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U.S. Rep. Bill Owens.
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens.

Owens wants incremental approach to gun control

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As gun control talks continue in Washington, the North Country's representative in the House thinks Congress should tread carefully on a matter he says has far-reaching constitutional implications.

Congressman Bill Owens said recently that gun control efforts should start by focusing on areas of common interest, like expanded background checks for gun buyers. The Democrat from Plattsburgh believes that some of the other issues being discussed on the national level, like tighter restrictions on assault weapons, are too volatile, and it makes sense to move forward with less controversial issues.

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Reported by

Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

So far, the Senate and the White House have been leading the gun control debate in Washington. Congressman Bill Owens says he's not sure when a gun control bill will be put forth in the House.

"There hasn't been a lot of conversation about activity in the House," he said. "What [House Speaker John] Boehner has indicated is if the Senate passes something, essentially he'll take a look at it and decide whether or not he's going to put it up on the floor. I would suspect that if it does come over with an assault [weapon] ban, magazine ban and a number of other elements, that it may well get broken down into separate votes."

Owens says that since gun control deals with a clear-cut constitutional position, lawmakers need to proceed carefully. He says passing measures that restrict Second Amendment rights would be similar to clamping down on free speech.

"If you were looking at issues related to the news media because people might be unhappy with what is portrayed in the news, that is a very tricky area because it has constitutional protection, as do weapons." he said. "I think those two areas are ones that I think require people to move a bit slowly in the process."

Owens says expanding background checks for gun buyers wouldn't infringe on the Second Amendment.

Owens himself didn't grow up with firearms, and he says he doesn't currently own a gun. But he stresses that the Second Amendment is critical to the American way of life, especially here in the North Country.

"We have literally tens of thousands - maybe hundreds of thousands - of folks who are gun owners, who use them for recreation, use them for hunting. We have people who are gun collectors," Owens said. "And we really hear of very few crimes that are committed with weapons in the district. It is truly a newsworthy event when that happens."

During a recent trip to Lake Placid, Owens said he would have voted against New York's new gun law. He says he will not support a ban on assault weapons or large-capacity magazines.

"That is not something, at this point, that I see as accomplishing the goal," Owens said. "And the goal here, in my mind, is to prevent another Sandy Hook, prevent another Aurora. I think we have to be taking actions that are moving in that direction."

Owens says studies have found that some 90 percent of gun crimes stem from handguns, not assault weapons.

"That, to me, says you need to be focusing on that arena if you're really interested in stopping gun crime," he said.

Owens also has concerns with how New York's new law will determine who is mentally fit to own a gun. He questions how those determinations will be made.

"That's somewhat like putting someone on the no-fly list; I think there's some danger associated with that," he said. "You don't want to have false positives – someone who is put on a list inappropriately, who then has a very great deal of difficulty extricating their name from it."

And when it comes to questions about where assault weapons fit under the Second Amendment, Owens says he hasn't given it much thought.

"The courts have interpreted the Second Amendment to cover these types of weapons," he said. "So I think that from my background as a lawyer, I come at it from that perspective. I have not given it, from a philosophic standpoint, that much thought."

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