Executive Sessionby Senator Richard Blumenthal
Posted on 2013-12-11
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.
But equally important is that the deaths by gunfire are reduced or prevented--those 26 senseless, unspeakable deaths of 20 beautiful children and 6 great educators but also the 194 children who have been killed by gunfire since Newtown, and the 10,000 or more deaths caused by gunfire, person by person, a tragic river of senseless deaths that we have the power to prevent, the power in this body and the power in this Nation.
As much as we should be shamed and embarrassed by the failure to act, we also must have hope and resolve that we will act. History is on our side. The example of courage and strength provided by those families ought to give us the resolve and the determination to act; likewise, the examples of courage and resolve by Father Bob Weiss, who had a service in St. Rose of Lima on the evening of December 14, one of the most moving public experiences I will ever have. As I said then, the world is watching Newtown. The world has watched Newtown. It has watched First Selectman Pat Llodra, who has led Newtown with her own courage and strength and determination, including coming here as my guest on the night of the State of the Union to be an example for all of us about what a public official can do by her own example, leading by her own example.
We will mark, this Saturday morning, at St. Rose of Lima the 1-year anniversary at a service Senator Murphy and I will attend. I have worn since virtually that day a bracelet. I wear it now. It says, ``We are Newtown. We choose love.'' If there is a message for all of us in this Chamber, it is that we continue to choose love. We are all Newtown. Our town is Newtown. All of our towns are Newtown. I see this bracelet literally from the time I wake in the morning to when I go to bed. It will always be an inspiration for me, inescapably our hearts and minds go back to that moment when we first learned about this horrific, unspeakable tragedy.
Of course, I went to the Newtown firehouse that day. The sights and sounds of grief and pain are seared in my memory. They will be with me forever. So will be the story of the children whom we lost: Grace McDonnell and Allison Wyatt, who loved to draw pictures for their families and planned to be artists; Chase Kowalski, a Cub Scout who loved playing baseball with his father; Jessica Rekos, who wanted to research orca whales and become a cowgirl.
We will never forget the heroism and the bravery of the educators such as Vicki Soto and Anne Marie Murphy. Vicki Soto is in this picture. Her brother Carlos came to a service today here in Washington. He has continued, and so have his sisters, to come to events that provide impetus and movement and momentum to the effort to stop gun violence.
Vicki Soto and Anne Marie Murphy literally shielded their students, sought to save them with their own bodies. Dawn Hochsprunk and Mary Sherlach ran unhesitatingly toward the danger entering their school and perished doing so. There are heroes in this story. It is not only about bad people who used guns improperly and illegally; it is not only about evil; it is also about good. The good includes the first responders and police who stopped the shooting when they came to the school and ran toward danger and toward gunfire and thereby ended it, when the shooter took his own life.
It is also about Ana Marquez-Greene, a beautiful girl who loved music and flowers, loved to wear flowers in her hair. She was described by Bishop Leroy Bailey as a beautiful, adoring child. That picture evokes the stories of all of those children: beautiful, adoring, a future and a life ahead of them.
For all of those stories and the tears, and the teddy bears and tributes that were outside of the firehouse, Newtown has refused to be defined simply by tragedy; refused to be locked in its past. It has moved forward, because Newtown is not just a moment, it is a movement. It is not just a moment in [[Page S8643]] history defined by tragedy, it is a movement to make the world better. It is a movement to make America safer.
That is the movement we have articulated and sought to advance. Those families, including Neil Heslin, who has come here numerous times for his son Jesse, have been an example of courage. Indeed, they have been profiles in courage. When Neil Heslin dropped Jesse off at school on the morning of December 14, Jesse gave him a hug and said: ``It's going to be all right. Everything's going to be OK, Dad,'' because Jesse was that kind of kid, Neil told the Senate Judiciary Committee in his testimony. His pride in Jesse, as well as his grief, brought tears to all of our eyes.
