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Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. MURPHY. Mr. President, I am honored to be on the floor this morning to begin today's debate on this historic gun violence measure with my colleague Senator Blumenthal. I join with him in my awe of the Newtown families who are here this week. People have watched them on the news as they have gone from office to office and told the story of their loved ones. Nobody can paint a picture better as to why we need to act next week than the families of those people who lost their lives in Newtown.

There are so many stories they can tell better than anyone else. They can tell the story of their lost first graders, but they can also tell the story of the five little boys and girls who escaped that morning, who escaped when the shooter went to reload and there was a brief period of time where some kids could run out of one of those first-grade classrooms.

Better than anyone else, these families can posit as to whether their little boys and girls would still be alive if the shooter walked in with 10-round clips rather than 30-rounds clips, if he had to exchange magazines 15 times rather than 5 or 6 times. Nobody can tell that story better than these families.

What I have tried to do over the course of the last couple days is to help these families tell the story of their loved ones but to also paint a broader picture to talk about the 30 lives every day that are ended by gun violence. I think we need to talk about the victims and allow for the voices of those victims to be part of the debate, because while the tragedy in Newtown has gotten the headlines and the highlights and is certainly the reason we are standing here today, more people than were killed in Newtown die every day in this country from gun violence--on the streets of Washington and Hartford and Bridgeport and Baltimore--all across the country.

These victims need to be our imperative, whether they be the 6- and 7-year-old kids and the teachers in Newtown or the 25-year-olds and 17-year-olds who are dying every single day across our country. It has to end. The answer cannot be, as it has been for 20 years, that we are going to do nothing. So I wish to take a few minutes to continue telling these stories this morning.

I wish to begin with Dylan Hockley. Dylan's mother has probably been one of the most articulate spokesmen for this cause. His parents Nicole and Ian have been amazing in their ability to grieve and also to come down to Washington and argue their cause.

Dylan loved video games. He loved jumping on trampolines. He loved watching movies. He was autistic, but he was doing so much better. He was so proud of the fact that he had learned how to read, and he was taking out books every day from the library to bring home. His parents chose Sandy Hook Elementary School because of its great autism program.

I spoke yesterday about his paraprofessional, his special education aid, who was so wonderful to assist him in doing better every single day. Because of his autism, he was a child who loved routine and repetition, and there were a few movies he would watch over and over and over again--``Up,'' ``WALL-E,'' ``The Gruffalo''--and he would find those portions of the movies he loved so much. He would sit in front of the TV with his headphones on rewinding those portions over and over and over again, and every single time he watched those movies, he would laugh over and over and over again.

His parents have created an organization called Dylan's Wings of Change. It is a memorial fund to benefit children with autism. It is just one of a multitude of efforts that have flowed forth from this tragedy. Dylan's life was ended, but this fund is going to help make sure other kids like him have the chance to lead great, normal lives, even though they deal with complex problems such as autism.

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Mr. MURPHY. I thank the Senator for his career fighting on behalf of legislation that will address gun violence. The summation of all of that work hopefully will be with us this week and next week.

I thank the Senator for his question about the Sandy Hook promise. The Sandy Hook promise, which has been signed by tens of thousands of people all across the country, came out of this tragedy because there was a recognition, as you said, that this was not a sprint, that this was a marathon, that the promise we needed to make to each other in the wake of this horrific tragedy was not just that we were going to do everything within our power, our individual powers to try to reduce the incidence of gun violence--and as Senator Durbin points out, we have more power, the 100 of us, than almost anyone else, and shame on us if we do not use it. But the Sandy Hook promise is that there are so many other things that you can do: that you can make smaller commitments in your communities to build bigger and better systems of mental health; that you can try to forge atmospheres in schools that are more inviting, that are more positive; that you can, frankly, just be nicer to your neighbors, you can be more thoughtful in your everyday interactions, knowing there could be some tragedy around the corner that takes your neighbor away from you; make sure you say everything you want to say to that person.

So this promise--a promise to do everything within our power to try to make sure this never happens again, but to bring a new level of positivity to our world in the wake of this awful violence, is one of the most important things that come from it.

We are so grateful that these families are here not just challenging us to pass specific pieces of legislation but also to make our lives change in the wake of this situation.

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Mr. MURPHY. I thank the Senator for that comment. As he knows, there is absolutely nothing inherent in mental illness that creates a connection to violence. As the Senator said very correctly, people with mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of violence than to perpetrate a crime. The great irony coming out of this debate could be that if we make the awful mistake of equating violence with mental illness, than we will frankly make it harder for people to go out and seek treatment, not easier.

Adam Lanza was a deeply disturbed individual. His mother made awful mistakes, but she was certainly trying to figure out a way to get him help. The fact is that there are far too many families out there who do not have places to turn for treatment. That is the right thing to do independent of this debate today. We should absolutely be talking about the comprehensive commitment to ending gun violence, but the reality is that today there are way too many families who hit brick walls in trying to find mental health treatment for children.

If we were to go through this debate and somehow stereotype people with mental illness as prone to violence, then it would, frankly, create more barriers. There is a proposal out there from one of the gun lobby groups to create a registry of everyone with mental illness across this country. It is an absolutely ludicrous idea, especially when this very same group opposes keeping a registry of everyone with guns in this country.

I take the Senator's concerns to heart.

This was a very serious incident in Newtown, but it should not cause us to take steps backward in terms of the support we give families who are looking for help for their loved ones.

