Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On the Terrorist Attack in Orlando, Florida

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On the Terrorist Attack in Orlando, Florida

June 15, 2016

Marcelle and I, along with all Vermonters, were devastated by the news of the attack in Orlando, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families. All Americans deserve to feel safe in their communities regardless of their race, age, sex, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. In the wake of the worst mass shooting in American history, all of us must stand with the people of Orlando who have been so shaken by this hateful act of terrorism and violence. And in particular, as we celebrate Pride Month, we must stand with and support the LGBT community – both in Orlando and throughout the Nation.

We are so thankful for the law enforcement officers and first responders who rushed to the scene in the middle of the night to confront the killer and save lives. We also are grateful for the work of the doctors and nurses who fought – and continue to fight – to save even more. My wife Marcelle is a registered surgical nurse, and we have been deeply moved to see the outpouring of support by people across Florida and the country who are donating blood and doing what they can to support the victims and their families.

In the wake of tragedies like this, whether the victims are members of the LGBT community, African American church parishioners, first graders in an elementary school, college students, moviegoers, or others in our community, we are called as Americans to come together in solidarity. We come together in grief and in shock. We come together in support of the victims, their families, law enforcement personnel and first responders, and the entire community. And we come together to try and find a way to prevent further acts of senseless violence. We are at our best as a Nation when we come together. When we are united in strength and in courageous acts of selflessness and kindness, our country can move forward with a greater sense of purpose and hope.

We must not allow ourselves to be divided by the bigoted actions of a murderer, or by any fear that the killer sought to foment. He took an assault rifle into a nightclub, one that was known as a special place in Orlando’s LGBT community. He fired on a crowd of innocent, unarmed people. This man was no fighter and certainly no soldier. This was either the act of a murderous bigot trying to shroud his hatred by professing allegiance to ISIL, or the actions of a cowardly terrorist seeking to paralyze and divide us with fear – or perhaps both. In either case, we cannot let his heinous acts lead us to turn on one another.

Some are already using this horrific attack as an opportunity to further divide us. The Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee continues to peddle his corrosive rhetoric of fear by proposing to ban all Muslims from entering the country. This week he went even further by suggested that the entire Muslim American community was somehow complicit in this heinous act. This is irresponsible fear-mongering – plain and simple. It is guilt by association. And it makes us less safe. We should all condemn this bigotry and reject attempts to foment fear and hatred. We are stronger and safer when we reject such attempts to divide us.

The Republican standard bearer has also questioned the motivations and patriotism of the President of the United States. These insinuations are dangerous. They are beyond the pale, and I reject them emphatically and categorically. I call on every member of this body to do the same. We are a better Nation than this.

The American people are rightfully demanding action instead of rhetoric. They are tired of hearing that the tragedy in Orlando and the countless others we have endured are not about our gun laws. We must recognize that we have a security weakness in this country and ISIL is exploiting it. Our enemies know that in the United States you can go online or to a gun show and buy a gun. You don’t need to have identification. No background check will be run. You can simply acquire a semi-automatic weapon that can kill dozens of people in a matter of minutes.

We must have universal background checks. That is simply common sense. We have had background checks for decades. I am among millions of responsible gun owners in this country who undergo background checks when we purchase a firearm. And, like millions of responsible gun owners, I understand that this check is necessary to help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and terrorists. It is common sense that we need to close the loopholes that allow people to evade background checks altogether. And we must also make sure that the background checks are effective. That means giving law enforcement the power to stop a suspected terrorist, or someone who has recently been under investigation for terrorism, from buying a gun. It is also common sense that assault weapons designed for the battlefield have no place on our streets, in our schools, in our churches or in our communities. I have moved and supported an assault weapons ban for this simple reason.

These changes make sense – and they fix glaring vulnerabilities in our system. This is not about politics. This is about keeping Americans safe. This is about stepping up and taking action – and not just resigning ourselves to the repeated call for moments of silence, tragedy after tragedy. I am a responsible gun owner, and I do not take this issue lightly. I have fought for years to pass these commonsense measures and I will continue to do so.

Americans have shown throughout the course of history that we can live up to the principles of freedom, equality, and liberty that have guided us for so long. Now is the time to stand defiantly against the petty politics of fear. Despite what others may say, we are a great Nation. Now is the time for Congress to act to pass common sense measures that have languished for too long and could save American lives.

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