Gun Violence Prevention

Floor Speech

By:  Jackie Speier
Date: Feb. 13, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. SPEIER. Mr. Speaker, this afternoon, we're going to spend the hour talking about gun violence prevention, and in particular, how the National Rifle Association has systematically unwound laws that have already been on the books.

Last night, the President referenced the fact that since the horrific deaths at Sandy Hook there have been a thousand more people that have died due to gun violence. It is not good enough to wear a green ribbon in support of the Sandy Hook families and think you have done enough.

Times have changed, and the polling that's been done is overwhelming in support of sensible gun violence prevention laws. Let's be clear at the outset--the Heller decision by the U.S. Supreme Court has made it very clear: Every American has a right to own a gun for recreational purposes or to have a gun in their home for purposes of safety, and that is not going to change. We embrace that decision, we support it. But we also support safe laws around the use of guns.

So let us begin by looking at this, a Quinnipiac survey done very recently. Ninety-two percent support background checks for all gun purchases, including 91 percent of gun-owning households; 89 percent support closing the gun show loophole by requiring background checks for all gun purchases; 69 percent support banning the sale of semi-automatic, military-style assault weapons; 68 percent support banning the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines; and 81 percent favor prohibiting high-risk individuals from having guns, including those convicted of serious crime as juveniles or convicted of violating domestic violence restraining orders.

So Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, polled NRA members and non-NRA members who were gun owners, and what did they find out there? There they found out that 85 percent of gun owners and 87 percent of NRA members believe Second Amendment rights and gun safety laws can coexist. That's what we're talking about. Eighty-seven percent of gun owners and 74 percent of NRA members support requiring background checks of anyone buying a gun. We're talking about that right now. But in a couple of minutes, I'm going to show you how that has changed among the leadership in the NRA.

Fifty-three percent of gun owners and 57 percent of the NRA members mistakenly believe that everyone has to pass a background check. Eighty percent of gun owners, 79 percent of NRA members, support requiring background checks of gun retailer employees.

Eighty percent of gun owners and 71 percent of NRA members support barring people on the terror watch list from buying guns. It's a surprise to most people that they can in fact buy guns.

All right. Let's move on. Let's talk about the CEO of the National Rifle Association.

What did he say in 1999? In 1999, after the Columbine shootings, when so many children lost their lives at Columbine High School, he said:

We think it's reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show, no loopholes anywhere for anyone.

That's what he said.

What did he say after 20 children and six adults lost their lives in Newtown at Sandy Hook? In 2013, he says, at a Senate hearing, when Senator Leahy asked:

You do not support background checks in all instances at gun shows?

Mr. LaPierre said:

We do not because the fact is the law right now is a failure the way it's working. None of it makes any sense in the real world.

Well, we are living in the real world, and the real world would suggest to everyone that a commonsense law is to have a universal background check for everyone.

Let's look at the next time we saw a flip-flop by Mr. Wayne LaPierre. Again, the point here being that the NRA leadership does not reflect the NRA membership.

In 1999, after Columbine, he says:

We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America's schools, period.

On ``Meet the Press'' just a few weeks ago, Mr. LaPierre said:

If it's crazy to call for armed officers in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy. I think the American people think it's crazy not to do it. It's the one thing that would keep people safe.

The point here, colleagues, is that the public, NRA members and gun-owning families in this country believe in commonsense reforms, and we owe it to them. We owe it to them to vote on these commonsense bills that will not restrict anyone's ability to own a gun for self-protection or to own a gun for recreation, but will take these assault weapons that are military weapons that are invented for one reason and one reason only, and that is to tear the hell out of anything they come in contact with.

As one law enforcement officer said very recently:

The energy in an assault weapon bullet will tear open a brick wall.

You don't need that to go hunting, and you don't need that to protect yourself in your home.

I yield to the gentlewoman from New York, Carolyn Maloney.

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Ms. SPEIER. I thank the gentlelady from New York for making it clear that we are talking about safe and sane, commonsense laws on the books, and I am honored to be a cosponsor of her bill.

I want to just take a minute and go through a timeline of what has happened under the NRA's leadership in terms of the unraveling of laws that have been on the books but, because of the NRA's leadership, they have been unraveled. Let's start with the very first one.

Between 1980 and 1987, the number of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents was slashed by 21 percent, from 1,500 to 1,180, and the number of inspectors dropped from 655 to 626. What was happening during that period of time? During that period of time, there were more and more dealers. So why would the NRA be so interested in reducing the staffing of the ATF? In 1986, the Firearm Owners' Protection Act was passed--again, sponsored by the NRA. It set a high burden of proof to prosecute violations of Federal gun laws. It limited ATF inspections to once a year, and it weakened the penalty. It allowed unlicensed individuals to sell their firearms as a hobby, avoiding meaningful regulations, thus leading to an increase in gun shows.

