Leahy: Republicans Must Allow Debate On Bipartisan Legislation To Reduce Gun Violence

[The Senate will vote today on a procedural motion to consider a legislative package aimed at curbing gun violence. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), lead author of the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013 that is included in the broader package, spoke Thursday morning on the Senate Floor in favor of the measure and called on Republicans to allow the debate to go forward, and not to impose a needless filibuster to block debate.]

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 Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Gun Violence Legislation
April 11, 2013

Earlier this week I spoke about the need for the Senate to consider legislation to help increase Americans’ safety by reducing gun violence.  I urged Senators to abandon efforts to filibuster proceeding to the bill.  The Senate should not have to overcome a filibuster to respond to the call for action in response to the gun violence they are experiencing. 

I was encouraged by the comments of a number of Senate Republicans that they are prepared to debate these matters and will not support this wrongheaded filibuster.  Even The Wall Street Journal editorialized against this filibuster yesterday in a lead editorial entitled “The GOP’s Gun Control Misfire.”  I do not agree with much of that editorial but would quote this:  “If conservatives want to prove their gun-control bona fides, the way to do it is to debate the merits and vote on the floor.” 

Senators should understand what is in the bill that a small minority of Republicans are seeking to prevent the Senate from even considering. 

The bill has three parts.  None of them threaten Second Amendment rights.  None of them call for gun confiscation or a government registry. 

In fact, two of the three parts have always had bipartisan support.  With regard to the third component, the provisions closing loopholes in our current background check system, Senator Manchin and Senator Toomey yesterday announced that they will have a bipartisan amendment for this component, as well. 

Yesterday, Senator Collins and I were able to announce another step toward consensus.

We had previously been engaged in discussions with law enforcement and victims groups.  More recently, we have been engaged in discussions with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and have agreed on modifications to the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act that addresses all of its substantive concerns while providing law enforcement officials with the tools they need to investigate and prosecute illegal gun trafficking and straw purchasing.

Senator Collins and I are both strong supporters and advocates of Second Amendment rights for law-abiding Americans.

Congress must confront the serious role that straw purchasing and gun trafficking play in supplying criminals with firearms for illegal purposes. 

The bipartisan Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act will create specific Federal criminal statutes prohibiting the trafficking and straw purchasing of firearms, and also strengthens other law enforcement tools to assist those investigating these crimes.  This is a common sense response to help in the fight against gun violence.

That is why our bill is strongly supported by law enforcement.  Yet that is what some are seeking to filibuster.  Congress should be confronting the serious role that straw purchasing and gun trafficking play in supplying criminals with firearms for illegal purposes, not ducking the issue.

If we can all agree that criminals and those adjudicated as mentally ill should not buy firearms, why should we not try to plug the loopholes in the law that allow them to buy guns without background checks?


It is a simple matter of common sense. And if we agree that the background check system is worthwhile, should we not try to improve its content and use so it can be more effective? What responsible gun owner objects to improving the background check system?

In our January hearing, I pointed out that Wayne LaPierre of the NRA testified in 1999 in favor of mandatory criminal background checks for, as he put it, “every sale at every gun show.”  He went on to emphasize the NRA’s support for closing loopholes in the background check system by saying in what has become an often quoted remark: “No loopholes anywhere for anyone.”  Of course it is common sense to close the gun show loophole. 

The Senate voted to do so in 1999.  We should vote to do so, again, and this time we should get it enacted. 

That is one of the ways in which the bipartisan proposal from Senator Manchin and Senator Toomey would improve the law, if we are able to stop this ill-conceived filibuster and get to the bill.

Americans are looking to us for solutions and for action, not filibustering or sloganeering.

I opened our first hearing on these issues in January asking Senators on both sides of the aisle to join in the discussion as part of a collective effort to find solutions to help ensure that no family, no school, and no community ever has to endure the kind of tragedy that the families of Newtown, Aurora, Oak Creek, Tucson, Blacksburg, or Columbine had to suffer.


As I have emphasized throughout the Committee process, the Second Amendment is secure and will remain secure and protected.


In two recent cases, the Supreme Court has confirmed that the Second Amendment, like other aspects of our Bill of Rights, secures a fundamental individual right. Americans have the right to self-defense and to have guns in their homes to protect their families.


No one can or will take those rights or our guns away. Second Amendment rights are the foundation on which our discussion rests.


They are not at risk. But lives are at risk when responsible people fail to stand up for laws that will keep guns out of the hands of those who will use them to commit mass murder.


I ask that we focus our discussion and debate on these proposed statutory measures intended to better to protect our children and all Americans. Ours is a free society, an open society. We should be coming together as elected representatives of the American people to consider how to become a safer and more secure society.  I would have hoped that all Senators would join together in good faith to strengthen our law enforcement efforts against gun violence and to protect public safety.


Let us focus on our responsibilities to the American people.  We are the 100 Senators elected to represent more than 314 million Americans.  We are accountable to them, not to special interests lobbies on the left or the right.  They should not dictate what we do.  We do not need their permission to pass laws to fight crime and improve public safety. That is our responsibility.  I urge all Senators to be less concerned with special interest score cards and more focused on fulfilling our oath to faithfully discharge the duties of our offices as United States Senators.  


As a responsible gun owner and someone who cherishes all of our constitutional rights; as a Senator who has sworn an oath to uphold those rights, as a father and grandfather; and as a former prosecutor who has seen the results of gun violence first hand, I have been working to build consensus around commonsense solutions.


I am prepared to debate and vote on the measures before us. I challenge other Senators to do the same.  Let us work together to make America safer.


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