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Congressman Owens supportive of universal background checks, against assault weapon ban


At least one north country Democrat wouldn’t have voted for the state gun control measures signed into law last week: U.S. Rep. William L. Owens.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law sweeping gun reform legislation that, among other things, caps magazine capacity at seven rounds, bans the sale of assault weapons and requires background checks on all ammunition sales.

“I’m sure I would not have voted for Governor Cuomo’s bill,” Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said Friday.

But Mr. Owens thinks “it’s possible to reach compromise if people sit down and have a conversation” about gun law reform.

He said President Barack H. Obama’s extensive gun law reform package unveiled this week is “a good place to start the discussion.”

Mr. Obama’s proposals include a universal background check on gun buyers, a ban on assault weapons and a limit on magazine capacity to 10 rounds.

“Everyone agrees that we have to prevent, to the maximum extent that we can, anything like Sandy Hook from happening again,” Mr. Owens said, referring to the Dec. 14 massacre in Connecticut that killed 27 people, most of them children.

“I think we’re seeing some consensus on the issue of background checks, which I think is a good thing,” Mr. Owens said.

He cautioned, however, that details on federal propsals are still very much in the dark.

Acknowledging that roughly 40 percent of guns in the United States are purchased from private dealers, thus avoiding background checks, Mr. Owens said universal background checks are crucial to preventing future massacres.

“That is the pre-eminent issue that needs to be debated and acted upon,” he said.

But other measures are not likely to get the congressman’s support.

“It’s highly unlikely, unless a compromise was reached, that I would vote in favor of an assault weapons ban and a magazine ban. There are hundreds of thousands of those weapons as well as hundreds of thousands of magazines out there. You wouldn’t be stopping the problem,” Mr. Owens said.

And Mr. Owens said he isn’t feeling any pressure from within the district to push for further gun control. Mr. Owens is one of only two Democrats in Congress to have received an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association.

“It reflects the district,” Mr. Owens said of the rating. “We have a lot of folks up here who are hunters, sportsman – we don’t want to infringe their ability to enjoy the sport they like.”

He said the debate at the federal level is a lot different than discussions about the recent changes in state law.

“The gun ownership issue is more complex because it’s a constitutional right,” Mr. Owens said.

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