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

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  • Gun Violence

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2016-01-11

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, I rise to speak about the issue of gun violence and to commend the President for announcing last week a set of commonsense steps to make our country safer.

    The need for action to reduce gun violence in America is urgent. About 32,000 Americans are killed by guns each year. Every day on average 297 men, women, and children are shot, 89 of them fatally. Last year, by one count, there were at least 372 mass shooting incidents where 4 or more people were shot--more than one a day in America. In the city of Chicago [[Page S9]] alone last year, 2,939 people were injured by gunfire, and at least 88 people have been shot so far this year, 2016. The 468 homicides in Chicago last year sadly led the Nation--a number larger than the number of fatalities in the cities of New York or Los Angeles, which are much larger cities. There is an epidemic of gun violence in America.

    Can you imagine if 32,000 Americans were dying each year from Ebola or from tainted drugs or at the hands of terrorists? Lawmakers would pull out all the stops to bring down those deaths. Compare the death toll from gun violence to the death toll from terrorism in the United States. According to the New America Foundation, since 9/11 a total of 93 people have been killed by terrorist incidents in America--48 have been killed by rightwing extremists and 45 have been killed by Islamic terrorists. Americans are rightly concerned about the threat of ISIS terrorism, but we cannot ignore the threat posed by gun violence to the citizens of our Nation.

    Sadly, for years Members of Congress have just shrugged their shoulders as each day we hear another heartbreaking story of the victims of gun violence. It is baffling to me that Congress refuses to do anything about gun violence, especially since the American people overwhelmingly on a bipartisan basis agree on commonsense steps that we should take.

    For example, about 90 percent of Americans agree that a background check should be conducted before a gun is sold. Background checks through what is known as the FBI NICS system help ensure that the buyer is not a convicted felon, a domestic abuser, or a person with a history of serious mental instability or who is otherwise prohibited from buying a gun.

    Background checks work. Over 2 million gun sales have been denied to prohibited purchasers over the years. You think to yourself, why would a convicted felon be so stupid as to go in and try to buy a gun when he faces a background check? He does it anyway. They do it over and over, and 2 million times we have denied them weapons because they were prohibited by law because of their records.

    There are still loopholes that would allow many sales to take place without this basic background check, especially at gun shows and over the Internet. Think about how people made Christmas and holiday purchases this year. Many of us went to the Internet. That is exactly where people are going to buy firearms without background checks. When you have loopholes like these, it is easy to understand how dangerous people can get their hands on guns.

    Look at the way these loopholes have affected the city of Chicago. There is a flood of illegal guns coming into Chicago from Indiana, especially from Lake County, IN, which is right across the border from my State. Last Friday, the Chicago Tribune newspaper quoted Sheriff John Buncich of Lake County, IN, saying: Individuals are skirting federal law, especially at these gun shows, whether they want to admit it or not. There's a lot of illegal gun sales.

    The Tribune article went on to say: Buncich stressed he supports Second Amendment rights and doesn't want to take guns from people. He noted, however, that hundreds of guns from Lake County show up in Chicago crimes every year. ``We need to do something to stem the violence,'' Buncich said. ``It's not going to hurt the law- abiding citizen.'' Last year I met with the head of the Chicago Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Federal agency charged with enforcing our gun laws. He told me that in the highest crime neighborhoods of Chicago, when they confiscated the crime guns after the act, they found that as much as 40 percent of those crime guns were coming in from Indiana.

    Here is an example of how it happens. In 2014 a man named David Lewisbey of South Holland, IL, was sentenced for illegally trafficking hundreds of guns from Indiana to Chicago. The U.S. attorney's office said that over a 4-year period, Lewisbey ``routinely traveled to various gun shows in Indiana and purchased duffle bags full of guns that he brought back to Chicago.'' Lewisbey used a forged signature to procure an Indiana driver's license, and that was all he needed to fill up the trunk of his car with ammunition and guns and to drive that Skyway over into the State of Illinois and to sell those guns in Chicago to kill innocent people.

    During just one 48-hour period in 2012, Lewisbey bought 43 guns in Indiana and delivered them to a convicted felon on Chicago's South Side. Does anyone believe he had a Second Amendment right to buy 43 guns with an illegal ID and sell them to a convicted felon in Chicago? I hope not.

    If everyone who sells guns for profit at Indiana gun shows had conducted background checks, it is highly unlikely that a trafficker like this would be able to get away with this for years. The system would have caught him. But because of the loopholes in the system, the weaknesses in the law, this individual was able to avoid detection and literally supply hundreds of crime guns in Chicago. Of course we know what happened to those guns--they turned into tragedy and havoc in the neighborhoods around that great city.

    I listened so many times when critics said: Well, look at Chicago, which has the toughest gun laws in the Nation, and look at all that gun violence.

    Here it is: in some parts of Chicago up to 40 percent of those crime guns are coming across the border with no background checks and sold in alleyways and dark corridors of our city. That isn't because of weak or ineffective Illinois and Chicago laws; it is because of our inability to make the Federal law stronger.

