Shooting stirs memories of McCarthy's pain

Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy talks about the Jan. 8th

Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy talks about the Jan. 8th Arizona political shooting. (Jan. 10, 2011) (Credit: Audrey C. Tiernan)

Carolyn McCarthy's pain suddenly came rushing back.

The congresswoman was watching CNN on her living room couch in Mineola, taking care of bills, when the news broke Saturday afternoon: Her colleague, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, had been shot in the head.

McCarthy's thoughts flashed back to Dec. 7, 1993. She had arrived home after a day at work as a nurse, and noticed the Christmas tree lying undecorated in the driveway - despite her husband and son's promise to put it up.

McCarthy's brother rushed over and told her what had happened: Her husband, Dennis, was dead, and her son, Kevin, was gravely injured with a gunshot wound to the head. They were among the 25 victims - six of whom died - of Colin Ferguson in the Long Island Rail Road shooting rampage.

"The pain is still there," McCarthy said Monday in an emotional interview at her home. "I know what Gabby's husband is going through. It's going to be very, very painful for them."

Each gun-related tragedy since then - from Columbine to Virginia Tech - has forced her to relive the day that still makes her cry 17 years later.

In the last two days, McCarthy has fielded phone calls from worried family and friends. "They say, 'Are you all right?'" I say, 'No, no, I'm all right.' But it's still painful."

"Many people say, 'Why don't you let it go?' " McCarthy said of the 1993 shootings. "But it's not a matter of letting it go. We're going on with our lives, but it's still there."

Knowing Giffords (D-Ariz.) during four years in Congress has made it even more difficult to cope with Saturday's shooting, McCarthy said. So have the "eerie" similarities between the shootings - the magazine clip, the number of dead, how the shooter was subdued by bystanders, and the head wounds suffered by her son and Giffords.

"As a victim's family, it's probably the hardest thing you have to keep going through, when you hear about things like this," McCarthy said. "When you know the person, it becomes even more personal."

McCarthy, a Democrat, has channeled her experience into committed advocacy for stricter national gun control laws.

With the attack on Giffords, McCarthy is back in the national spotlight, proposing legislation to limit the high-capacity ammunition clips used by Ferguson and allegedly by the lone suspect in Giffords' shooting, Jared Loughner.

McCarthy spent Monday making television appearances to tout the bill.

Gun-control advocates say they hope lawmakers' personal connections to Giffords may overcome significant opposition to McCarthy's bill, in a chamber now controlled by Republicans.

"Everyone in Congress is affected; people don't like to see their friend get shot," said Chad Ramsey, federal legislative director for the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence.

McCarthy said she has contacted House Speaker John Boehner about her bill, which has a companion in the Senate. She said it would reinstitute a ban on ammunition clips holding more than 15 rounds, a prohibition lifted when a law regulating assault weapons expired in 2004.

"I'm not touching the guns, I'm just talking the large-capacity clips," she said.

A spokesman for Boehner did not respond to a message seeking comment on her bill. Nor did representatives of the National Rifle Association, which opposed the ban on assault weapons.

McCarthy called passage of the ammunition bill "personal."

She has been watching the news late into the night for scraps of information about Giffords' condition, each detail reminding her of her own son's two-year ordeal to recover from his head wound.

He remains paralyzed on the left side of his body and goes to physical therapy, but has returned to a normal life otherwise, she said.

"I look at my miracles and I'm hoping that will be the same for Gabby," McCarthy said."

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