Capitol Hill’s ‘Gun Lady’ McCarthy Retires


The “gun lady” of Capitol Hill is going home.

Carolyn McCarthy was a Long Island nurse and housewife in December 1993 when she suddenly became the face of gun violence victims everywhere after her husband Dennis was killed and son Kevin wounded in a mass shooting on a commuter train leaving New York City.

Two decades later, McCarthy is retiring from Congress — where she was first elected as the quintessential citizen legislator vowing to bring an end to such tragedies.

Despite a litany of subsequent massacres since she took office in 1997, the now well-seasoned politician argues her tenure in Washington has been worthwhile even if she didn’t accomplish all she set out to do.

“I think that having a voice there, my voice, added to what myself, my family and the other Long Island families went through,” McCarthy says with a warm Irish smile at the dining room table in the same modest suburban home where she raised her family. “That did make a difference. … Sometimes that’s all you’re going to get.”

McCarthy, who turns 71 next week, did not seek a 10th term after being diagnosed with lung cancer. After months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, McCarthy feels the best she has in years and concedes that sitting out a grueling re-election campaign helped.

“I’m doing great,” she declared, confessing she had initial second-thoughts about retirement. “I’m going, ‘Gee, I feel really good. Maybe I will run again.’ Of course, my family goes, ‘No! No, not going to happen,’ and they were right.”

Outspoken Republican Rep. Peter King, whose district borders McCarthy’s, said despite different political viewpoints, he has gotten along well with his Democratic counterpart; he backs her stance on background checks.

“She put a human face on the tragedy of gun violence,” he said. “She took it from the abstract and made it real. And she did not make her case looking for sympathy. She was never feeling sorry for herself.”

In retirement, McCarthy says she looks forward to continuing to be a doting grandmother and doing some teaching at local universities, but has little appetite to write a book as so many other former politicians have done.

“If I did a book — I just can’t see myself doing it — it would have nothing to do with Congress,” she said. “It would maybe talk inspirational on how people have strength in them they don’t know about until it calls upon them to have it.”