A picture of Senator Dianne Feinstein
Dianne F.
Democrat CA

About Sen. Dianne
  • Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

    by Senator Dianne Feinstein

    Posted on 2013-01-24

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    FEINSTEIN (for herself, Mr. Schumer, Mr. Durbin, Mr. Whitehouse, Mr. Blumenthal, Mr. Levin, Mr. Rockefeller, Ms. Mikulski, Mrs. Boxer, Mr. Reed, Mr. Lautenberg, Mr. Menendez, Mr. Cardin, Mrs. Gillibrand, Mr. Schatz, Mr. Murphy, Ms. Warren, and Mr. Carper): S. 150. A bill to regulate assault weapons, to ensure that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

    Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013. This legislation is urgently needed to help end the mass shootings that have devastated countless families and that lead too many Americans to live their lives in fear.

    Imagine that you receive a call from your child's school that there has been a shooting. How would you feel? Panicked? Terror-stricken? Helpless? Those were the feelings experienced by hundreds of parents whose children attend Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

    Now imagine that, after rushing to the school, you receive the terrible news that your child is not coming back. On December 14, 20 sets of parents heard those devastating words. Their lives will never be the same.

    I remain horrified by the mass murders that were committed that day in Newtown. But I am even more incensed that our weak gun laws allow mass killings to be carried out again and again in our country. Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass shootings across the United States. Even worse, the rate of these shootings has been accelerating: Twenty-five of these shootings have occurred since 2006, and 7 took place in 2012.

    These massacres don't stop--they just continue on and on. They have become tragically common in our society.

    For each shooting that occurs, there are parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles who have forever lost someone special in their lives: In Newtown, 26 families will never hear the laughter of their son or daughter again. In Aurora, Colorado, 12 people who attended a movie on a July night will never be able to enjoy another night out. At Virginia Tech, 32 families will never see their son or daughter again. In Tucson, AZ, 6 people [[Page S289]] never returned home from meeting their Congresswoman one Saturday morning 2 years ago. My friend, Gabby Giffords, will never be the same.

    The one common thread running through all of these shootings is that the gunman used a semiautomatic assault weapon or large capacity ammunition magazine or drum.

    These military-style weapons have but one purpose: to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Since the last assault weapons ban expired in 2004, over 350 people have been killed with assault weapons. Over 450 have been injured.

    I do not intend to sit by while these killings continue. That is why today I am joining with my colleagues Senators Schumer, Durbin, Whitehouse, Blumenthal, Levin, Rockefeller, Mikulski, Boxer, Reed, Lautenberg, Menendez, Cardin, Gillibrand, Schatz, Murphy, and Warren to introduce legislation to prohibit the sale, transfer, manufacture, and importation of assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices that can accept more than 10 rounds.

    As the members of this body know, we had an assault weapons ban in place from 1994-2004. I was the author of that ban in the Senate, and Senator Schumer carried that ban as the then-Chairman of the House Crime Subcommittee.

    The 1994 law was not perfect, but it was working when it expired in 2004. The supply of assault weapons was drying up, and crime committed with those weapons was decreasing. Don't take my word for it; scientific studies bear this about.

    The 1994 law required the Justice Department to study and report on its effectiveness. That study, completed in 1997, found that the ban was responsible for a 6.7 percent decrease in total gun murders, holding all other factors equal.

    The Justice Department sponsored a subsequent follow-on study in 2004, as the law was getting ready to expire. That study, carried out by the University of Pennsylvania, found that by about 9 years after the law took effect, the use of assault weapons in crime had declined by more than 2/3--70 percent.

    The Washington Post found that the percentage of firearms seized by police in Virginia that had high-capacity magazines dropped significantly during the ban. That figure has doubled since the ban expired.

    The Police Executive Research Forum found that 37 percent of police departments reported seeing a noticeable increase in criminals' use of assault weapons since the ban expired.

    Studies of state-level assault weapons bans also show that these bans DO work. A study of Maryland's State ban on assault pistols found that in the first six months after the ban was enacted, ``the Baltimore City Police Department recovered 55 percent fewer assault pistols than would have been expected had there been no ban.'' Let me just address for a moment the arguments of some of the opponent of this legislation. They point to overall crime rates, and say the 1994 ban did not affect them. But that overstates the purpose of the ban. It was never intended to reduce all crime. It was intended to reduce gun murders, and specifically mass shootings. And the research found that it did just that.

    A 6.7 percent decrease is not a complete solution. But if one of the lives saved was your child, your husband, your sister, your parent, it makes all the difference in the world. As President Obama has said, if we can save even one life, then we must try. And a 6.7 percent decrease in total gun murders--that is a lot more than one life.

