By MICHAEL VIRTANEN
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) U.S. gunfire killings have reached a crisis and voters should demand every candidate for Congress or president answer what they'd do about it, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
Cuomo pushed through new firearm restrictions in New York in January 2013, a month after 20 children and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in neighboring Connecticut. He told The Associated Press on Monday that there's a political price, and it cost him, but it's an issue that matters, unlike many others that are talked about.
The Democrat, whose upstate poll numbers dropped afterward, said it's a difficult issue, especially because some 30 to 40 percent of Americans distrust government and oppose gun control. Elected officials who do nothing, despite the apparent increase in gun violence, are failing the public trust, he said.
"Eighty thousand people dead since Sandy Hook. Nothing done. It's only getting worse,'' Cuomo said, roughly referring to the number of gun deaths nationwide.
On Thursday, a gunman killed eight students and a teacher at a community college in Oregon. Another gunman killed nine people at a South Carolina church in June, and many more killings with multiple victims have occurred since then but failed to generate national headlines.
"In the midst of this presidential (race), I am urging every voter to make this one of, if not the top, issue that they vote on,'' Cuomo said. "I would not vote for a congress person, I would not vote for a president, unless I knew what they were going to do about this issue.''
New York banned magazines that hold more than 10 bullets and sales of popular semiautomatic weapons with two military-style features, like the rifle used in Connecticut. The state also requires that private gun sales are subject to federal background checks to determine if the buyer is a felon or otherwise prohibited from having a gun. The only exceptions are transfers to spouses, children, stepchildren and domestic partners.
Cuomo said he believes the law saved lives in New York, though he can't quantify it. "The frustration to me is we passed this law ... we close the front door, and they come in the back door.''
People drive to other states to buy guns and return to New York, he said. "No state can be safe without federal action.''
On Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said she'd try to enact new federal gun controls, but if Congress refused, she'd take certain administrative actions to tighten the loopholes for sales over the Internet and at gun shows and to ensure buyer background checks are completed.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is supposed to police gun trafficking, and it has been underfunded and Congress has tried to block its function, said Cuomo, a former federal housing secretary under President Bill Clinton. There are things that can be done administratively, he said.
"It could be something,'' he said. "They're very concerned about Mexicans coming across the border. They should be as concerned about guns coming across my border.''