State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester
North Jersey dot com
It was billed as a brave milestone in the political evolution of Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
The burly ironworker, who represents a semirural South Jersey district where hunting is popular and Second Amendment rights are venerated, was now switching from powerful foe to fierce advocate of reducing the capacity of ammunition magazines to 10 rounds rather than the 15 allowed under state law.
“I gotta tell you, when you meet families that have lost their loved ones, it’s pretty hard to explain why you can’t do a simple thing like this,” Sweeney said at a Feb. 24 news conference, his eyes welling with tears as family members of children murdered by a lone gunman at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., stood nearby.
Yet there was nothing simple about Sweeney’s announcement, and to the Sandy Hook family members and gun control advocates, nothing all that surprising. In April, when Sweeney publicly declared his opposition to the lower capacity limit — dooming any chance of passage in the Senate — he privately endorsed the idea in a meeting with the families and gun control advocates.
“He said it was a good idea and at the appropriate time he would introduce it and now he has,” said Mark Barden, whose son Daniel was among the 26 victims at Sandy Hook.
Now, it seems the appropriate time has come — for Sweeney’s political career.
Freed from having to worry about antagonizing gun rights groups after winning reelection in November in what was likely his last legislative race, Sweeney announced his support when it was safe. And given his ambitions of running for governor in a pro-gun-control state, the switch was a pragmatic pivot to the left.