    Our police officers, the men and women who pledge their lives to protect us, are particularly at risk from assault weapons. A study by the Violence Policy Center found that, between 1998 and 2001, one in five law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty was killed with an assault weapon.

    Recognizing this, I am proud to have the support of the Major Cities Chiefs of Police Association and several other organizations representing law enforcement. Every day, they must stare down ever- more-powerful military-style assault weapons.

    The legislation we are introducing today will strengthen the 1994 law, allowing it to be even more effective: The 1994 law prohibited semiautomatic weapons that could accept a detachable magazine, and had at least two military characteristics. The bill we are introducing today tightens this test to prohibit semiautomatic rifles, handguns, and shotguns that can accept a detachable magazine and have one military characteristic. One criticism of the 1994 law was that its ``two-characteristic'' test was too easy to ``work around'': a manufacture could simply remove one of the characteristics, and the firearm was legal. The bill we are introducing today will be much more difficult to work around.

    The bill also accounts for specific ``work-arounds'' that the gun industry developed to avoid the 1994 law and similar State bans.

    The bill prohibits ``thumbhole stocks'', which manufacturers developed to allow a stock to function like a pistol grip, which is a standard military feature in State bans and the expired Federal ban.

    It also prohibits ``bullet buttons'', a feature that certain manufacturers developed to evade state restrictions on detachable ammunition magazines. Some state laws describe a ``detachable magazine'' as one that can be removed without the use of a tool. So these gun manufacturers developed so-called ``bullet buttons'' that allow magazines to be removed with the use of the simplest of tools, such as a key, another bullet, or even a magnet. With these ``bullet buttons'', what is supposed to be a fixed magazine becomes in practical application a detachable magazine. Our bill contains tight language to close this loophole.

    Other changes to the bill include updating the list of specifically- named military-style firearms that are prohibited, to account for new models that have been developed since 1994. We now prohibit 158 weapons by name.

    The bill prohibits semiautomatic rifles and handguns with a fixed magazine that can accept more than 10 rounds.

    The bill adds a ban on the importation of assault weapons and large- capacity magazines; and eliminates the 10-year sunset that allowed the original law to expire.

    Like the 1994 law, our legislation will prohibit large-capacity ammunition feeding devices capable of accepting more than 10 rounds. These large magazines and drums are so dangerous because they allow a shooter to fire 15, 30, even 100 rounds without having to reload.

    Now, let me tell you what the bill will not do.

    It will not affect hunting or sporting firearms. Instead, the bill protects legitimate hunters by protecting 2,258 specifically-named firearms used for hunting or sporting purposes, and exempting antique, manually-operated, and permanently disabled weapons.

    Let me be clear: the bill will not take away weapons you currently own. Anybody who says otherwise is simply trying to deceive you. Instead, the bill protects the rights of existing gun owners by grandfathering weapons legally possessed on the date of enactment.

    An important change from the 1994 law is that we address the millions of assault weapons that currently exist. While, as in 1994, they would remain legal after our bill takes effect, any future sale or transfer of such a weapon would require a background check to be conducted of the purchaser or recipient. We do have an exception for intra-family transfers. Keeping these powerful weapons out of the hands of known criminals and people with adjudicated mental problems is a no-brainer.

    The bill also imposes a safe storage requirement for grandfathered firearms to ensure they don't get into the hands of people who would be prohibited from possessing them.

    While the bill permits the continued possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines that are legally possessed on the date of enactment, it would ban the future transfer of these magazines.

    Finally, the bill allows local jurisdictions to use existing Federal Byrne JAG grant money to support voluntary buy-back programs for grandfathered assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition feeding devices.

    Opponents charge that this legislation impinges upon rights protected by the Second Amendment. I recognize that the Supreme Court has clearly held that there is an individual right to possess firearms that is protected by [[Page S290]] the Second Amendment to the Constitution, and I respect that right.

    However, the Supreme Court was also very clear that, like other rights protected by other amendments in the Bill of Rights, this is not an unlimited right. For instance, the First Amendment's protection of free speech does not allow someone to falsely yell ``Fire!'' in a crowded theater. Justice Scalia, the author of the majority opinion in the seminal case of District of Columbia v. Heller, said this plainly: ``Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.'' Justice Scalia, no flaming liberal he, went on to say: ``We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. [United States v.] Miller said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those `in common use at the time.' We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of `dangerous and unusual weapons.' '' The muskets of the 18th Century bear little resemblance to the rapid- fire military-style assault weapons today, and their single-shot weapons are a far cry from the 100-round ammunition drum that was used to inflict such carnage at a movie theater in Aurora, CO. These are particularly dangerous weapons, which the Government is well within its rights to regulate under the Second Amendment and the Heller decision. The Second Amendment protects an individual's ability to own a weapon; it does not protect their ability to own any weapon. Any reasonable person would recognize limitations on this right: an individual should not own a nuclear weapon, they should not own a rocket launcher, and they should not own a military-style assault weapon.

