During Tuesday night’s debate between the candidates in New York’s 18th congressional district, there was a question about what Congress could do about gun violence. It comes following the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue over the weekend. Incumbent Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney and Republican James O’Donnell have different ideas.
Both candidates attended the same service Monday honoring the Pittsburgh victims. Congressman Maloney, who is running for a fourth term, delivered the first answer about stemming gun violence.
“Right, well the first thing Congress could do is stop doing nothing,” Maloney said. “The fact is is that we have had, we have had shooting after shooting in this country and at schools but also in places of worship and also in public venues and night clubs and everywhere else. And all of these events have been followed by inaction by the Washington Republicans who control the House of Representatives. And it’s been a disgrace.”
O’Donnell, an Orange County legislator, was asked if he would support a ban on assault weapons.
“If you put a good definition of a single assault weapon that doesn’t have any loopholes, I’ll certainly look at it,” O’Donnell said.
“What would be a good definition?” asked “Times Herald-Record” Executive Editor Barry Lewis.
“I don’t know,” said O’Donnell. “When I see it, I’ll know it.”
“Listen, the only thing that stops deadly physical force, unfortunately, is deadly physical force,” says O’Donnell.
“Congressman?” said Lewis.
“Well, I just don’t know that that’s good enough. I don’t know it’s good enough to say, get me a definition and I’ll consider it. It’s a yes or no. I mean, honestly. Either you would restrict the sale of AR-15s or you wouldn’t. I would,” said Maloney. “It’s not necessarily a particularly politically popular position but we should do it because that is the weapon of choice in these mass shootings.”
After the debate, Maloney expanded upon his comments.
“And yet Congress has repeatedly failed to do anything, including little things, like banning bump stocks, which so many people talked about doing after the Las Vegas shooting, and yet the Republicans in Congress did the bidding of the NRA [National Rifle Association] once again and killed that bill in committee,” says Maloney.
O’Donnell, who rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel when he was with the state police, recognizes the controversy about heightened security.
“I was at a candidates’ day over at Temple Beth Shalom in Mahopac and a couple of the candidates say, hey, I don’t want to bring my children here with armed police to come to temple. So people have very divisive things, but you can’t go to temple and not have some type of protection there, whether it’s a police, marked police vehicle outside, but you have to do something to protect yourself,” O’Donnell says. “You have to do something to protect the congregation. You have to do something to protect the students. You can’t just say, hey, I don’t like it. No, nobody likes it, but we have to protect ourselves.”
And that protection, he says, does not necessarily translate into armed guards stationed at every house of worship. He says having a greeter could help.
“You have somebody outside who identifies, knows everybody. And if you do have an outsider coming in, you can say, hey, how are you, welcome. And, we can identify certain questions that can be asked, I’m not going to say them now, alright, but you can identify this person’s not here for the right reasons, and that can be pretty evident, alright,” says O’Donnell. “So there’s certain things we can do without turning it into a barricade situation where you’re still in a house of worship.”
When O’Donnell served as police chief of the MTA during the September 11th terrorist attacks, he was charged with implementing the “See Something, Say Something” campaign. He now proposes establishing a hotline for tips related to domestic terrorism — 1-800-FREEDOM — staffed by counterterrorism officials.