Congressional Black Caucusby Representative Sheila Jackson Lee
Posted on 2016-01-11
JACKSON LEE. Let me thank the gentleman from New York for
As has been stated by my colleagues, I want to add my applause as well for the thoughtfulness of the gentleman's leadership on a number of issues, but certainly on his pronounced leadership on criminal justice reform and on the Judiciary Committee; and then to be joined by former leader of the Ohio State Legislature--and she has not forgotten her talents of leadership--and that is Congresswoman Joyce Beatty who joins us, if I might put words in both your mouths, with a sense of outrage about where we are today. I say that because I would like to stand here [[Page H270]] with an enormous amount of outrage for where we are and why we are here.
I want to add my appreciation to the Congressional Black Caucus, the chairman, Mr. Butterfield, and, of course, Congresswoman Dr. Kelly, who has been a great leader on the issues dealing with health care. I just want to cite to her, a lady that came to this Congress more than a decade ago, Deborah Prothrow-Stith. You may have read her writings. She pronounced during that time that gun violence was a health crisis. That was so many years ago. Unfortunately, with all of her expert writings, we still couldn't get movement.
I am going to take a slightly different perspective. If I could just take these few moments to give you an anecdotal story, which many of you might find absolutely with a great deal of shock, if you will. That is the limit to which gun rights advocates mislead the American people on any ideas for gun safety or gun regulation as taking guns away.
I was in a meeting where someone was trying to understand why President Obama in his excellent presentation about securing America and protecting our children from gun violence was being associated with the idea of taking over 345 million guns. This is what is represented to be President Obama's message. He will confiscate, through his process of gun testing or making sure that there are background checks for everyone, that he wants to confiscate 345 million guns, which has been determined to be located in 65 million places here in the United States.
Can I, in a public forum on this august floor of the House, say that we, as Members of Congress--and I think Republicans will admit this-- have no evidence, no documentation, that the White House intends to confiscate guns--no manner of level of increased ATF officers could ever do that--why this mischaracterization is here.
But listen to this. Gun rights advocates have made a lot of claims over the years that the Second Amendment they interpret means that they can buy any gun they want and take it pretty much anywhere. Well, basically, that does exist, except for the basic constraint of background checks, which now the President has expanded to ensure that if you are in a gun show--this is a gun show loophole--and you are sitting next to the stall of a licensed gun person and you are in the business of selling guns, why shouldn't you be either licensed or require, basically, background checks? But listen to this. In an ongoing legal battle in Florida, they lay claim to a newfangled Second Amendment right: the right not to have anyone talk to gun owners about their guns. Specifically, gun advocates don't want doctors discussing guns or the potential harms that guns may cause with their patients.
While mere talk about guns might seem to have nothing to do with the right to keep or bear arms, the advocates contend that the Constitution is on their side. Last month, for the third time in the same suit, a Federal court of appeals agreed. This is very bizarre. The case is filed under the name of Wollschlaeger v. Governor of the State of Florida, although First and Second Amendment buffs may recognize it under the cutesy nickname Docs v. Glocks.
It started when some gun owners and the National Rifle Association told Florida legislators that their doctors were harassing them by asking about gun safety--by asking about gun safety. The legislators responded by passing a law that bars healthcare workers from discussing or recording anything about their patients' gun ownership or safety practices that could be deemed in bad faith, irrelevant, or harassing.
Twelve other States are thinking about it, and now we have the Privacy of Firearm Owners Act. This is in the face of a number of homicides in this country. Let me cite to my colleagues that America is the number one country out of Western nations that has the highest number of cases of homicide by firearm per 100,000. The closest that comes to them is 0.7 by Italy. Then Taiwan, Canada, and Spain, 0.2; Germany, 0.2.
All the news stories that we see on violent disruptions in various places and protests, their numbers of gun violence, of homicides, is miniscule: Australia, 0.1; UK, 0.1; France, 0.1; South Korea, 0.03; and finally Japan, 0.01. If that doesn't get our attention, I don't know what does.
Then look at this map; 353 mass shootings in America in 2015. My colleague can see, is this anything to be proud of? Mass shootings not by knives, not by throwing stones, but by guns. This is what America is to the world: a sea of red of mass shootings, so much so that you can't even see background in some of the parts of this Nation. Yet there are laws that are being passed to stop health professionals from asking whether you have guns that might, in fact, endanger your children or yourselves.