    Let me conclude with these thoughts: The most important duty that government has to its citizens is to provide for their safety.

    When 20 kindergarteners are slaughtered by an assault weapon, our government has failed to provide for their safety.

    When 12 people are gunned down in a movie theater by an assault weapon, our government has failed to provide for their safety.

    The firearms used in these massacres are weapons of war. They are weapons designed to kill the maximum number of people in the shortest period of time. We should be outraged by how easy it is for the perpetrators of these horrific crimes to purchase powerful weapons.

    Let me say it as plainly as I can: weapons of war do not belong on our streets, in our schools, in our malls, in our theaters, or in our workplaces.

    We know the common denominator in these deadly massacres and these daily shootings: easy access to killing machines designed for the battlefield. The circumstances may differ, but the one constant is always the guns.

    These weapons not only take away the lives of our loved ones. They also take away our freedom--our freedom to live without fear.

    When a child is fearful of walking down the street outside his home, he has lost his freedom.

    When Americans wonder whether the next massacre with an assault weapon will take place in their town, they have lost their freedom.

    I ask all of my colleagues to join me in this fight.

    Join with our chiefs of police who say ``no'' to assault weapons.

    Join with teachers from across our nation who say ``no'' to assault weapons.

    Join with the emergency room doctors and medical professionals from every corner of our country who say ``no'' to assault weapons.

    Join with clergy from all denominations who say ``no'' to assault weapons.

    Join with the 58 percent of Americans who support an Assault Weapons Ban.

    I am proud that the bill we are introducing has been endorsed by so many organizations and public officials: Law Enforcement: International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators; International Association of Chiefs of Police; Major Cities Chiefs Association; National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence; Police Foundation; Women in Federal Law Enforcement; Charlie Beck, Chief, Los Angeles Police Department; Lee Baca, Sheriff, Los Angeles County; Scott Knight, Chief of Police, Chaska Police Department (MN), and former chair, Firearms Committee, International Association of Chiefs of Police; and Bill Lansdowne, Police Chief, San Diego; Localities: U.S. Conference of Mayors; Boston City Council; City of Stockton (CA); County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors; Ventura County Board of Supervisors (CA); Mayor David Glass, Petaluma, CA; Mayor Emmett O'Donnell, Tiburon, CA; Mayor Jill Hunter, Saratoga, CA; Mayor Hilary Bryant, Santa Cruz, CA; Mayor Bob Filner, San Diego, CA; Mayor Bob Foster, Long Beach, CA; Mayor Michael Harris, Pleasant Hill, CA; Mayor Kevin Johnson, Sacramento, CA; Mayor Edwin M. Lee, San Francisco, CA; Mayor Jean Quan, Oakland, CA; Mayor Chuck Reed, San Jose, CA; Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, Los Angeles, CA; Superintendent Anthony Smith, Oakland Unified School District; Mayor Miguel Pulido, Santa Ana, CA; City of Lemon Grove; Mayor Cheryl Cox, Chula Vista, CA; San Diego Unified School District; City of Calabasas; City of Ventura; City of Los Angeles; City of West Hollywood; Mayor Rob Schroder, Martinez, CA; and Mayor Amanda Gilmore, Alameda, CA; Gun Safety: Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence; Coalition to Stop Gun Violence; Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence; Mayors Against Illegal Guns; Violence Policy Center; and Washington CeaseFire; Education/Child Welfare: American Academy of Pediatrics; American Federation of Teachers; Boys & Girls Clubs of America; Child Welfare League of America; Children's Defense Fund; Every Child Matters; Moms Rising; National Association of Social Workers; National PTA; National Education Association; and 20 Children; Religious Community: African Methodist Episcopal Church; Alliance of Baptists; American Baptist Churches of the South; American Baptist Home Mission Societies; American Friends Service Committee; Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America; Camp Brotherhood; Catholic Charities USA; Catholic Health Association; Catholic Health Initiatives; Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good; Catholics United; Church of the Brethren; Church Women United, Inc.; Conference of Major Superiors of Men; Disciples Home Missions, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Dominican Sisters of Peace; FaithsAgainstGunViolence.org; Franciscan Action Network; Friends Committee on National Legislation; Health Ministries Association; Heeding God's Call; Hindu American Foundation; Interfaith Alliance of Idaho; Islamic Society of North America; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Jewish Reconstructionist Movement; Leadership Conference of Women Religious; Mennonite Central Committee, Washington Office; National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd; National Council of Churches; National Episcopal Health Ministries; NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby; Pax Christi USA; PICO Network Lifelines to Healing; Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness; Progressive National Baptist Convention; Rabbinical Assembly; Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; San Francisco Interfaith Council; Sikh Council on Religion and Education, USA; Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; Sojourners; Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations; United Church of Christ; United Methodist Church; United Methodist Women; United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; Washington National Cathedral; and Women of Reform Judaism; Medical Community: American Academy of Pediatrics; American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; American College of Surgeons; American Public Health Association; Doctors for America; and National Association of School Nurses; Other Organizations: Alliance for Business Leadership; American Bar Association; Black American Political Association of California; Grandmothers for Peace International; National Parks Conservation Association; Sierra Club; TASH; Viet Nam Veterans in the Media; VoteVets.org; and Washington Office on Latin America.

