Executive Sessionby Senator Christopher Murphy
Posted on 2013-12-11
MURPHY. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that after I
finish speaking, Senator Blumenthal be allowed to speak.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Sandy Hook Mr. MURPHY. Mr. President, this Saturday we are going to mark the 1- year anniversary of the shooting in Sandy Hook, CT, in which 20 little 6- and 7-year-old boys and girls lost their lives, as well as 6 adults who worked in that school who were charged with protecting them.
Senator Blumenthal and I have come down to the floor today to offer some thoughts as we reflect on the 365 days that have passed since the most horrific mass shooting that most of us have ever seen in our lifetimes.
I think back a lot on that day--being in the Sandy Hook firehouse as the parents realized that their sons and daughters were not coming back from that school. One of the things I remember about that day is getting an awful lot of phone calls from my colleagues from all around the country, Senators and Congressmen who represented places such as Columbine and Aurora and Virginia Tech and Tucson. They all called because they had been through this before and they just wanted to offer their condolences and a little bit of advice on how a community can try to get through these awful, tragic, shattering incidents.
I sort of thought that day how awful it was that there were that many colleagues, that many representatives from across the country who could call and give me advice. What a tragedy it is that we are amassing this bank of expertise across the Nation on how to respond to mass shootings. It speaks to how far and wide the carnage and the devastation are from these mass shootings that are occurring now it seems almost on a weekly or monthly basis somewhere around the country. It is not getting better; it is getting worse.
In 1949 a guy by the name of Howard Unruh went through the streets of his town of East Camden, NJ, firing shots indiscriminately such that he killed 13 people. It was the Nation's first mass shooting. Now we have, unfortunately, had a lot of mass shootings since that first one in 1949.
But here is what is stunning: Of all of the mass shootings that have taken place since 1949, half of them took place from 1949 to 2007 and the other half have taken place in the last 6 years. Something has gone wrong. Something has changed. The problem is that it is not this place. We are approaching the 1-year mark of the school shooting in Sandy Hook, and it will be a week of mourning, but here in the Senate it should also be a week of embarrassment. It should be a week of shame that after 1 year passing since 20 little boys and girls were gunned down in a 5-minute hail of furious bullets, the Senate and the House of Representatives have done nothing to try to prevent these kinds of mass atrocities in the future.
I come down here today not just to challenge this place to act but to tell you a little bit about what I have learned in the last year. I have learned a lot, but I want to distill it down to two pretty simple things I have learned.
I did not work on the issue of gun violence when I was a Member of the House of Representatives, in part because my corner of Connecticut did not have tremendously high levels of gun deaths. Now it is central to my mission as a Senator.
What I have learned over the last year is that despite all the rhetoric we hear from the gun lobby, when you change gun laws to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and to take dangerous military-style weapons and ammunition off of the streets, guess what happens. Communities become safer. The data tells us this.
Since 1998 the National Instant Criminal Background Check System has blocked more than 2 million gun sales to prohibited purchasers. That is up to 2 million criminals--people with criminal histories who should not have bought a gun--who were prohibited from buying a gun. The background check system works but for the fact that only about 60 percent of gun purchases actually go through the system because more and more guns are being bought in online sales, more and more guns are being bought online, and more and more guns are being bought at gun shows.
We know background checks work because we have stopped 2 million people who would be prohibited from owning guns because they have a history of domestic abuse or serious felonies or mental illness. Two million times we have stopped those people from getting guns.
Second, we can compare what happens in States with near universal background check systems versus States that have looser laws. I will give you one statistic, for instance. In States that require a background check for every handgun sale, there is a 38-percent reduction in the number of women who are shot to death by intimate partners. Deaths from domestic violence are almost 40-percent less in States that have near universal background checks.
The same data exists for assault weapons as well. In 1994 we passed the assault weapons ban. Over the next 9 years crimes committed with assault weapons declined by two-thirds.
There are legitimate arguments that there are other factors that contributed to that decline, but certainly a portion of that decline is connected to the restriction on assault weapons. Thirty-seven percent of police departments reported a noticeable increase in criminals' use of assault weapons since the 1994 Federal ban expired.
When it comes to these high-capacity magazine clips, we do not need the data that is out there because common sense tells us that if somebody decides to do mass damage with a high-powered weapon, they are going to do less damage if they only have 10 bullets in a clip rather than 30. Adam Lanza in Sandy Hook Elementary School got off 154 bullets and killed 20 children and 6 adults in less than 5 minutes. In Tucson, a 74-year-old retired Army colonel and a 61-year-old woman were able to subdue the shooter when he went to change cartridges. In Aurora, the rampage essentially stopped when James Holmes went to switch cartridges. When you have to reload multiple times, there are multiple opportunities for these mass shootings to stop. We should do things to make sure the shootings never begin in the first place, but the carnage is much worse when these madmen are walking into shopping plazas, movie theaters, and schools with 30-round clips and 100-round drums.
