06.08.22

Address On The Epidemic Of Gun Violence Of America

. . . . Senate Floor

It is hard really to know where to start.  I am here on the Senate Floor to talk about guns.  In a world in chaos, we cannot forget about the chaos right here at home.  Gun violence is killing our children.  Nineteen students, and two of their teachers, in Uvalde two weeks ago.  Twenty children, and seven others, in Newtown, Connecticut — nearly 10 years ago.  Twelve students, and a teacher, at Columbine — 23 years ago.  In between?   Las Vegas — 58 dead.  The Pulse Nightclub — 49 dead. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School —17 dead.  All victims of gun violence.  And this is just a snapshot of the epidemic of gun violence in our country.

I look back at my 48 years here in the Senate and say, when will we say enough?

We hadn’t yet finished honoring and celebrating the lives of the 10 victims in Buffalo before news broke of the tragedy unfolding in Uvalde.  Nineteen children.  Two teachers.  Massacred in their school.  Where they learn and work.  Where they should be safe — safe to just be children.

This weekend, at least a dozen people were killed and 60 more injured in shooting incidents across the country.

When is it enough?

After Sandy Hook, well over a decade after Columbine shook the Nation, the conscience of the country was stirred.  Now, we said, now we must look at our gun laws.  Now we must think about what simply makes sense, and what does not.  The Judiciary Committee acted.  I was proud to lead that, but the Senate, did not.  There were bipartisan proposals — proposals that I believe can muster bipartisan support again today.  Support that acknowledges that there is a problem, and acknowledges that we can and must do something about it.  The problem is not the Second Amendment.  The problem is the view that the Second Amendment is itself absolute.

I was in Vermont last week, and people would say to me, of course we pray for the victims, but we also pray that Congress will finally stand up and do something.  I’m with my fellow Vermonters.

I am a lifelong gun owner.  I was on the target shooting team at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, my alma mater; earned my letter in that.  Millions of other Americans like myself, lifelong gun owners, are responsible gun owners and honor Americans’ rights to own firearms and choose to own firearms to defend their families, or to hunt — but NOT to commit battlefield-style murders.  To most Americans, firearms are valued for defensive purposes, and not for murder and mayhem.

There are ways that we can use our common sense to keep our communities safe and keep guns out of the hands of people who are dangerous.  Let’s start with background checks.  They are a quick and easy way to help accomplish that goal.  There is bipartisan support to require background checks for commercial firearms sales.  Now, I think we should go further, but we have to start somewhere, and commercial sales background checks are a good start — background checks would help to bring common sense back into this discussion.

How about extreme risk laws, also called “red flag” laws?  We should encourage more states to enact these laws to allow loved ones or law enforcement agencies to petition a court for an order that would temporarily prevent an individual in crisis from accessing firearms.  People who are in crisis and are a danger to themselves or others should not have ready access to firearms.  This, again, is practical, common sense.

We’ve seen where criminal gangs will send people into other states to make straw purchases of weapons that are then sold back to them. There is no criminal statute specifically prohibiting straw purchasing, so prosecutors have to rely on laws that prohibit making false statements in connection with the purchase of a firearm — a paperwork offense.  There is bipartisan agreement that we should strengthen the penalties for straw purchasers to deter this dangerous conduct — this, again, is practical common sense.

We should also add common sense and consistency to minimum age requirements to purchase guns.  You have to be 21 to buy a handgun.  You also have to be 21 to purchase alcohol, or even cigarettes.  But under our Federal laws?  Just 18 to buy a shotgun or rifle, including an automatic rifle like those used on battlefields, like the ones used in Buffalo and Uvalde.  And if we cannot find enough common ground to ban military-style assault rifles, we should at least raise the age at which they can be purchased from 18 to 21.

All of these proposals are practical common sense — they should be the least that Congress can do to help prevent the next mass shooting.  But we have a problem.  We have a problem in the United States when the leading cause of childhood death in 2020 was firearms.  Think of that.  Our children and our grandchildren, and the leading cause of death is firearms.  We have a problem when we cannot stand up — and together — to respond to the fears of our children.  We have a problem when we cannot push aside the interests of the NRA and the gun industry, or of the Gun Owners of America, or other pressure groups that tell us that Democrats are “coming for your guns.”  Of course some of the gun industry will say that, because it boosts their sales.  It boosts their sales, and children die.

I am a Democrat.  I am a gun owner.  I have been both, nearly my entire life.  I’ve also been a prosecutor and prosecuted cases, and went to death scenes at 3:00 in the morning, and see people shot. I am also parent, and a grandparent.  I am a United States Senator.  I’m the Dean of the Senate, and I’m a proud Vermonter.  In my home state, we have a long tradition, dating back to our founding, of hunting the land.  Ownership of our firearms is part of that.  I have also heard from more than one thousand Vermonters since Uvalde, urgently telling me that something must be done.

When is it enough?   Everywhere Marcelle and I went last week in Vermont, we heard, when is enough enough?

I have spent months, or actually years, listening to my friends on the Republican side in Congress talk about protecting children.  Who will step up now, and who will step in, to say enough?  If we are to protect our children, we must be the adults with the courage to listen to their fears, and to act to alleviate them.  We are the adults who must protect our children.  We must protect our children.  If we do nothing, we are not protecting them.

This isn’t about politics.  This isn’t about the moneyed interests of pressure groups, lobbying Congress without acknowledging the tragedies in our world today.  This isn’t even about you, or me Mr. President.  This is about the thousands of people who are killed through gun violence every year, and the countless family members forced to sorrowfully move on in their absence, saying, why our family?  Why our loved one? Why my parents?  Why my children?  Why my brother?  Or why my sister?  Why?  In this, the greatest country on earth, our horrific record of gun violence.

In no way is this about revoking the Second Amendment, but about applying practical common sense safeguards to help mitigate the violence.

Yet again, I ask, as I have since I’ve been in the Senate, and the American people ask:  When is it enough?  When is it enough?  I join those who pray for the victims, but I especially join those who pray that Congress will have the courage, Democrats and Republicans alike, to finally do something meaningful. 

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