    But we should have no illusions. This will be a big fight.

    [[Page S291]] It will be an uphill battle--all the way. I know this.

    But we need to ask ourselves: Do we let the gun industry take over and dictate policy to this country? Do we let those who profit from increasing sales of these military style-weapons prevent us from taking commonsense steps to stop the carnage? Or should we empower our elected representatives to vote their conscience based on their experience, based on their sense of right and wrong and based on their need to protect their schools, their malls, their workplaces and their businesses? This legislation is my life's goal. As long as I am a member of the Senate, I will work night and day to pass this bill into law. No matter how long it takes, I will fight until assault weapons are taken off our streets.

    Put simply, we cannot allow the rights of a few to override the safety of all. That is not the America that our founding fathers envisioned. And that is not the America I want my children and grandchildren to live in.

    So I ask everyone watching at home: please get involved and stay involved.

    The success or failure of this bill depends not on me, but on you. If the American people rise up and demand action from their elected officials, we will be victorious. If the American people say ``no'' to military-style assault weapons, we will rid our Nation of this scourge.

    Please, talk to your senator and your member of Congress.

    ______ By Mr. BEGICH (for himself, Mr. Blumenthal, Ms. Ayotte, Mr. Bennet, Mr. Rubio, Mrs. Shaheen, Mr. Reed, Mr. Blunt, Ms. Stabenow, Mr. Tester, and Mr. Coons): S. 153. A bill to amend section 520J of the Public Health Service Act to authorize grants for mental health first aid training programs; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

    MR. BEGICH. Mr. President, today I rise to introduce a very important piece of legislation--the Mental Health First Aid Act of 2013. The bill authorizes grants for mental health first aid, similar to the first aid training offered by Red Cross chapters across the United States.

    I introduced this bill last Congress and focused on higher education because many common mental illnesses happen at late adolescence or young adulthood. However, as the recent tragedy in Newtown reminded us in horrific detail, violence is not limited to college campuses.

    My colleague on the House side, Rep. Ron Barber of Arizona, has already introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives. As you know, he was critically wounded in a tragic shooting 2 years ago with then Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

    Mental health first aid teaches the warning signs and risk factors for schizophrenia, major clinical depression, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, trauma, and other common mental disorders, crisis de- escalation techniques and equips college and university staff with a five-step action plan to help individuals in psychiatric crisis connect to professional mental health care.

    One in four adults and 10 percent of children in the United States will suffer from a mental illness this year. We know what to do if someone has a heart attack, but how do we react to someone having a panic disorder? Why do we wait for a tragic event to take notice and then bring out emergency measures? When I was Mayor of Anchorage, we worked with local mental health organizations to train our police in Crisis Intervention Teams, a great improvement for police officers responding to a crisis. But now we need to go further.

    You have heard me say this before, and it is not something to be proud of: In Alaska we have one of the highest suicide prevalence rates in the country. Further, we are a very rural State, where access to mental health care and medical services is often very difficult.

    Even today, it is not widely known that fully \2/3\ of Alaska can only be accessed by airplane. By educating the general public about the warning signs of common mental disorders, we can intervene early, facilitate access to care, improve clinical outcomes, reduce costs, and maybe save lives.

    Mental disorders are more common than heart disease and cancer combined and a recent Governing magazine article reports that many States and localities are moving ahead--teaching their employees how to recognize the signs of mental health problems and how to help. Wouldn't you run to perform the Heimlich maneuver if a person was choking in a restaurant? Of course. We should all learn how to intervene with someone who is having a mental health crisis.

    In the Alaska tradition, I seek to work across the aisle and believe this legislation merits bipartisan support. I am honored to be joined by my cosponsors on this bill, Senators Blumenthal, Bennett, Ayotte, Rubio, Shaheen, Blunt, Stabenow and Jack Reed. I invite you and all of our colleagues to join me in supporting this vital program. My great hope is it will avert suffering, prevent violence and ultimately save lives.


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