Jesse was just that kind of kid. He never wanted to leave a baby crying. He never wanted to leave anybody feeling hurt. Jesse and Neil used to talk about coming to Washington, about meeting with the President. Neil met with the President but Jesse was not there, at least physically he was not there. He was with all of us as we worked with Neil to make America safer and make sure Newtown is not a moment but a movement toward a better, safer America.
I thank my colleagues for the outpouring of feeling and support on the eve of that tragedy. It was a rare moment of bipartisan unison and feeling as well as words. I wish to thank them as well for meeting with many of those families because they demonstrated a graciousness and generosity regardless of their views on any of the issues relating to gun violence and any of the bills on the floor. That graciousness and generosity I hope will prevail on this issue and again move us forward.
The acts of kindness and generosity that followed have been inspiring as well.
College students and firefighters have come together to build playgrounds in honor of the Sandy Hook victims. Bill Lavin of New Jersey, on behalf of the New Jersey firefighter system, has done yeoman's work. There are now new playgrounds in their memory in Norwalk, New London, Fairfield, Ansonia, Westport, and Stratford.
I have visited many of them. They are distinct, reflecting the character of those children such as Ana Marquez-Greene.
The Newtown High School football team took time away from celebrating a perfect winning season to devote their efforts to the children and educators we have lost.
The Sandy Hook Run for the Families not only raised more than $450,000 for the Sandy Hook Support Fund, but it also broke the world record for attendance. In millions of actions, large or small, in Connecticut, all around the country, the people of Newtown, the State of Connecticut, and the country showed what compassion, giving, and kindness truly means in action. They chose to honor them by action.
Often the compassion and kindness unleashed by the Newtown tragedy took many other forms that were unheralded, unreported, and unspoken. These were acts of kindness that were not in the newspapers or in the public view but simply acts that meant something to the recipient and to the giver.
These fundraisers and vigils, emails and postcards, small and large signs of recognition and love from our colleagues, from people across the country, are a form of giving back. They give me hope that eventually we will prevail in this effort to make a difference.
Scarlett Lewis, Jesse's mom, is also a hero. She heard about the Cruz family who had lost two of their children to a drunk driver. Scarlett responded with that same resilience and strength by offering to give a fundraiser for the Cruz family.
When she was asked about her family and about what she had done, she explained: What brings meaning to the suffering is doing something for someone else. . . . In doing something for them I'm also helping my own healing.
Nearly 90 percent of Americans support commonsense measures such as background checks, a number that is virtually unchanged since the issue soared to the forefront of our political discourse in the wake of Sandy Hook. Even in gun-owning households the support is virtually identical, 88 percent. That figure hasn't changed. A mountain of public support has failed to produce measures, but our resolve is unchanged because those memories of Sandy Hook, those examples of kindness and compassion, will drive us forward, as will the more than 10,000 other victims including at least 14 children under the age of 12 in 43 different States.
Congress has shamefully and disgracefully failed to act, but that is not the end of the story. There has been one vote, and we lost, but that vote is not the end of this movement. Newtown is not a moment. It is a movement. Surrender is unacceptable; the status quo is inexcusable. The families and Newtown community have refused to surrender to personal despair, and we cannot surrender to political dismay or difficulty.
I was moved the other day when I saw a clip of Ronald Reagan endorsing the Brady bill. Ronald Reagan, as President, was a victim of gun violence, as was Jim Brady, who was paralyzed by the same hail of bullets that struck the President of the United States when they were fired by a deranged person, John Hinckley.
Twelve years passed before the Brady bill was passed. It was 12 years of struggle, work, resolve, and courage by Sarah and Jim Brady, with eventually an endorsement by Ronald Reagan.
The sadness and anger I feel today, prompted by the memory of that tragedy and this body's failure to respond, is mitigated by the knowledge that history is on our side, that America is better than the oath we took in April. The people of Newtown have not failed. The people of America have not failed, and this body has not yet failed.
We can and we will do better because Newtown and that vote will be with us.
Newtown is more than a moment. It is a movement that eventually will prevail.
I yield the floor.