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Christopher M.
Democrat CT

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  • Enough is Enough

    by Senator Christopher Murphy

    Posted on 2013-12-17

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    MURPHY. Madam President, I come to the floor for a few minutes, as I have most weeks, to mark a new number. That number is 11,584--the number of gun deaths America has experienced over the last year, since December 14 of last year. That date is burned in the memories of those of us in Connecticut and across the Nation because that was the date 26 people--20 little 6- and 7-year-olds and 6 teachers and educators who were there to protect them--died in Sandy Hook. We recognized the 1- year mark of that shooting this weekend. Almost 12,000 people have died at the hands of guns since then.

    I have tried to come to the floor of the Senate in the months since to remind folks that these victims have stories and to give voice to these victims. I will share a few more today.

    We were all gripped just a few days ago by news of another school shooting. Not too far from Columbine, Arapahoe saw another very troubled young man walk in with a shotgun and essentially open fire, apparently because of a grievance he had with his debate coach. Caught in the crossfire was a 17-year-old girl, Claire Davis.

    Claire was described as outgoing, athletic, and an excellent student. According to reports, she loved horses and recently placed second in an equestrian competition. Another student said Claire is ``one of the nicest people I've met at Arapahoe'' High School. Claire, 17 years old, survived, but she is still in a coma today just because she was in the wrong place at her high school--a place where everyone expects to be able to go to school in safety. She isn't on this number yet because she survived, but her life is changed forever because of yet another school shooting.

    School shootings now seem to pop up on the news on a weekly basis. But it is not just these school shootings where mass violence takes place. Now you can pick up most local papers every month and see evidence of a new mass shooting.

    In Manchester, CT, on December 7 of this year, 41-year-old John Lynn shot Brittany Mills, 28, Kamesha Mills, 23, and Artara Benson, 46, before killing himself in a quadruple murder. He had a history of domestic violence. Police haven't completely sorted out exactly what happened, but all four of them are dead, marking the eighth homicide stemming from intimate partner violence in Connecticut since January 1, 2013.

    Just days before, in Alma, AR, Tim Adams, believed to be in his early fifties, before killing himself killed his 4-month-old grandson, 4- year-old granddaughter, and Michael Williams, the 31-year-old boyfriend of his daughter, in the midst of what seemed to be a pretty simple argument about his daughter's court date that exploded into an episode of mass violence that took the lives of a 4-month-old, a 4-year-old, a 31-year-old, and then, as many of these episodes do, the life of the shooter himself.

    These episodes of mass shootings are not just happening in schools, movie theaters, or places of worship; they are happening in backyards in Alma, AR, and they are happening in apartment complexes in Manchester, CT. And this body, in the 360-some-odd days since December 14, has done absolutely nothing about it. The survivors of these incidents of violence are the stories we don't talk about.

    I have come down here to tell the story today of Claire Davis, Brittany [[Page S8903]] Mills, Kamesha Mills, Artara Benson, Tim Adams, Chayson Williams, Kierra Adams, and Michael Williams. They all died by gunshots. They left behind children, parents, and neighbors who are scarred for life.

    Psychologists will tell you that when a shooting occurs, there are at least 10 people who experience life-altering trauma. What we know is that episodes of trauma don't just affect you up here; they affect your entire body. We have new developing evidence which shows that children who experience multiple episodes of trauma in their lives--and they don't have to be as grave or serious as a shooting--are physiologically affected for the rest of their lives. People who witness trauma and experience trauma die earlier than people who don't, never mind have episodes related to post-traumatic stress that stay with them for the rest of their lives. So the spillover, the ripple effects of these 11,000 deaths, frankly, represents a number that can't even fit on a chart like this.

    There is no simple solution. Sometimes it seems as if the only thing we come down here and talk about is stricter gun laws. And I don't believe there is any reason why we don't require background checks for guns before they are purchased or we don't just simply say that these dangerous assault weapons should stay out of the hands of people who aren't in law enforcement or the military. But that is not the beginning and end of the conversation.

    This young man, Karl Pierson, who walked into Arapahoe High School started shooting the place up because he was upset about his place on the debate team. He apparently had a history of disciplinary incidents at that school, but he clearly had some serious issues of mental illness not identified and treated. Of course, the same thing can be said of Jared Lee Loughner and Adam Lanza and this long list of mass shooters across this country. We absolutely have to put more resources into our mental health system.

    I appreciate my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who have said: We are not willing to go with you when it comes to background checks or assault weapons, but we will work with you on mental health funding.

    In order to do that, we actually have to put the money behind the system. We have closed down 4,000 in-patient mental health beds in this country over the last 5 years. Why? Because the Federal Government is pulling funding from the very programs that actually support increased mental health resources which can identify these individuals before they perpetrate incidents of mass violence. So there is an illusion of bipartisan support around the issue of mental health even while we have these outstanding disagreements on gun laws. Yet there really isn't agreement because when you are fighting over the budget, when Republicans are calling for massive cuts to programs such as Medicaid or the mental health block grant, then they are undermining the very programs that actually identify and help people such as Karl Pierson or Adam Lanza.

    Enough is enough. I will be down here after the holiday, and that number will be over 12,000--12,000 individuals, many of them little girls and boys like those represented on this chart: Daniel Barden and Jesse Lewis and Dylan Hockley.

    Back in Newtown, out of respect for the families who are tired from 365 days of grieving, there was no big public remembrance on Saturday. There was a small private ceremony which I had the honor of attending at St. Rose Church, where so many of the children were parishioners.

    As tired as that community is, they also were bewildered, in Newtown, because they went up to the State capitol in Connecticut and got laws passed that will prevent these kinds of episodes of mass violence in the future, but they came down to Washington and, while they got a lot of meetings, they got absolutely no progress--zilch, zip, nada.

    As we head into 2014, I hope the memory of these little boys and girls will not fade as we get beyond the 1-year mark of Sandy Hook. My hope is people will start paying attention to this number, creeping up to 12,500 deaths, and will recognize that while this number simply represents the number of people who have died, there are all sorts of people out there such as Claire Davis, who survived, but survived gun incidents that will cripple them for the rest of their lives, and there are, frankly, hundreds of thousands of more people who surround these incidents of violence who have their lives changed forever because of the trauma they experienced.

    All of these victims, whether they were killed in the incident or were part of the collateral damage, have voices, voices that should command this place sometime soon to action.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Rhode Island.

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