What does that mean when you have to establish a standard that is so high that you end up not revoking any firearm dealer's license? Well, willfully--not knowingly but willfully--violating gun safety laws is the standard that is now on the books. It's an extraordinarily high standard, and the loopholes that were created allowed for dealers to hand off their businesses, even when they had these horrendous violations, to relatives or to convert their inventory of guns into a ``personal collection,'' which they then could sell because it was now a hobby, without doing background checks. Let me give you one example.

An example is Sandy Abrams. He was a member of the NRA board of directors. He was cited with over 900 violations of Federal firearm laws at his shop, Valley Gun, and 483 crime guns were traced to his shop. This is an NRA board member who violated the laws 900 times, and 483 crime guns were traced to his shop. What did the NRA do? The NRA, in a subsequent bill, banned the tracing of crime guns. What happened to him? The only power that ATF had was to revoke his license. So what did they do? No criminal charges were ever brought. Abrams transferred hundreds of his firearms to his personal collection, despite the revocation of his license, and faced charges of illegally selling those guns from his personal collection. As I mentioned earlier, in 1986, the Firearm Owners' Protection Act limited these inspections and weakened penalties.

We then moved on to the Dickey amendment in 1996. What did the Dickey amendment do? The Dickey amendment held that the CDC could no longer conduct public health research. Now, why would the NRA be so concerned about research going on? Because when you do research, you can link it, and it can create the opportunity for public policy decisions that are, in fact, thoughtful.

Then came the famous Tiahrt amendments in 2004 that placed restrictions on law enforcement, limited access to crime gun tracing data and required approval--background checks--of 24 hours only. That amendment said that if you're going to do a background check, you can only have that document in place for 24 hours, and then it has to be destroyed. So, to the point made by our colleague from New York about what are called ``straw purchasers,'' how would you even know there was a straw purchaser if you had to destroy that record in 24 hours?

Then in 2004 came the assault weapons ban, which was sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein. The chair then of the Judiciary Committee, our good Vice President, was also the shepherd of that bill.

In 2005, Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, this was heralded by the NRA as being their biggest get ever because that particular bill became law, and it protects gun manufacturers from civil liability suits--the only industry in this country that is not subject to civil liability suits for dangerous equipment and the like. The Sandy Hook families that are looking at trying to bring actions right now are stymied because this law is in place. There's no protection for auto manufacturers if they have unsafe products, but we've given carte blanche protection to gun manufacturers.

And in 2005, the U.S. PATRIOT Act, what did we do there? Well, then the NRA decided that, you know what, that ATF Director shouldn't just be appointed; it should be confirmed by the Senate. So in the PATRIOT Act, they got an amendment that provides that the ATF Director must be confirmed by the Senate. And guess what happens? There hasn't been an ATF Director confirmed in 7 years because of the control that they exhibit.

And then in 2005, ironically, George W. Bush does something his father didn't even do. His father, George H.W. Bush, by executive order, banned the importation of guns in this country, particularly the assault weapons. When President Clinton came into power, he, by executive order, expanded that importation ban to include high-capacity magazines. George W. Bush comes in as President, and he lifts the ban on the importation of assault weapons.

And between 2009 and 2012, we've had 99 gun safety laws rolled back at the State level. That's what the NRA is doing.

I now yield to my colleague from Rhode Island for his comments.

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Ms. SPEIER. I thank you for your extraordinarily sound comments on this issue. As you were talking about courage, I remember recently having an opportunity to listen to a family from Newtown who lost a child, who said to me and to others:

You're just a bunch of talking heads. Can't you two groups get together and do what's right?

With that, let me yield to the Member of Congress who represents that extraordinary community and who has done so much to help them heal from what has been a devastating impact on not just everyone in the country but particularly those families in Newtown, Ms. Esty.

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Ms. SPEIER. I thank the gentleman from California for his thoughtful remarks. And I want to thank each and every one of you who has participated in this Special Order. It's something that we must do week after week so that our message gets out to the American people and so that they truly understand what has happened in this country over the last 20 years that has taken away so many commonsense laws that were on the books to provide the kind of safe and sane laws to make sure that everyone who owns a gun has it appropriately and everyone who shouldn't own a gun, doesn't have a gun.

This is our to-do list:

Pass the universal background check, pass a ban on large magazines, pass an assault weapon ban, crack down on gun trafficking, remove the handcuffs on law enforcement, remove the gag order on gun safety research, keep illegal and unwanted guns off the street, invest in gun safety technology R&D, close the holes in our mental health system, and take steps to enhance school safety.

Someone said:

Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.

These are the words of our own Gabby Giffords in the Senate just a couple of weeks ago. It still sends shivers up and down my spine. Gabby almost lost her life. We owe it to Gabby, we owe it to the 26 people who lost their lives in Newtown, the countless people who lost their lives in Aurora and Columbine, and the 32 people each and ever day in this country who lose their lives to gun violence. We owe it to the American people. Let's act.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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