was truly at risk."

Tonko praised the work of the committee, saying it’s vital the American people get the whole story and we ensure nothing like January 6 ever happens again.

"Most disturbingly, Donald Trump put the life of his own vice president in mortal danger by inciting the crowd with a tweet against him," Tonko said. "When told about the crowds, chants of 'Hang Mike Pence,' President Trump responded, 'maybe he deserves it.' Maybe he deserves it? Let that sink in. The President of the United States tactically endorsing the murder of his own vice president in a vain and treasonous attempt to cling to power. What more do we as a nation need to hear?"

Tonko summed up January 6th as an attempted coup. "I will be watching the committee's upcoming hearings in the weeks to come, as we get closer to that whole truth, and hold those individuals responsible for this attack, accountable," said Tonko.

Tonko also reflected on his Saturday appearance in Albany's March for Our Lives, saying the Protecting Our Kids Act is an important piece of legislation.

"According to CDC data, firearms are now the leading cause of death for American children age one and older," Tonko said. "Americans today are 25 times more likely to die by gun homicide than the people of any other developed nation. A sad statistic. America now has more guns than it has people. Any serious solution to this long standing crisis must address the root cause of this issue, the ease with which nearly anyone can purchase a mass killing machine. It seems to be a repeated pattern. And we need to respond with substance, compassion and strength. HR 7910, the Protecting Our Kids Act, which we dealt with last week was passed in the House. It is a bold and historic measure, a package that will make an enormous difference in our fight against gun violence, saving lives by raising the purchase age for semi automatic weapons from age 18 to 21."

Tonko bemoaned the fact that the U.S. has seen over 250 mass shootings this year alone, with 27 at schools. He favors enactment of a federal extreme risk protection law.

"HR 2377, the federal Extreme Risk Protection Reporter Acton Thursday, the day after passing the Child Protection Act, we as a house passed more life saving legislation to keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves or others," Tonko said. "This package would allow family members and law enforcement officers to petition federal courts for a protection order to temporarily remove firearms from an individual deemed a danger to themselves or others. The package would also incentivize states to adopt their own similar red flag laws. According to a study by the gun safety organization Everytown, more than half of mass shooters exhibited warning signs prior to their heinous attacks."

Tonko says at this time 19 states and Washington D.C. have such laws in place.

"We know from witnessing their effectiveness in the states that extreme risk laws do save lives," said Tonko. "In summary, extreme risk protection orders can prevent tragic shootings before they occur. Other measures that we'll consider, while these are significant measures that we passed recently, they're life saving measures but they do not go far enough. That's why the house will take additional action in the coming weeks, including bringing to the floor of the Active Shooter Alert Act, a bill to create an Amber Alert style notification during a mass shooting, a measure widely supported by law enforcement, holding a hearing on a bill to renew the ban on assault weapons that we all know expired in 2004."

It is not clear when the House will be able to consider a new Senate gun control compromise announced over the weekend.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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