PROTECTION OF LAWFUL COMMERCE IN ARMS ACT
Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I strongly support this bipartisan amendment to close the gun show loophole.
Americans overwhelmingly favor responsible gun safety measures. They want effective background checks for firearm purchases, whether the purchases take place at a gun store, a gun show, or any other large gathering.
The gun show loophole allows firearms to be purchased illegally at gun shows-no questions asked. The result has been the sale of massive numbers of firearms to terrorists, criminals, juveniles, and other prohibited purchasers without background checks.
In 2001, Attorney General Ashcroft appeared at an oversight hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He held up an al-Qaida terrorist manual, to make the point that terrorists were being trained on "how to use America's freedom as a weapon against us."
When I questioned the Attorney General at the hearing, I held up a different terrorist training manual entitled, "How Can I Train Myself for Jihad," which had been found in a house in Afghanistan that November. As the manual stated:
In other countries, e.g. some states of USA . . . it is perfectly legal for members of the public to own certain types of firearms. If you live in such a country, obtain an assault rifle legally . . . learn how to use it properly and go and practice in the areas allowed for such training.
There is a long list of examples of terrorists exploiting weaknesses and loopholes in the Nation's gun laws. In 2000, a member of the terrorist group Hezbollah in the Middle East was convicted in Detroit on weapons charges and conspiracy to ship weapons and ammunition to Lebanon. He had bought many of those weapons at gun shows in Michigan.
In 1999, only a lack of cash prevented two persons from purchasing a grenade launcher at a gun show, in a plot to blow up two large propane tanks in suburban Sacramento.
Enough is enough. Since the atrocities of September 11, Congress has acted with strong bipartisan support to win the war on terrorism and protect the country from future attacks. We have improved the security of our airports and borders. We have strengthened our defenses against bioterrorism. We have given law enforcement new powers to investigate and prevent terrorism.
Clearly, we need to strengthen our defenses against gun violence. The best way to start is by closing the gaping loopholes in our gun laws that allow rogue gun dealers to sell guns to criminals, terrorists, and other prohibited purchasers. According to the ATF, gun shows are now the second leading source of firearms confiscated in illegal gun trafficking investigations. Gun shows accounted for nearly 31 percent of the 84,000 guns illegally diverted during one 30-month period. Even the strongest opponents of gun control understand the need to confront this rampant law-breaking. Closing the gun show loophole will strengthen the safety and security of all Americans.
This amendment will not shut down gun shows. It will not prevent gun enthusiasts and other lawful purchasers from buying and selling guns.
Instead, it requires background checks to take place at any event where more than 75 guns are offered for sale. These checks
can be conducted by licensed sellers or by gun show operators or their employees who have been certified by the Justice Department. This this certification option, background checks can be completed quickly and accurately.
Since its enactment in 1994, the Brady law's background check system has truly become an "instant" check system. According to the Attorney General, 91 percent of background checks are completed in 3 minutes or less. A 3-minute wait is not a significant inconvenience for a gun purchase. And 95 percent of all background checks are completed within 2 hours. The maximum amount a buyer can be forced to wait is 3 business days. Under this amendment, the period will be reduced to 24 hours for States with sufficiently automated background check records.
I commend my colleagues, Senator MCCAIN, Senator REED, Senator DEWINE, and Senator LIEBERMAN, for their leadership on this important issue, and I urge all my colleagues to do now what we should have done years ago. It is time to put the interest of law enforcement and public safety above the interests of the gun lobby. Let's close the gun show loophole, once and for all.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I strongly support this bipartisan amendment to continue the Federal ban on assault weapons. The ban is now scheduled to expire on September 13, 2004.
The fact that this common-sense and necessary ban requires any debate at all shows how misplaced and misguided our priorities on domestic safety and security have become.
Even before 9/11, renewal of the assault weapons ban should have been a no-brainer. After 9/11, to even consider letting the ban expire is absurd.
Semi-automatic assault weapons are killing machines-nothing more, nothing less. They are intentionally designed to maximize their killing power by a rapid rate of fire. They are intended to be spray-fired from the hip, so that the killer can fire many rounds in rapid succession.
Civilians have no need whatever for such military-style killing machines. They are of no use for hunting, unless the goal is to obliterate the duck or deer being hunted. They are unnecessary and impractical for self-defense, and they have no recreational value.
The purpose of these weapons is to facilitate crime. By the late 1980s, assault weapons had become the weapon of choice for drug traffickers, gangs, and other criminal organizations. Their high firepower and ability to penetrate body armor exposed the police officers to increased danger, and innocent bystanders were killed in indiscriminate assault-weapon shoot-outs in the streets.
