A picture of Senator Richard J. Durbin
Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Gun Violence

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2015-12-07

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    DURBIN. Madam President, I rise to speak about the devastating impact gun violence has on our families and our communities across America. Every day in America, we have a staggering amount of gun violence. On average, 297 people are shot in America each day, and 89 of them die. On a typical day, there are 31 murders and 55 suicides by gun, as well as several accidental shootings. And every day, on average, 151 Americans are shot and wounded in an assault and 45 are accidently shot but survive. We have had over 350 mass shootings in America just this year, meaning incidents where at least four people are shot, and we have had over 50 incidents this year where guns have been fired at a school--50 at a school.

    These statistics are sobering and a call to action. Most shootings in America have become so routine, they don't even make the news. Sadly, many Americans believe this staggering level of violence is just a normal day in America. But in recent weeks, horrific mass shootings at a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs, CO, and a holiday party in San Bernardino have brought the issue of gun violence back into the forefront.

    After high-profile mass shootings, we often hear the gun lobby and their political allies say: Any effort to pass a new gun law is just politicizing a tragedy. They say: We don't need any new gun laws; what we really should do is enforce the laws on the books. We saw this dynamic play out just last week. The day after the San Bernardino shooting, the vast majority of Senate Democrats voted for an amendment by Senator Feinstein to close the loophole that lets suspected terrorists buy firearms in America. The vast majority of Senate Republicans voted no. Senate Democrats also voted overwhelmingly for a bipartisan amendment offered by Senators Manchin and Toomey. This amendment would close the loopholes that allow guns to be sold without background checks either on the Internet or at gun shows. Again, the Senate Republicans overwhelmingly voted against a background check to keep firearms out of the hands of convicted felons and mentally unstable people.

    Make no mistake--the whole world saw what happened last week in San Bernardino, and the whole world now knows that people who want to commit acts of mass violence or terror in the United States sadly have easy access to an arsenal of guns. There are major loopholes in the laws on the books.

    This is a serious vulnerability, and Americans know we need to address it. The risk of terrorist-inspired mass shootings like Paris has never been higher. What are most effective ways to guard against this vulnerability? Well, I thought those two amendments we considered last week were a good start. Won't we agree--even those who own guns, value them, use them for sport, hunting, or self-defense--won't we agree that keeping guns out of the hands of convicted felons and mentally unstable people is the starting point? I think we should.

    The ATF did a review of the crime guns that were seized in the highest crime areas in the city of Chicago. They found out that 40 percent of the guns used in the commission of crime in some of the deadliest precincts of Chicago came from northwest Indiana gun shows. Why? Well, because you don't go through a background check if you buy from certain people at a gun show. So the thugs, the drug gangs, the drive-by shooters--all they have to do is take the Skyway over the border into Indiana, go to one of those gun shows, fill their trunks with guns, firearms, and ammunition, and drive back for a killing spree in Chicago. There are no background checks. Does that make sense? When they say, ``Well, you know, it is a shame they have so much gun violence in Chicago because you know they have some of the strictest laws on the books,'' well, those strict laws don't apply when you cross the State line into Indiana. Sadly, those laws don't apply as they should across the United States.

    So we called the amendment on the floor, a bipartisan amendment. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia-- neither one of them liberal by self-definition--have come forward and said--Joe Manchin said: I learned a long time ago that if you want to own a gun in West Virginia, in my family, you didn't sell it to a stranger, you didn't sell it to a criminal, and you certainly didn't sell it to someone who was mentally unstable. He said that is just common sense. Well, it is common sense that escaped the support and attention of the Senate Republicans. They voted against that provision overwhelmingly, against background checks to keep firearms out of the hands of convicted felons and those who are mentally unstable. How would you explain that? Well, it might be easier to explain that than to explain the other amendment they voted against.

    [[Page S8431]] Listen to this one. If our government, in their investigation, comes up with the name of a person they believe is involved in terrorism and they put them on a no-fly list so they can't get on an airplane, guess what--they can still go to a licensed gun dealer in America and buy a firearm.

    These mad people in San Bernardino had AR-15s, semiautomatic and automatic weapons. They weren't on a terrorist watch list that I know of or a no-fly list, but if their names had been on a list, it wouldn't have slowed them down one bit in making a purchase.

    So Senator Feinstein of California offered this amendment, an amendment which had previously been offered by the late Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey repeatedly. Senator Feinstein took up his cause and brought this amendment to the floor for a vote last week in Washington.

    I went back and looked at the Congressional Record to see what the objections were of the people who said they had to vote against the amendment which would say if you are on a terrorist fly list, you cannot purchase firearms or explosives in the United States. I read some of the statements that were made by the senior Senator from Texas. In his argument against this, he said: If you believe the Federal Government should be able to deprive an American citizen of one of their core constitutional rights without notice and an opportunity to be heard, then you should vote for the Senator's amendment.

    The Senator from Texas continued: This is not the way we are supposed to do things in this country. If you think that the Federal Government never makes a mistake and that presumptively the decisions the Federal Government makes about putting you on a list because of some suspicions, then you should vote for this amendment.

    So as far as he is concerned--and I suppose those who joined him in voting against this amendment--if your name is on a terrorist watch list in America as somebody we suspect is involved in terrorism, you start off by presuming the government must be wrong and the government has to prove it. You start off, in their position, by saying that the first thing we should do is let that presumed terrorist buy a gun and then let's have a due process hearing. What? What is he thinking? If you thought there was a dangerous person in your city or your community who might engage in terrorism, would you want them to buy an assault weapon? Would you want them to buy explosives? I wouldn't.

    Let's err on the side of safety and security and say: No, if you are on that list, you cannot purchase a weapon or an explosive. If you protest being on the list and don't think you belong there, so be it. That is your right. You are entitled to a process to get your name off the list, and the Feinstein amendment provides such a process. And if you prove that our government is wrong, then proceed with buying the gun or the explosives.

    But the presumption on the other side is that you are always entitled to buy a gun, you are always entitled to buy explosives, and if the government says otherwise, they have to prove it. It doesn't sound like a recipe for safety in America, but that is what happened on the floor of the Senate.

    So we called this measure, and there were 45 who voted yes and 54 voted no--45 to 54 on whether someone on the terrorist watch list should be able to be prohibited from buying firearms and explosives.

    There has been a lot of tough talk lately about terrorism, this dozen--13, 14; I forget the number--running for President on the Republican side. They are trying to out trump one another and get tougher with terrorists. Yet when the moment came on the floor of the Senate and the Republicans in the Senate--including three or four running for President--had a chance to vote to keep firearms and explosives out of the hands of suspected terrorists, they voted no. How does that make us any safer? Oh, they are tough as can be in their speeches, but when it comes down to their votes, they are nowhere to be found.


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