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Statement of Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Homeland Security Gun Safety Act of 2003

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STATEMENT OF SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY ON THE HOMELAND SECURITY GUN SAFETY ACT OF 2003

It is a privilege to join in sponsoring the Homeland Security Gun Safety Act. It is long past time to put the nation's public safety and security above the interests of the gun lobby.

In December 2001, Attorney General Ashcroft appeared at an oversight hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He held up an al Qaeda terrorist manual, to make the point that these terrorists were being trained "how to use America's freedom as a weapon against us."

When my turn came to question the Attorney General, 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. It 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.

As Senator Lautenberg has said, 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 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, a member of the Irish Republican Army spent more than $18,000 in Florida purchasing dozens of handguns, rifles, and ammunition, which he tried to ship to Ireland. That same year, only a lack of cash prevented two persons from purchasing a grenade launcher at a gun show, for the purpose of blowing up two large propane tanks in suburban Sacramento.

Enough is enough. Since the atrocities of September 11th, 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, and given law enforcement new powers to investigate and prevent terrorism.

Now, it is time to strengthen our defenses against gun violence. Under the Homeland Security Gun Safety Act, heightened terrorist alerts will be accompanied by heightened gun-safety protections. During periods when the Department of Homeland Security decides that the nation is at an "Elevated" risk of attack or higher, law enforcement officials will have sufficient time to conduct background checks of potential firearm purchasers. Records of these gun purchases will be maintained indefinitely, so that law enforcement officials will be able to track any purchases made by suspected terrorists.
The Homeland Security Gun Safety Act will also close other loopholes that allow rogue gun dealers to evade the law and sell guns to criminals and terrorists.

These gun-safety measures are a constructive and needed response to the ongoing threat of terrorism we all face. Surely, even the strongest opponents of gun control will understand the need to support a common-sense, anti-terrorist, gun-safety law.

I commend Senator Lautenberg for his leadership on this important initiative, and I urge my colleagues to support this bill.

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