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Jackie S.
Democrat CA 14

About Rep. Jackie
  • Gun Violence Prevention

    by Representative Jackie Speier

    Posted on 2013-02-13

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    SPEIER. Mr. Speaker, this afternoon, we're going to spend the hour talking about gun violence prevention, and in particular, how the National Rifle Association has systematically unwound laws that have already been on the books.

    Last night, the President referenced the fact that since the horrific deaths at Sandy Hook there have been a thousand more people that have died due to gun violence. It is not good enough to wear a green ribbon in support of the Sandy Hook families and think you have done enough.

    Times have changed, and the polling that's been done is overwhelming in support of sensible gun violence prevention laws. Let's be clear at the outset--the Heller decision by the U.S. Supreme Court has made it very clear: Every American has a right to own a gun for recreational purposes or to have a gun in their home for purposes of safety, and that is not going to change. We embrace that decision, we support it. But we also support safe laws around the use of guns.

    [[Page H482]] So let us begin by looking at this, a Quinnipiac survey done very recently. Ninety-two percent support background checks for all gun purchases, including 91 percent of gun-owning households; 89 percent support closing the gun show loophole by requiring background checks for all gun purchases; 69 percent support banning the sale of semi- automatic, military-style assault weapons; 68 percent support banning the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines; and 81 percent favor prohibiting high-risk individuals from having guns, including those convicted of serious crime as juveniles or convicted of violating domestic violence restraining orders.

    So Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, polled NRA members and non- NRA members who were gun owners, and what did they find out there? There they found out that 85 percent of gun owners and 87 percent of NRA members believe Second Amendment rights and gun safety laws can coexist. That's what we're talking about. Eighty-seven percent of gun owners and 74 percent of NRA members support requiring background checks of anyone buying a gun. We're talking about that right now. But in a couple of minutes, I'm going to show you how that has changed among the leadership in the NRA.

    Fifty-three percent of gun owners and 57 percent of the NRA members mistakenly believe that everyone has to pass a background check. Eighty percent of gun owners, 79 percent of NRA members, support requiring background checks of gun retailer employees.

    Eighty percent of gun owners and 71 percent of NRA members support barring people on the terror watch list from buying guns. It's a surprise to most people that they can in fact buy guns.

    All right. Let's move on. Let's talk about the CEO of the National Rifle Association.

    {time} 1400 What did he say in 1999? In 1999, after the Columbine shootings, when so many children lost their lives at Columbine High School, he said: We think it's reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show, no loopholes anywhere for anyone.

    That's what he said.

    What did he say after 20 children and six adults lost their lives in Newtown at Sandy Hook? In 2013, he says, at a Senate hearing, when Senator Leahy asked: You do not support background checks in all instances at gun shows? Mr. LaPierre said: We do not because the fact is the law right now is a failure the way it's working. None of it makes any sense in the real world.

    Well, we are living in the real world, and the real world would suggest to everyone that a commonsense law is to have a universal background check for everyone.

    Let's look at the next time we saw a flip-flop by Mr. Wayne LaPierre. Again, the point here being that the NRA leadership does not reflect the NRA membership.

    In 1999, after Columbine, he says: We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America's schools, period.

    On ``Meet the Press'' just a few weeks ago, Mr. LaPierre said: If it's crazy to call for armed officers in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy. I think the American people think it's crazy not to do it. It's the one thing that would keep people safe.

    The point here, colleagues, is that the public, NRA members and gun- owning families in this country believe in commonsense reforms, and we owe it to them. We owe it to them to vote on these commonsense bills that will not restrict anyone's ability to own a gun for self- protection or to own a gun for recreation, but will take these assault weapons that are military weapons that are invented for one reason and one reason only, and that is to tear the hell out of anything they come in contact with.

    As one law enforcement officer said very recently: The energy in an assault weapon bullet will tear open a brick wall.

    You don't need that to go hunting, and you don't need that to protect yourself in your home.

    I yield to the gentlewoman from New York, Carolyn Maloney.

    Mrs. CAROLYN B. MALONEY of New York. I'd like to yield to my inspiration in so many ways--we share the same name--Carolyn McCarthy. And on this issue, from New York, she is our spokesperson.

    Mrs. McCARTHY of New York. I want to thank my colleagues for having this hour to talk about, really, the real issues and certainly hopefully break up some of the myths that are out there on what we're hearing, not only in the papers but certainly from some NRA members.

    I've been battling this, and many of us have been battling this issue for many, many years. I think that what happened just about 2 months ago today, that Newtown shooting happened. And that went through everybody's heart to think in this day and age that we could have a shooting that totally rips apart 20 children is unacceptable to the American people--unacceptable to the American people.