Assault weapons have been used in a series of massacres:
In 1989, in an attack at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, CA, Patrick Purdy used an assault weapon to kill five small children and wound 29 others. Purdy fired off 106 rounds in less than two minutes.
In 1993, two CIA employees were killed outside the entrance to CIA headquarters by a Pakistani national using an AK-47 assault rifle equipped with a 30-round magazine.
Also in 1993, eight persons were killed and six others were wounded at a San Francisco law firm by an assailant using two assault pistols with 50-round magazines.
That's the kind of world we'll return to if Congress allows the current ban on assault weapons to expire.
In fact, the ban contributed to a dramatic decrease in violent crime in the 1990s. Many of us remember the dire "juvenile superpredator" predictions that were in vogue before that reduction took place. In 1996, William Bennett and John Walters had written that America was a "ticking crime bomb," faced with the "youngest, biggest, and baddest generation" of juvenile offenders that our country had ever known.
Fortunately, these predictions were wrong. From 1993 to 2001, arrest rates for violent juvenile crime declined by more than two-thirds. We're still enjoying the benefits of this low crime rate today.
The decrease in crime is explained in large part by the sensible measures that Congress took on gun safety in the early 1990s, including the ban on assault weapons. In 1999, the National Center for Juvenile Justice concluded that all of the increase in homicides by juveniles between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s was firearm-related. The U.S. Surgeon General concluded that guns were responsible for both the epidemic in juvenile violence in the late 1980s and the decrease in violence after 1993. "It is now clear," the Surgeon General wrote, "that the violence epidemic was caused largely by an upsurge in the use of firearms by young people. . . . Today's youth violence is less lethal, largely because of a decline in the use of firearms."
After Congress passed the assault weapons ban in 1994, fewer criminals used assault weapons to kill and commit other crimes. According to the National Institute of Justice, requests to trace assault weapons-one of the best indicators of gun use in crimes-declined 20 percent in the first calendar year after the ban took effect. In 1995 and 1996, the number of assault weapons used in crime in Boston declined by 24 percent. In St. Louis, it declined by 29 percent.
With these proven results, why would anyone vote against reauthorization of the current assault weapons ban?
It's no surprise that the law enforcement community strongly supports the ban. The amendment now before us is supported by: The International Association of Chiefs of Police; the National Association of Police Organizations; the National Organization of Black Police Officials; the International Brotherhood of Police Officers; the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association; the American Probation and Parole Association; the United States Conference of Mayors; and countless other religious, public health, and domestic violence organizations.
Congress needs to do more than renew the ban on assault weapons now in effect. We should make clear that the definition of assault weapons includes "copycat" guns made by the gun industry with devious cosmetic changes to evade the 1994 law. We should ban parts kits that can be bought through the mail and used to build assault weapons. We should regulate the transfer of "grandfathered" assault weapons and facilitate their tracing. We should ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, and prohibit juveniles from buying or possessing assault rifles and shotguns. Senator LAUTENBERG has introduced a bill that would do all of these things, and I commend him for his leadership.
What we absolutely cannot do is let the current ban on assault weapons expire. Such a failure would drastically undermine the safety of our streets, neighborhoods, and schools, and strengthen the hand of terrorists and other criminals.
We know that terrorists are now exploiting the weaknesses and loopholes in our gun laws. A terrorist training manual discovered by American soldiers in Afghanistan in 2001 advised al Qaeda operatives to buy assault weapons in the United States and use them against us. Terrorists are bent on exploiting weaknesses in our gun laws. Americans will be at much greater risk if Congress fails to renew the ban on assault weapons.
We can't let that happen. I urge my colleagues to vote for this essential protection against crime and terrorism.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I am under no illusion what the outcome of this vote is going to be. But this is gun legislation run amok. This is demonstrating that the Senate is more interested in the profits of the gun industry than protecting the citizens.
This legislation will override every mayor's decision that has ruled that they do not want concealable weapons in the bars and the churches or on the playgrounds of the schools of their district. This legislation will override every Governor's decision to protect local citizens by prohibiting concealable weapons in bars and churches and schoolyards across the country.
The mayors have made the decision. The States have made the decision. Now in the Senate of the United States we say it does not make any difference if the local community is making a judgment to protect their local citizens; we know better in the Senate.
I don't want to hear from the other side anymore about one size fits all. This is it. Override the States, override the local communities, that is what this does with concealable weapons which are deadly to the children and the people of this Nation.