On average, more than 100,000 people in the United States are shot in murders, assaults, and other crimes. More than 32,000 people die from gun violence, including 2,677 children under the age of 18. Gun deaths, justified versus criminal: studies also found that for every 1 justified homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 44 criminal homicides. In all of our communities, we see young Black men being felled by gun violence, young people in our communities being felled by gun violence, or innocent storekeepers being felled by gun violence, or in the instance of the Philadelphia police officer.
All of us respect the dangers of law enforcement, recognizing that we can work together by building prepared and trained law enforcement officers to avoid the violence with guns. But in the instance of this individual, who point-blank shot at an officer with a gun, who has now been determined possibly to have heard voices, though he said he was inspired by ISIS, again, someone wanted to suggest that it wasn't anything that Obama could have done. It was a stolen police gun and it is out on the streets. Obviously, we don't have enough people enforcing against the trafficking of stolen guns.
Mass shootings. The U.S. has a far higher number of mass shootings than any others I have indicated.
Mental health. Approximately one in four American adults have a mental illness. Every time we hear of these mass shootings, the defense comes, which they have a right, to talk about this person's severe criminal mental illness condition.
Guns in suicide is the leading cause of related deaths in America. More than 60 percent of deaths by guns in the country are the result of individuals using these weapons intending to commit suicide--not knives, not stones, not even poison or an overdose on drugs--guns. Guns and domestic violence provide a deadly outcome.
Law enforcement killed by guns: each year hundreds of law enforcement officers lose their lives in gun violence having been shot to death while protecting their communities. Of course, we know that we have experienced tragic incidences under the authority of law where people have been killed, and the community is over the top in frustration.
Background checks save lives. The tragedy at Mother Emanuel is the individual went to buy guns and the store owner said it is taking too long.
I support President Obama's very astute and thoughtful approach. Out of that, I am very glad to have introduced two initiatives. One, H.R. 4315, Mental Health Access and Gun Violence Prevention Act, which is a capture of President Obama's, along with Karen Bass. I urge my colleagues to sign on to H.R. 4315, which authorizes $500 million for health treatment access and to assist in the reporting of relevant disqualifying mental health information to the FBI background check system, NICS--not to violate the privacy, but to give more information to the database, because that certainly would be part of saving lives.
As I conclude, H.R. 4316, that I am pleased to have Congresswoman Kelly join me in this, the Gun Violence Reduction Resources Act, authorizes the hiring of 200 additional ATF agents, the very point of which my Republican friends are saying, but yet they are condemning what the President has offered.
I would say to my colleagues in closing, if we don't do this for any other reason, to take and codify the President's initiatives on NICS or data collection, on research regarding safer guns, on background checks or closing the gun show loophole, if we don't do it, we should do it for the children.
[[Page H271]] From December 2012 to December 2013, at least 100 children were killed in unintentional shootings, almost two every week, 61 percent higher than Federal data reflect. About two-thirds of these unintended deaths, at 65 percent, took place in the home or vehicle that belonged to the victim's family, most often with the guns that were legally owned but not secured.
I remind you of that Supreme Court challenge or that law in Florida where doctors can't secure information to protect the patients or the children of these families. More than two-thirds of these tragedies could be avoided if gun owners stored their guns responsibly and prevented children from accessing them.
I have introduced legislation on gun storage--I call it safety and responsibility--but yet, unfortunately, it is perceived as attacking the Second Amendment.
My good friend from New York (Mr. Jeffries), let me thank you for yielding. Allow me to just leave us with the point that, as the Congressional Black Caucus stands on the floor, we need partners in doing the right thing. I hope before the President leaves office, he will have the opportunity to reasonably and rationally sign bills that will save lives.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join my colleagues of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Congresswoman Joyce Beatty (D-OH) who are anchoring this Special Order on Ending Gun Violence in America.
Gun violence in America can no longer be swept under the rug, ignored or irrationally justified.
We are in a state of national crisis and it is time to act.
Upon taking office, every Member of Congress makes a solemn pledge: to protect and defend the American people.
This is the most important oath we take as elected officials--and, to honor this promise, we must do everything in our power to stem gun violence in our nation.