    Since that, being that we're trying to give as much information as possible to the American people what's happened since that day, over 2,000 people have been killed. Two thousand Americans have been murdered in episodes of gun violence.

    There are a number of us here, Members of Congress, that have gone through this kind of violence, either with a loved one, our colleague from California, Jackie Speier, we know what this can mean to a family. Last night, we had 25, 30, unfortunately, victims. And yet here we are debating, hoping, even after what the President said, give us a vote. Give us a vote. This isn't about us. This is about what our job is. We can have people disagree, and I know it's a lot of tough votes for some Democrats and certainly some Republicans. I believe that when we came here and got elected and we swore to uphold the Constitution, we knew we'd be facing tough votes. Who said this was going to be an easy job? It's never been an easy job. But it is a job that the majority of us here want to do.

    When the President spoke last night, and listening to the aftermath late last night on what some of the pundits were saying about what the President was actually trying to do, we heard the NRA say that the reason they're against some of the things that we want to do as far as Members of Congress and our task force that we want to really take everybody's gun away. Do you know that program that we were talking about, the buy-back? What they were saying was it's not really just a buy-back. It's confiscating every single one of the guns. Well, I don't think that would hold up constitutionally. And I think that we have put together, in my opinion, a reasonable, very practical way of reducing gun violence in this country.

    I also heard last night that assault weapons, long guns, and it only adds up to 8 percent of the people that are killed every year--8 percent. Can we stop putting numbers on everything and remember the faces that were here? Can we remember the people and the families that have lost their loved ones? They are not a number.

    Then they had another chart out that talked about handguns. Well, let me tell you something about handguns that affects almost everybody in our communities. Legislation that we are putting forward, the background checks, preventing straw purchasers, which basically is someone else is buying a gun for someone that is legally barred from buying a gun, think about how many handguns would not be sold to criminals. Think about how many lives will be saved.

    But, also, let's think about those who have survived gun violence. But many of them, if you think about a lot of the young people in Aurora that had no health care insurance--and I can talk about my own son who was 26 when he was shot with five others, and, unfortunately, his father was murdered that day. I can tell you his medical bills to this day--to this day--they have cost this country millions of dollars.

    Now I will say to you that we were very, very lucky; and I have been very, very blessed that he survived. But even back then, the doctors said that we would see changes in him as he got older because of the brain injury. And Kevin--God, I can't tell you how proud I was of my son. Two years of intensive therapy and they said he would never walk. He learned how to walk. Yes, he [[Page H483]] is still partially paralyzed, but he learned how to walk.

    {time} 1410 They said he would never talk. And when I talk about those days and somebody asks how is Kevin doing, I say, ``Well, you know, he just said.'' I spent my life as a nurse before I came here. And a lot of times when we think of patients who have had strokes and we're teaching them how to speak again, when we say they were talking, trying to get the words out is so hard. Every word becomes so difficult, but he had the power to do that.

    Our friend Gabby Giffords, who was here last night, to watch, in my opinion, her long struggle reminded me so much of what Kevin had to go through. I will say that Kevin went back to work, and he worked for many years. Unfortunately, he has reached the point now where he can't work, and he had to go on to Social Security disability.

    That has hurt his pride so much because of the work that he has done. All they want to be is looked upon and seen as just a regular person. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of Kevin McCarthys across this country. We are trying to prevent those kinds of injuries.

    Background checks, why should anybody be afraid of a background check? Why? Why should anybody--again, as was brought up in an earlier poster--when you go to a gun show--I remember when we closed the gun show loopholes in New York. Gosh, we had the NRA all over us basically saying it's going to ruin the business. I say to you, go to New York and see the gun shows that are held on weekends. There's a big difference, though. Nobody can go into that gun show without buying a gun from a licensed Federal dealer.

    By the way, the Federal licensed dealers, the gun shop owners in this country, they want everybody to go through a background check because you do have less than 2 percent of gun stores that are selling these illegal guns or guns disappear. It's ruining their reputations. These are honest businessowners. We're actually protecting them.

    There is so much that we can go on about. When it was talked about the people that are on the terrorist list, do people know that they can actually buy a gun without a problem? God forbid we should put them on background check. I mean, they're on the terrorist list, but they can go and buy a gun.

    I want to thank my colleagues, and I want to give them an opportunity to speak because I know we all care passionately about this. And I certainly will sit here and listen to my colleagues. If we have time, hopefully, we can all speak again.

    It's exactly two months since the shooting in Newtown and since then up to 2,000 Americans have been murdered in episodes of gun violence in our country.

