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Congressman Tom Reed

The Second Amendment to the US Constitution says, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."  The commas in that sentence have created possibly the most heated arguments in America, with those favoring more stringent gun control arguing that the amendment says that only those who are members of well regulated militias are granted the right to bear arms, while those in favor of freer gun ownership laws argue that they are two separate reasons guns may be carried.

The argument became quite heated Tuesday when Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY 23rd District, which includes Tompkins County) held a 'town hall' meeting Tuesday at the Tompkins County Library.  At the beginning of a gun control discussion during the questions and answers section of the meeting, Reed said he supports funding the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) researching the effect of gun violence, which drew applause from the Ithaca crowd. 

"I believe that's an appropriate restriction that should be removed from consideration," he said. "We should have more information.  That is part of the conversation that we're trying to find common ground on.  I think there is common ground."

But the discussion soon devolved into several people shouting over one another, especially on the issue of automatic weapons.  Reed said that gun control has become politicized because "there are a lot of people who are standing up for purity, or standing up for a political position that is in no way going to get to the finish line. I believe the political pressure of the gun control issue is causing this to not be an issue that is led by substance, but rather it is driven by politics in order not to get to a common sense solution."  He said that he wants to find a path to points of agreement from both parties.  He said his read on fellow legislators is that a CDC study is something they could potentially agree on.

He said new 'red flag' laws are starting to get traction in Congress.  'Red flag' laws are designed to prevent gun violence by stopping people who have shown clear indications that they might commit a school shooting or some other violent act from getting access to firearms.  On Tuesday Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed such a law -- legislation (S.2438/A.1213) that gives law enforcement access to out-of-state records to help prevent the dangerously mentally ill from obtaining a firearm license in New York.

"The real trick here is to make sure that the due process requirement is done up front," he said. "If someone is accused of being a threat and they're going to go to court to have their weapons taken away, their fundamental right taken away, that individual's due process right to say 'that's not a legitimate claim. That is not a legitimate basis for taking away my fundamental right' has the opportunity to be heard."

One constituent said that delays the process, giving someone who is planning a violent act to commit it before the court date or decision, arguing that having guns taken away for a short time is worth the lessening of freedom if it prevents violent deaths.  Another woman said that mental health is rarely a reason for violent acts, saying that labeling everybody 'mental' and making such people pariahs is unfair to people who are already victims. 

Reed said that focusing on the 'who' (potential violent criminals) is more effective than focusing on the 'what' (guns).  Reed said he has learned from 'town halls' and that he has learned the difference between mental health and psychopathic illness.  He used the case of the 2018 Parkland, Florida shooter at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as an example.

"We have to recognize that as we go through this debate," he said. "I try to recognize that going forward.  We should never promote the shooters, but we should never forget the lessons they teach us.  When you look at Nicholas Cruz's interactions with government actors and mental health providers it is clear to me that that individual was exhibiting psychopathic behavior multiple times to people who were in a position to deal with that individual to try to prevent that mass shooting.  That individual should have been dealth with. That is a 'who' question that is much more difficult to address, the psychopathic individual in our population.  How do you deal with that individual's rights versus the rights of everyone.  I'm very interested in solutions that would give that individual resources, but in the meantime make sure he doesn't have access to a weapon."

Reed and constituents disagreed on the issue of allowing people to own assault weapons, with Reed saying that the problem is in how 'assault weapons' are defined, and others arguing that the only purpose of such weapons is to kill as many people as possible in a short period of time.

"You're drawing the line at one bullet.  Does that mean that every weapon that carries one bullet is allowed and every weapon that doesn't carry one bullet is not?" Reed argued as several in the crowd cried out, 'Yes!'. He continued, "I understand your position, but I disagree with it.  We're not going to agree on this, but where can we agree?"

The argument became most heated when Reed said that gun control should be more about people who do or may commit crimes, rather than the tools with which they commit them.

"If you focus on the 'what' solutions you are immediately going to divide the country and you're never going to get 218 votes in Congress and 60 votes in the Senate," he said. "You talk about 'who' -- and the 'who' is hard. Political leaders take on the 'who' solutions.  Political panderers take on the 'what' issues.  So who is committing these crimes? Who is committing these horrific acts?"

He said he would strongly support refusing access to firearms to people who have committed a crime with a gun or any kind.  When accused (along with all Republicans) of being influenced in his positions by the gun industry, Reed denied it.

"I align with the fundamental right that they're standing to defend," he said. "That is my position.  That is a position I have taken, and I will continue take. The 'who' question is something that I think can bring people together to vote on.  In my humble opinion those are the only things that right now I see getting 218 votes in Congress and 60 votes in the Senate to get something done.  So we can have the debate about objects, but I just don't see that moving the needle any time in the near future."

A woman challenged him to be a leader to 'move that needle', but Reed countered that he is going to lead on issues that have a realistic chance of passing.

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