Yet, after another mass shooting and countless acts of gun violence in communities across our country every day, House Republicans are still unwilling to act to stop gun violence and save lives in American communities.
The Democrats have been calling for an immediate vote on the bipartisan King-Thompson Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act to strengthen the life-saving background checks that keep guns out of the wrong hands.
This Congress has a moral obligation to do our part to end the gun violence epidemic.
Now is the time for Republicans to join Democrats in protecting the lives of Americans by taking common sense steps to save lives.
The Administration has announced two new executive actions that will help strengthen the federal background check system and keep guns out of the wrong hands.
I have introduced two bills that will hopefully enhance these executive actions and support the President's recently announced action on gun violence.
H.R. 4315--Mental Health Access and Gun Violence Prevention Act-- authorizes $500 million for mental health treatment access and to assist in the reporting of relevant disqualifying mental health information to the FBI's background check system NICS.
H.R. 4316--Gun Violence Reduction Resources Act--authorizes the hiring of 200 additional ATF agents and investigators for enforcement of existing gun laws. The President included these specific requests in yesterday's announcements and these bills respond to those requests.
Additionally, the Department of justice (DOJ) is proposing a regulation to clarify who is prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal law for reasons related to mental health.
And the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is issuing a proposed regulation to address barriers preventing states from submitting limited information on those persons to the federal background check system.
Ending gun violence in America requires a comprehensive approach--we must come together and work towards this common goal.
Too many Americans have been severely injured or lost their lives as a result of gun violence.
While the vast majority of Americans who experience a mental illness are not violent.
However, in some cases when persons with a mental illness does not receive the treatment they need, the result can be tragedies such as homicide or suicide.
We must continue to address mental health issues by: Supporting expanded coverage of mental health services and enhanced training and hiring of mental health professionals; and Continuing the national conversation on mental health to reduce stigma associated with having a mental illness and getting help; and We must also continue to do everything we can to making sure that anyone who may pose a danger to themselves or others does not have access to a gun.
The federal background check system is one of the most effective ways of assuring that such individuals are not able to purchase a firearm from a licensed gun dealer.
To date, background checks have prevented over two million guns from falling into the wrong hands.
The Administration's two new executive actions will help ensure that better and more reliable information makes its way into the background check system.
The Administration, however, has acknowledged the need for collective action and continues to call upon Members of Congress to pass common- sense gun safety legislation and to expand funding to increase access to mental health services.
I too call upon my colleagues to come together and pass legislation that will help stop the loss of innocent lives.
While we have made some progress in strengthening the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is used to run background checks on those who buy guns from federally licensed gun dealers to make sure they are not prohibited by law from owning a firearm, we must do more.
I am a strong supporter of a right of privacy and I am particularly sensitive and protective of patient privacy rights.
I support the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that was passed by Congress in 1996, and includes privacy protection for medical records, which includes mental healthcare information.
However, there are specific areas under federal law that allow the disclosure of medical information to authorities, and in these instances there should be an agreement that when a person poses a threat to themselves or others (as determined by a court or adjudicative authority with the medical and legal knowledge and authority to make a determination that a person poses a threat to themselves or to others) should not be allowed to purchase a fire arm.
Technology that could be deployed to access court records and arrest records as they relate to mental health and violent behavior should not rely upon a list that may become out dated or could be used in ways that are not consistent with the intent of enhancing gun safety.
The ability to access information that is accurate and available for the limited purpose of affirming or rejecting a request to purchase a firearm without indicating the source of the decision or the reason for the rejection would still protect privacy rights while also protecting the public.
The president's proposal on mental health and gun violence is to enforce the laws already in place.
Under a federal law enacted in 1968, an individual is prohibited from buying or possessing firearms for life if he/she has been ``adjudicated as a mental defective'' or ``committed to a mental institution.'' A person is ``adjudicated as a mental defective'' if a court--or other entity having legal authority to make adjudications--has made a determination that an individual, as a result of mental illness: 1) Is a danger to himself or to others; 2) Lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs; 3) Is found insane by a court in a criminal case, or incompetent to stand trial, or not guilty by reason of lack of mental responsibility pursuant to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
A person is ``committed to a mental institution'' if that person has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution by a court or other lawful authority. This expressly excludes voluntary commitment.