    I know that ours is a country that believes in safety and in protecting innocent people.

    That's why we've instituted some of the most thorough auto safety laws in the world, and why we regulate access to medicine, and why we inspect food.

    It's also why we should be looking at the most dangerous consumer products in the world and seeing how we can make their use safer for Americans.

    When it comes to reducing gun violence, the president has already said everything he could possibly say.

    There can't be any more excuses--the ball is in our court here in Congress.

    The president was right in his State of the Union Address that gun violence victims ``Deserve a Vote.'' There's no shortage of options--I'm the sponsor of a bill to ban assault weapons, a bill to ban high-capacity magazines, a bill for universal background checks and a bill to limit online ammunition sales.

    Another bipartisan bill by my colleagues cracks down on illegal gun trafficking.

    Here in the House of Representatives, too many members of the Majority have been completely silent on these bills. They haven't even held a simple hearing to discuss the topic, and that's shameful.

    I would ask my friends on the other side of the aisle--what are you afraid of? I would tell them--you don't have to be afraid.

    Poll after poll after poll since Newtown--national polls--show that the majority of Americans want their lawmakers to take action to reduce gun violence.

    The majority of Americans support banning assault weapons. The majority of Americans support banning high-capacity magazines. And over 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks.

    Even three-quarters of all NRA members support universal background checks.

    So I would tell my friends across the aisle--I know this is a tough issue, but you were elected to make tough decisions.

    Tell us where you stand on these measures to reduce gun violence--the American people deserve to know where you stand.

    And then, have the courage to hold votes on the measures that are out there.

    This is a democracy--it's our job to represent the American people.

    If we don't hold votes on this issue that the American people are screaming out about every single day since that awful shooting in Connecticut, then this body will have failed in its duties and in its purpose.

    I will say to my friends across the aisle--let the people speak, and let their voices be heard.

    Over 30 Americans are being killed by gun violence every single day and it would be shameful to turn a blind eye to that fact.

    Thank you for doing this.

    Ms. SPEIER. Thank you to the gentlelady from New York for her always powerful comments.

    Now we're joined by the gentlewoman from New York, Carolyn Maloney, who has just introduced a bill co-authored by Democrats and Republicans that deals with the trafficking of guns.

    Mrs. CAROLYN B. MALONEY of New York. Thank you so much to Jackie Speier for organizing this. She has told me she's going to continue working with her colleagues in Congress to raise this issue, to focus on it. She's going to try to get us here at least once a week to keep the focus on this priority of the American people and our President.

    We see here some important information. I think what we should do every week, Jackie, is print the names of the innocent children, men, and women who are murdered every day in our great country because of senseless gun violence like my dear friend's husband and her son who was critically wounded. She told me how hard it was for her to tell her son that he had lost his father. And I want to publicly thank Carolyn for making this a priority in her time in Congress and giving so selflessly of her time to help us pass meaningful gun legislation.

    I'm a cosponsor of all my colleagues' bills. I think they all are common sense and important and should pass. But I want to focus on one that I think every NRA member should be for, and that is to take the guns out of the hands of traffickers, people who are selling guns to criminals, to cartels that are used only to kill, whether it's gangs or robberies or whatever they use them for. Why can't we do that? Why can't we make that a felony and put teeth behind the punishment? When we were having hearings on the Fast and Furious program in the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, law enforcement came and testified. They said: Help us. Trafficking and guns is not even a felony. It's not even a crime. You can be a drug kingpin selling guns all over the place, and you won't be convicted because it's not a crime.

    No law-abiding person is a kingpin and trafficking guns. One thing that's good about this bill and why we have so much support on the other side of the aisle is that it doesn't in any way infringe on Second Amendment rights. Law-abiding Americans, if they want a gun for recreation or shooting practice or defense, fine. But these are guns that are being sold to criminals, to thugs, who then go out and kill more people.

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday in a Federal courtroom in Las Cruces, New Mexico, two people were convicted of being part of a larger conspiracy to smuggle guns to some really bad people, criminals. They had smuggled guns to folks who worked as ``muscle'' for a vicious Mexican drug cartel. In fact, one of the defendants had purchased three semiautomatic weapons that showed up a month later at the scene of a triple homicide. Another of the guns he bought surfaced at a Juarez drug seizure. These two men were found guilty, but they didn't get much of a sentence because it's not a crime.

    The sad fact is that about all the prosecutors could reasonably hope for in the case--under Federal law, gun traffickers can expect to do about as much time as people who illegally traffic in livestock. Illegally sell an assault weapon to a known killer or drug [[Page H484]] kingpin or sell a chicken without a permit, and you can expect to do about the same amount of time for each. This is ridiculous.