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Mr. MURPHY. I thank the majority whip. Just to add to his last comment, my constituents are amazed that we do not have a Federal law banning gun trafficking today. They are amazed that if you go into a store and buy guns legally and then walk outside that store and sell them to people who are prohibited, that you have not committed a Federal crime. There is an assumption that the Federal Government would disallow that. We have not. But hopefully at the end of this debate we will. I thank Senator Durbin for all of his fantastic work on that issue.

Let me tell a few more stories. I want to get to Senator Durbin's point and tell some stories about the victims of urban gun violence as well, but let me tell one more story from Newtown.

This is the story of our heroic principal. Dawn Hochsprung was the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School. People have heard a lot about her because she was perhaps the first to die that day. When the bullets started flying, when she heard the gunman enter through the front door, she ran straight to him. Some of the investigators have posited, given the way the crime scene shook out, that she may have even lunged for the gunman to try to stop him before he turned the corner to the first grade classrooms. She was unsuccessful. She was killed--perhaps the first that day.

The irony surrounding this day is multifold, but part of it involves the fact that one of her most recent proudest accomplishments as principal of that school was the establishment and integration of a brandnew security system, one that made sure every visitor who entered that school after 9:30 had to buzz in, had to talk to the security people, the front desk people, before they entered the school. That does not work too well when the person trying to gain entry does not need to press the buzzer but instead can take an AR-15, which sprays six bullets a second, and just knock out all of the windows.

She was a passionate educator. She dove into her work at Sandy Hook. She was one of those folks who did not sit in their office. She was out amongst the hallways at all times trying to make that place a much more positive environment.

She grew up in Connecticut. She lived in Woodbury, CT, with her husband and her two daughters and three stepdaughters. She grew up loving the outdoors. Her friends recalled that Dawn Lafferty at the time was a tomboy who loved sports in high school. She wasn't a top-level athlete, but that didn't stop her.

One of the most amazing stories I have heard about Dawn was that when she was in school at Naugatuck High School, she wanted to run with the boys track team. She wanted to run sprints. She wasn't allowed to do that. She protested to the coach, the administration, and they still said she couldn't run sprints with the boys track team. She took her case to the school board--as a high school student--and won her case. When she came back to her high school, she didn't just run sprints with the boys, but she recruited other girls to run sprints with her. She was a born leader.

Perhaps we may take some solace in the fact that so many of these other kids here--Dylan, Chase, Benjamin, Jesse, and Ana--were leaders too. They were going to do amazing things with their lives. At least we were able to know with Dawn what her true potential was. We saw that potential in the wonderful school she built.

I just spoke about Dylan. Dylan's parents came from England all the way to Sandy Hook, CT, for this school because of the programs Dawn built there. If they ever had any doubt as to whether they had chosen the right leader, they were confident of this when she ran to the gunman to try to stop the carnage from becoming worse.

Let me speak about one more little girl, age 6, Madeleine Hsu. Madeleine was, again, one of the youngest victims that day. She was a shy and relatively quiet 6-year-old, but there were certain things that would make her light up. A lot of these kids loved animals. Madeleine loved dogs. She lit up around dogs. They were her passion. She was an avid reader, and she loved running and dancing. More than anything else, she loved to wear bright, flowery dresses which matched her personality. She shared a bed with two of her sisters. They had their own rooms, but they loved each other so much, they chose to sleep together at night. They miss her dearly.

As Senator Durbin pointed out, 20 kids and 6 adults were killed in Newtown that day; 2 others, Adam and Nancy Lanza--28 total. This is less than the average number of people who are killed by gun violence across this country every day. We deserve to talk about them as well.

Before I leave the floor today, I would like to talk about a couple of the most recent victims of gun violence. One can't even really read this poster Senator Durbin referred to because each one of these little dots is an individual figure representing people who have been killed in this country since December 14. The 28 people from Newtown aren't even on this chart. We are speaking about 3,800 people who have died as a result of gun violence.

Some of these people died because they were possibly doing something wrong or in the midst of an activity they shouldn't have been a part of. However, Chuck Walker was 15 years old and walking on his way to visit his girlfriend to deliver some new shoes he purchased for her. He was bringing a gift to his girlfriend. His family said this was a kid who never, ever was in trouble. He was walking to visit his girlfriend, and he was gunned down on the streets of Hillcrest Heights, MD, in an apparent robbery.

Marckel Worman Ross, who was 18 years old, on September 11, 2012, was walking to school. He was a member of the track team, ROTC, and was thinking about a career in the military. He was found in his school uniform still holding his backpack. It was a random act of violence on the way to school.

Moses Walker was older--40 years old. He was a police officer. He had just finished his shift in August of 2012. He was four blocks from his police station, and he was gunned down--1 year away from retirement. He was very active in his community, not only a great police officer but served as deacon of his church. He was remembered as a courteous, polite, and humble police officer--gunned down four blocks from his police station.

These are the tragedies bringing us here to the floor today. As we have this debate, we should remember that every day 30 people across this country are dying from guns. We have the power to do something about it.

I am as pleased as Senator Blumenthal about the compromise brought to this floor by Senators Manchin and Toomey. It is not perfect, but it is important. It is important because it will make our streets safer and ensure fewer criminals across this country have access to guns. It is a platform for more next week, but it is a very important start.

I will be back to the floor later today and next week to speak about more of these victims.

I yield the floor.

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