The Class of 2006 Fondly Pays Tribute to Gabby Giffordsby Representative Joe Courtney
Posted on 2014-01-08
COURTNEY. I thank you, Mr. Cohen. I want to thank you for
organizing this event. The group that is here tonight, the class of
'06, was a very tight-knit group. Every Wednesday we would meet in the
morning. Gabby was one of the leaders of that group. She was an
outstanding Congresswoman. She sat with me on the Armed Services
Committee. She had an Air Force base in Arizona, and she was tenacious
in terms of the Defense authorization bill markups ever year in terms
of making sure that that base was fully protected and represented to
the maximum extent.
She also was a huge advocate for the post-9/11 GI Bill. Some of us remember that struggle to expand the GI Bill and to restore the benefit for soldiers and veterans and their families that had deteriorated over time, giving again the full tuition benefit for a 4-year college within the State in which the servicemember resides, and to extend that benefit to spouses and children.
Just a few days ago actually, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced the 1 millionth enrollee in that program. Again, Gabby was at the absolute beginning of that struggle which again had to overcome active resistance from the then-Bush administration. There were negotiations that finally got that measure passed and through. Again, a million families of servicemembers have benefited from it.
By the way, an interesting parenthetical observation was that when that program went online, it had a huge technological computer malfunction. Secretary Shinseki and the VA had to manually cut checks so that tuition payments were made. Obviously, there are echoes of problems that we are struggling with here today. But again, Gabby's record in terms of restoring that GI Bill benefit and in fact expanding it is one of the great accomplishments of her time in Congress.
As my friend from Colorado said, her record since her injury is really amazing. I remember standing in the back of the Chamber when she cast her final vote as a Member of Congress. It was the budget package that again kept the country from defaulting. When she walked through that door, limping up those steps, it was almost a miraculous moment. Only a small group of people knew she had flown out here to cast that ballot. Again, it showed her patriotism that she felt that her country was in trouble and her country needed her; and despite all of her difficulties and disabilities, she wanted to be here to cast that ballot. Again, it was a capstone to just an extraordinary record of service for her district.
As Mr. Cohen mentioned, I come from the State of Connecticut, which is obviously the State where the Sandy Hook shooting took place slightly over a year ago. Again, a traumatic event. Connecticut is a very small State. Newtown High School, where President Obama came and spoke to the families and the first responders a couple of days after the incident, is about 50 minutes from my house, and I live in the furthest district from the Fifth Congressional District where Newtown, Connecticut, is located. So again, it had reverberations all across the State. We had family members who live in the Second Congressional District who lost loved ones in that horrendous incident.
And, frankly, just before the break, a lot of those families came and visited Washington, D.C. It had been a year since that incident. And as Mr. Yarmuth indicated, the frustration about the fact that this city did not respond to that just absolutely horrific event where 6-year- olds and 7-year-olds lost their lives to an individual who should never have been in possession of high-powered weapons, or weapons of any kind, again has not resulted in any legislative change.
I do think it is important to give the administration credit that a few weeks ago they did issue new rules so that mental health collection of data for the Brady system is going to be strengthened. If you look again at the [[Page H64]] series of events that have occurred in communities since Sandy Hook, even just down the road here at the D.C. naval yard, again it was another individual, deranged individual, again who should never have been in a position to possess weapons. And the rules that were issued a few days ago will expand the scope of court findings, whether it is a worker's compensation case or whether it is a probate court case where an individual has been found to be mentally ill to the point where they can't support themselves and should get Social Security disability benefits. That commonsense change is now going to feed into the Brady system so that record checks will at least administratively be strengthened.
But clearly, the gun-shop loophole, the patchwork reporting needs to be strengthened by an act of Congress, and that certainly is what Gabby is calling upon all of us to have the courage to be able to look these families in the eye who came to Washington a few weeks ago and said we understand that that never should have happened and that we are prepared to make changes, commonsense changes, constitutional changes, to the system.
You know, I think it is important to note, as Mr. Perlmutter said, if you read the D.C. v. Heller case, which is the hallmark case of an individual right to bear arms, and you read Justice Scalia's decision, he made it crystal clear that the right to own firearms does not extend to criminals, to the mentally ill, and certain classes and categories of weapons, whether it is fully automatic machine guns or other weapons that are not in common need or use, are not protected by the D.C. v. Heller decision. Like any portion of the Bill of Rights, there are balanced restrictions which the courts recognize and give us the latitude to do our job and to make commonsense changes.
So, again, Gabby's injuries, which again took place 3 years ago, it is hard to believe that that much time has gone by. We still have to hold on to that and make sure that her amazing service in the Congress, and also her record of advocacy, is something we live up to to that example, that inspiring example, and do what is right for the American people.