It should be noted, however, that federal law currently allows states to establish procedures for mentally ill individuals to restore their right to possess and purchase firearms (many states have done so at the behest of the National Rifle Association, with questionable results).
It is undoubtedly true that people who are a danger to self and/or others because of mental illness should be prohibited from owning firearms.
It is less clear, however, how to tailor new policies to better protect the American public while at the same time avoiding the stigmatization of Americans with mental illness.
Any strategy to address the lethal intersection between guns and mental illness should focus on the key facts: On average, more than 100,000 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, and other crimes.
More than 32,000 people die from gun violence annually, including 2,677 children under the age of eighteen years old.
Suicide is the leading cause of gun related deaths in America.
60 percent of deaths by guns in America are the result of individuals using these weapons as a means to commit suicide.
[[Page H272]] Some of these deaths might have been prevented if there were adequate background checks.
Each year hundreds of law enforcement officers lose their lives to gun violence been shot to death protecting their communities.
Millions of guns are sold every year in ``no questions asked'' transactions and experts estimate that 40 percent of guns now sold in America are done so without a background check.
National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was created in 1998 to require potential gun buyers to pass an instant screening at the point of purchase.
Ensures that purchasers are not felons, domestic abusers, mentally ill, etc.
NICS has blocked sales to more than 2 million prohibited people.
NICS stops 170 felons and 53 domestic abusers from purchasing guns every day.
The most serious issue facing NICS is the ``private sale loophole''.
This allows anyone who is not a federally-licensed dealer to sell guns without a background check.
An estimated 40% of gun transfers--6.6 million transfers--are conducted without a background check.
Armslist.com is the largest online seller of firearms.
66,000 gun ads are posted by private sellers on a given day, 750,000 per year.
Nearly 1/3rd of gun ads on Armslist.com are posted by high-volume unlicensed sellers (approx. 4,218 people).
High-volume sellers posted 29% of the gun ads.
High-volume sellers posted 36,069 gun ads over 2 months.
This would equate to around 243,800 guns each year by unlicensed sellers.
50% were familiar with federal laws but decided they didn't apply to them.
1/3rd of ``want-to-buy'' ads are posted by people with a criminal record.
More than 4 times the rate at which prohibited gun buyers try to buy guns in stores.
Approximately 25,000 guns are in illegal hands.
[From Slate, Jan. 8, 2016] The Absurd Logic Behind Florida's Docs vs. Glocks Law The Second Amendment trumps all other amendments (By Dahlia Lithwick and Sonja West) Gun-rights advocates have made a lot of claims over the years about the broad scope of their constitutional rights. They say, in effect, that the Second Amendment means they can buy virtually any gun they want and take it pretty much anywhere. But in an ongoing legal battle in Florida, they lay claim to a newfangled Second Amendment right--the right not to have anyone talk to gun owners about their guns. Specifically, gun advocates don't want doctors discussing guns, or the potential harms those guns may cause, with their patients.
And while mere talk about guns might seem to have nothing to do with the right to keep or bear arms, the advocates contend that the Constitution is on their side. Last month, for the third time in the same suit, a federal court of appeals agreed.
This very bizarre case is filed under the name of Wollschlaeger v. Governor of the State of Florida, although First and Second amendment buffs may recognize it under the cutesy nickname Docs vs. Glocks. It started when some gun owners (and the National Rifle Association) told Florida legislators that their doctors were harassing them by asking about gun safety.
The legislators responded by passing a law that bars health care workers from discussing or recording anything about their patients' gun ownership or safety practices that could be deemed in bad faith, irrelevant, or harassing. (Twelve other states have considered enacting similar legislation, but only Florida has actually passed such a law.) The result was the Firearms Owners' Privacy Act. The law provides that licensed health care practitioners and facilities: ``may not intentionally enter'' information concerning a patient's ownership of firearms into the patient's medical record that the practitioner knows is ``not relevant to the patient's medical care or safety, or the safety of others,'' and ``shall respect a patient's right to privacy and should refrain'' from inquiring as to whether a patient or their family owns firearms, unless the practitioner or facility believes in good faith that the ``information is relevant to the patient's medical care or safety, or the safety of others.'' Violations of the act could lead to disciplinary action including fines and suspension, or revocation of a medical license. Proponents of such laws say these doctor-patient dialogues violate the patients' Second Amendment rights.