    Mr. Speaker, there is something dreadfully wrong with this picture. Right now people known as straw purchasers can buy multiple guns and immediately resell them to cartels or killers and know that if they are caught that they will not be charged with anything but paperwork violations. Law enforcement told us at the committee that they don't even bother to arrest and try to prosecute straw purchasers because there's no penalty. Well, our bill changes that and can give up to 20 years in prison for being a straw purchaser.

    Tragically, this is what happened in my own State of New York last Christmas Eve just 10 days after the massacre at the Sandy Hook children's school. Last December in Webster, New York, a convicted felon set fire to a house and then set himself up as a sniper to shoot down law enforcement when they came to protect him. He shot and killed two firefighters and seriously injured two others before taking his own life.

    This is a heart-wrenching tragedy, and it is one that could never have happened but for the fact that the gunman's neighbor had acted as a straw purchaser for him. Authorities say she purchased a 12-gauge shotgun and a Bushmaster rifle for the man who, as a convicted felon, could not have purchased a gun in his own name. For knowingly acting as a straw purchaser for a felon, the neighbor has been charged with the only law that really applies: State and Federal paperwork violations.

    {time} 1420 I believe she would not have been buying these weapons for him if she knew she could have faced 20 years in prison. That's what prosecutors all too often have to rely on--a toothless Federal law that prohibits ``engaging in the business of selling guns without a Federal license.'' Little wonder then that, according to the ATF, straw purchasers is the most common channel of illegal gun trafficking in America.

    Believe me, if guns made us safer, we'd be the safest country on Earth. We are the most armed country on Earth, and we know from statistics that, if you own a gun, the degree of probability of being hurt or injured or killed by a gun is 8 to 15 percent higher than it is for other individuals. It is no surprise then that U.S. Attorneys are forced to decline to prosecute 25 percent of gun trafficking cases. This is an outrage. This is a crime. This is causing the loss of lives. The investigation can take longer than the sentence a trafficker might receive. In the wake of recent tragedies, the voice of the American people has been clear on this issue: They want something done, and they want it done now. They want us to do something to address this problem. They want something done that shows some bipartisan cooperation.

    As our President said, we came here to do a job. Let's have a vote. Let's put this bill out on the floor of Congress, and let's have a vote. If some of my colleagues would like to vote against making trafficking in guns a felony, then let them do it. If some of my colleagues would like to vote against having meaningful penalties for trafficking and a straw purchaser's buying guns to be given to criminals, then let them do it, but let's have a vote. That's a democracy.

    I introduced a bill in the last Congress and have reintroduced it in this Congress, H.R. 452. I hope that the listening public will urge their Members of Congress to cosponsor this bill and help us pass it for the American people. It is called the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act. It is a bipartisan bill, cosponsored by my friends and colleagues on the other side of the aisle: Mr. Rigell of Virginia, who happens to be an NRA member, said this doesn't infringe on any gun owner's rights. He owns guns, but he just wants to go after the kingpins and the murderers and the illegal traffickers; and Mr. Meehan of Pennsylvania, who is a former prosecutor and knows firsthand why law enforcement needs these tools.

    This bill will help keep guns out of the hands of felons and domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill, who cannot and should not be able to legally buy guns on their own. This bill prohibits the purchase or transfer of a firearm if the intent is to deliver the firearm to someone else who is prohibited by Federal law or State law from possessing a firearm. Persons who commit this offense are subject to up to 20 years of imprisonment. For the first time, our bill makes firearms trafficking a Federal crime--something law enforcement officials have been asking for in hearings, in letters. They have been asking for this for years.

    The bill also establishes significant penalties for straw purchasers who buy firearms on behalf of someone else. Buy a firearm for a convicted felon and you could look at 20 years in prison. These increased penalties will provide law enforcement officials with the critical tools that they've been asking for, tools that Bobby Scott knows from his judiciary work are critically needed. The increased penalties can be used to encourage straw purchasers to cooperate with prosecutors in order to make it possible to go on up the food chain-- after the cartels and the kingpins who now have little to fear.

    Let me be absolutely clear that this bill has no impact whatsoever on the Second Amendment, on legal gun ownership or purchases.

    As the President pointed out in his speech last night, this bill will not put an end to all gun violence. No bill can do that. No bill can prevent any particular act of violence, but we can stop some. We can do something and we can do this, and law enforcement is begging for the passage of this bill. We can begin the healing. We can restore some trust. We can stop putting guns in the hands of criminals. We can do it in a bipartisan way, and we can do it together.