    Let's be clear. Background checks are not a heavy burden for law- abiding gun owners. At most, they would cause a short delay in buying a gun. But when we have gaping holes in the background check system, we are basically handing guns to criminals on a silver platter.

    Sadly, this Congress has so far failed to even address this problem. We weren't able to overcome a Republican filibuster of the Manchin- Toomey legislation in 2013. We tried again last month and fell short again.

    The President decided to do what he can within his lawful authority to close gaps in the system. Last week the President put forth guidance that makes clear that you can be engaged in the business of selling firearms even if you aren't a storefront operation. For too long people who sell guns for profit at gun shows or online have been able to avoid the requirement to conduct background checks. They were claiming they were just selling guns as a hobby. This man bought 43 guns at a gun show as a hobby and sold them to convicted felons in Chicago. The President's guidance makes clear that if you are repetitively buying or selling guns for profit, you need to get a gun dealer license and do background checks or you are breaking the law.

    Of course, the President's actions won't close the gun show and Internet loopholes altogether. That would take an act of Congress. But the President has made a move in the right direction, and it will help.

    The President took other important steps last week--clearly within his constitutional authority--that will help save lives. He is working to make the background check system faster by adding more FBI examiners and improving the system's technology. A faster system could have stopped the Charleston church shooter who killed nine worshippers last year in a horrific terrorist attack. This person was able to buy a gun under another loophole in the law because the background check hadn't been finished in 3 days. The default position, if you haven't cleared a background check, is that the gun is sold to you. That meant that this man picked up the gun when the background check wasn't completed and went out and caused this mayhem and took so many innocent lives.

    The President is also strengthening the reporting requirements so law enforcement will know when guns are lost or stolen during shipment.

    The administration is redoubling its efforts to improve mental health services and to make sure the background check system has complete records on those found to be mentally unstable.

    Finally, the President has sponsored research on gun safety technology. This is critical. Right now we have security features on our phones, computers, and cars to prevent thieves and unauthorized people from using them. Similar technology is available today so that an unauthorized user will not [[Page S10]] be able to fire a gun. That means a person can't steal a gun and resell it and a kid can't play with a gun and hurt himself or someone else.

    For reasons that cannot be explained, the gun lobby opposes gun safety technology, even calling for a boycott of any company that uses it. Now this administration is going to use its research dollars and purchasing power to promote safer gun technology. This could be a game changer when it comes to preventing gun accidents and deterring illegal trafficking.

    I commend the President for the reasonable, commonsense steps he has taken to combat the epidemic of gun violence. The steps he announced will not prevent all gun deaths--no single measure can--but they will help.

    I hope my colleagues in Congress will not take a step backward and try to undermine these basic, commonsense reforms with riders or appropriations restrictions. I am going to fight hard against the gun lobby if they try. I hope Congress will instead move forward, finish the job on background checks, and do all we can to reduce the high toll of gun violence in our communities.

    Over the weekend, I was visiting with friends and former colleague Mark Pryor of Arkansas. I went down to Stuttgart, AR. Anyone who is a duck hunter in the Midwest or in America knows the name of that town. Stuttgart, AR, is probably the capital of duck hunting in the Midwest or in the United States. The local radio station there is KWAK, giving an idea of their commitment to duck season 60 days of the year when Stuttgart comes to life with hunters from all over the United States and all over the world.

    Saturday afternoon I went to the largest sporting goods store, Mac's, and watched hundreds of men and some women in camouflage clothes getting ready to go out for the duck hunt. For them, it is not only a rite of passage, it is a way of life. They love it. You see the camouflage on everything in sight.

    Of course, when you go into Mac's, there are plenty of firearms for sale and other equipment that is needed so that you can hunt effectively and safely. You go in the store, and if you want to be a duck hunter in Arkansas, you first have to buy a license, which I did. Then you go through the ritual of making sure you have all the right equipment and getting ready to go out to hunt for ducks.

    There is not a single thing proposed by President Obama that will in any way slow down or stop those men and women who want to legally use their firearms for that sport--nothing. What the President is trying to do is to stop convicted felons and people who are so mentally unstable that they shouldn't be able to buy a firearm from having that opportunity.

    It turns out an overwhelming majority of firearm owners agree with the President. You would never know it, would you, as you hear every single Republican Presidential candidate condemn President Obama's actions.

    What a chasm there is in the culture between the people who are firearm owners and who enjoy that opportunity and responsibility and those who are on the political scene and ignore the fact that to preserve that right we should pass commonsense changes in the law to make them even more effective and make certain that people who misuse firearms do not have that opportunity.

    I hope to work with my colleagues in the Senate and both political parties to achieve the goal of protecting the rights of those who use firearms legally, safely, and responsibly within the confines of the law and to stop the illicit trafficking of guns that are taking over 30,000 lives each and every year.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mrs. Ernst). The Senator from Ohio.


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