Congressional Candidates Discuss Options To Curb Gun Violence

Editor’s note: This is the first of three articles based on a debate held by The Post-Journal and The OBSERVER between the 23rd Congressional District candidates Tom Reed and John Plumb.

The candidates for New York’s 23rd Congressional District are offering their ideas to curb the rash of gun violence in the U.S. through robust background checks and improved mental health treatment.

In five days, voters will have the opportunity to choose between Tom Reed, Republican incumbent and Corning resident, or John Plumb, Democrat and Lakewood resident who serves as a captain in the Navy Reserve, for a seat in Washington, D.C.

As a hunter and member of the Navy handling various weapons, Plumb led off the discussion by stating his support of the Second Amendment. Plumb placed emphasis on the need for a robust background check system to ensure suspected terrorists and criminals aren’t getting their hands on weapons.

“I don’t think there’s any situation where (those on the no-fly list) should be able to buy any weapons until that’s resolved. I think that’s a danger to our communities and I think we need to make sure we’re keeping the community safe,” he said.

Plumb said the gun show loophole needs to be close while the weapons database must be populated and updated. Plumb said there’s a link between domestic violence and weapon abuse. A person who’s convicted of a domestic violence offense isn’t allowed to purchase a weapon, but Plumb said the government hasn’t defined domestic violence to include a boyfriend or a girlfriend.

In addition, Plumb said there are certain scenarios that should disqualify someone from obtaining a weapon, but it never happens because the database isn’t updated. Plumb recalled the horrific day when Aaron Alexis entered the Washington Navy Yard, shooting and killing 27 people. The individual had a criminal history but was able to purchase a shotgun after he initially tried to buy a different gun.

“He went to buy an assault-style weapon before going to the navy yard and he wasn’t allowed to do so. But he wasn’t allowed to do so because of the background check, he wasn’t allowed to do so because he had the wrong driver’s license,” Plumb said.

On the mental health side, Plumb acknowledged the need to assure veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder have their weapons in a safe and secure setting.

“I have a friend who suffers from serious PTSD from his combat tours,” he said. “My first question to him was do you have weapon and is it secure? He assured the weapon is in custody of  his girlfriend and he doesn’t have access to it. That basic conversation is something we need to have.”

When examining gun violence and shootings, Reed said there’s always common denominators behind such situations that include mental health and criminal activity. Reed agreed with Plumb in that people shouldn’t be entitled to such freedoms if they have committed criminal activity. Reed said that’s why he’s supporting and working with a local family to push a domestic violence registry to inform people on who they’re dealing with before entering into a relationship.

“To me, that’s powerful,” he said. “More information is important so people know who they’re dealing with.”

Reed said he’s a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment and is open to conversations about improving the background check process. Discussing the no-fly, no-buy list, Reed said it was uncovered that news reporters and elected officials were deemed terrorists even though they had nothing to do with terrorism.

“They were in it inaccurately. That’s why it’s a serious issue, and to say we can create lists and not worry about due process rights of people in those lists, we need to work through the details,” he said.

On the mental health side, Reed said he’s working with Dr. Tim Murphy, a psychologist in Congress, to raise the prioritization of mental health treatment. Reed said it’s a medical condition that can be treated. In speaking with veterans, Reed said he’s sensitive to the issue of those with PTSD who lose their Second Amendment rights if they go and seek help.

“These due process requirements have to be part of the conversation to make sure when we talk about background checks, due process rights are protected as we go forward,” he said.

Reed also noted the endorsement he received from the NRA and the question mark grade Plumb obtained for failing to fill out a questionnaire. Reed said answering the questionnaire “could have had you in black and white.”

In response, Plumb said he doesn’t need to fill out a questionnaire about his credentials on firearm safety.

“I’m an expert on the pistol 9 mm and .45 (caliber). I have sharpshooter qualification on the M16 with iron sites. This is nonsense and cheap political attack,” Plumb said.

Reed came back and said the questionnaire isn’t about gun safety, but where “you stand on the fundamental freedom as represented by the Second Amendment.”

“Putting a position in black and white is important to people,” Reed said.