    Again, I thank my good friend and wonderful colleague, Jackie Speier from the great State of California, for organizing this. I will be with you at all of your future events.

    Ms. SPEIER. I thank the gentlelady from New York for making it clear that we are talking about safe and sane, commonsense laws on the books, and I am honored to be a cosponsor of her bill.

    I want to just take a minute and go through a timeline of what has happened under the NRA's leadership in terms of the unraveling of laws that have been on the books but, because of the NRA's leadership, they have been unraveled. Let's start with the very first one.

    Between 1980 and 1987, the number of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents was slashed by 21 percent, from 1,500 to 1,180, and the number of inspectors dropped from 655 to 626. What was happening during that period of time? During that period of time, there were more and more dealers. So why would the NRA be so interested in reducing the staffing of the ATF? In 1986, the Firearm Owners' Protection Act was passed-- again, sponsored by the NRA. It set a high burden of proof to prosecute violations of Federal gun laws. It limited ATF inspections to once a year, and it weakened the penalty. It allowed unlicensed individuals to sell their firearms as a hobby, avoiding meaningful regulations, thus leading to an increase in gun shows.

    What does that mean when you have to establish a standard that is so high that you end up not revoking any firearm dealer's license? Well, willfully--not knowingly but willfully--violating gun safety laws is the standard that is now on the books. It's an extraordinarily high standard, and the loopholes that were created allowed for dealers to hand off their businesses, even when they had these horrendous violations, to relatives or to convert their inventory of guns into a ``personal collection,'' which they then could sell because it was now a hobby, without doing background checks. Let me give you one example.

    An example is Sandy Abrams. He was a member of the NRA board of directors. He was cited with over 900 violations of Federal firearm laws at his shop, Valley Gun, and 483 crime guns were traced to his shop. This is an NRA board member who violated the laws 900 times, and 483 crime guns were traced to his shop. What did the NRA do? The NRA, in a subsequent bill, banned the tracing of crime guns. What happened to him? The only power that ATF had was to revoke his license. So what did they do? No criminal charges were ever brought. Abrams transferred hundreds of his firearms to his personal [[Page H485]] collection, despite the revocation of his license, and faced charges of illegally selling those guns from his personal collection. As I mentioned earlier, in 1986, the Firearm Owners' Protection Act limited these inspections and weakened penalties.

    We then moved on to the Dickey amendment in 1996. What did the Dickey amendment do? The Dickey amendment held that the CDC could no longer conduct public health research. Now, why would the NRA be so concerned about research going on? Because when you do research, you can link it, and it can create the opportunity for public policy decisions that are, in fact, thoughtful.

    Then came the famous Tiahrt amendments in 2004 that placed restrictions on law enforcement, limited access to crime gun tracing data and required approval--background checks--of 24 hours only. That amendment said that if you're going to do a background check, you can only have that document in place for 24 hours, and then it has to be destroyed. So, to the point made by our colleague from New York about what are called ``straw purchasers,'' how would you even know there was a straw purchaser if you had to destroy that record in 24 hours? Then in 2004 came the assault weapons ban, which was sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein. The chair then of the Judiciary Committee, our good Vice President, was also the shepherd of that bill.

    {time} 1430 In 2005, Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, this was heralded by the NRA as being their biggest get ever because that particular bill became law, and it protects gun manufacturers from civil liability suits--the only industry in this country that is not subject to civil liability suits for dangerous equipment and the like. The Sandy Hook families that are looking at trying to bring actions right now are stymied because this law is in place. There's no protection for auto manufacturers if they have unsafe products, but we've given carte blanche protection to gun manufacturers.

    And in 2005, the U.S. PATRIOT Act, what did we do there? Well, then the NRA decided that, you know what, that ATF Director shouldn't just be appointed; it should be confirmed by the Senate. So in the PATRIOT Act, they got an amendment that provides that the ATF Director must be confirmed by the Senate. And guess what happens? There hasn't been an ATF Director confirmed in 7 years because of the control that they exhibit.

    And then in 2005, ironically, George W. Bush does something his father didn't even do. His father, George H.W. Bush, by executive order, banned the importation of guns in this country, particularly the assault weapons. When President Clinton came into power, he, by executive order, expanded that importation ban to include high-capacity magazines. George W. Bush comes in as President, and he lifts the ban on the importation of assault weapons.

    And between 2009 and 2012, we've had 99 gun safety laws rolled back at the State level. That's what the NRA is doing.

    I now yield to my colleague from Rhode Island for his comments.

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