But here is the second thing I have learned. I learned this as well over the last year. I have learned about the amazing ability of good to triumph over evil even when this place does not act to change the laws. I have learned that despite the evil of those 5 minutes in Sandy Hook, the community of Newtown has amazingly found a way over and over to bring so much beauty and goodness to essentially cover up and drown out that horror. I have seen these kids' memories become the inspiration for literally thousands of acts of generosity and kindness.
Daniel Barden was a genetically compassionate little kid. He was that kid who always sat with the kid in school who did not have anybody sitting next to them on the bus or in the classroom. When his parents would take him to the supermarket, they would be all the way to their car with their groceries, and they would look back and Daniel would still be at the door holding open the grocery store door for people who were leaving.
His parents started a Facebook page that challenges people to engage in little, small acts of kindness in Daniel's memory. It had about 40,000 likes the last time I had checked, and the stories are endless-- a woman who bought coffee and doughnuts for a firehouse in New York State; a Missouri woman who helped restock a food pantry in Daniel's honor; a woman in Illinois who paid for a stranger's meal and just wrote ``Love from Daniel Barden'' on the bill.
Jack Pinto was a very active 6-year-old boy. He enjoyed playing sports of all kinds. He was buried in his New York Giants jersey. His parents, Dean and Tricia Pinto, have raised money and put some of their own money in to pay for hundreds of children all around the country to have access to the same kind of opportunity to play sports that Jack had, despite the fact that their families might not have the resources the Pintos do.
[[Page S8642]] Jessica Rekos loved animals. She loved whales and horses most, so her parents started a foundation, the Jessica Rekos Foundation, and they have provided yearlong scholarships for horseback riding lessons for students who would not otherwise have the resources to be able to have the opportunity to enjoy horses in the same way Jessica did.
This week an effort is under way in Newtown and across the Nation to inspire people to every day do a different act of kindness as a way to pay tribute to the 1-year anniversary. These charities that have sprung up in the wake of Newtown are doing amazing work to change people's lives--just the small acts of kindness that maybe we all do in trying to pay tribute to the memory of those kids and those adults. That makes a difference.
Charitable acts and changes in behavior--they are necessary although insufficient responses to the scourge of gun violence that plagues our Nation.
This place has to change the laws. Do something because you do not want to be next. You do not want to be sitting on a train station platform, as I was on December 14, when you get a call that 10 or 20 or 30 or 40 kids or adults have been gunned down in your State. You certainly do not want to get that call when you had a chance, but you did not take it, to do something to prevent it.
I got calls that day from my colleagues all across the country because there are not many corners of the Nation that have not been touched by gun violence. Some 11,000 people have been killed by guns since December 14 of last year. When one person is killed, psychologists tell us there are 10 other people who sustain life- altering trauma as a result of that shooting. So just imagine when 26 kids and adults die in a small community.
So I wish to leave you not with my words but with the words of a mother from Sandy Hook who represents the scope of the trauma that has been the reality for Sandy Hook for the last 365 days. Sandy Hook is recovering but very slowly. The charities and the acts of kindness, they make a difference, but there is a lot of head shaking in that community as to why this place has not risen to the occasion, shown the same type of courage those families have and done something to change the reality of everyday and exceptional mass violence across this country.
Here is what this mother writes. These are her words in an open letter: In addition to the tragic loss of her playmates, friends, and teachers, my first grader suffers from PTSD. She was in the first room by the entrance to the school. Her teacher was able to gather the children into the tiny bathroom inside the classroom. There she stood, with 14 of her classmates and her teacher, all of them crying. You see, she heard what was happening on the other side of the wall. She heard everything. She was sure that she was going to die that day and did not want to die before Christmas. Imagine what this must have been like. She struggles nightly with nightmares, difficulty falling asleep, and being afraid to go anywhere in her own home. At school she becomes withdrawn, crying daily, covering her ears when it gets too loud and waiting for this to happen again. She is 6.
And we are furious. We are furious that 26 families must suffer with grief so deep and so wide that it is unimaginable. We are furious that the innocence and safety of my children's lives have been taken. Furious that someone had access to the type of weapon used in this massacre. Furious that gun makers make ammunition with such high rounds and our government does nothing to stop them. Furious that the ban on assault weapons was carelessly left to expire. Furious that lawmakers let the gun lobbyists have so much control. Furious that somehow, someone's right to own a gun is more important than my children's right to life. Furious that lawmakers are too scared to take a stand.
She finishes by writing this: I ask you to think about your choices. Look at the pictures of the 26 innocent lives taken so needlessly and wastefully, using a weapon that never should have been in the hands of civilians. Really think. Changing the laws may ``inconvenience'' some gun owners, but it may also save a life, perhaps a life that is dear to me or you. Are you really willing to risk it? There must not be another Sandy Hook. You have a responsibility and an obligation to act now and to change the laws.
I hope and pray that you do not fail.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Connecticut Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, many words have been spoken since Newtown, including the very powerful words of my colleague just now. But the plain, simple fact is no words can capture what I feel about that day. No words ever will capture that day or the days and weeks and months afterwards, when we have grieved and healed and resolved that we will do everything within our power to make sure that kind of massacre never happens again.