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Public Statements

Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I wish to commend the Senator from Connecticut, Mr. Murphy, as well as Senator Blumenthal. In the last 2 days they have come to the floor many times leading the floor debate and discussion on the pending legislation we will vote on soon relative to guns and gun safety. It is appropriate that they are here because, being the Senators representing Newtown, CT, they have personal attachment to the families who have weathered this tragedy.

This morning I met with those families in my office. Tears were shed, as you might expect. These families have lost little children like Dylan and so many others. It is a loss they will feel for a lifetime, but in their grief, they have come forward and shown extraordinary courage to walk through the corridors of power in Washington to bring a simple message: that they do not want this to happen to any other parent.

I thank Senator Murphy and Senator Blumenthal for reminding us that we have the power, we have been given the power by the people we represent to make this a safer nation for families, for children, for schools, and for communities across the board. Soon we will have a vote. We are hoping--I think that is a positive hope--that enough on the other side of the aisle will step forward to defy the filibuster that has been threatened and bring this matter to the floor for a vote.

I know Senator Murphy and Senator Blumenthal have come to the floor for the last day and a half and more to dramatize that issue. What I found interesting, and I would like to ask the Senator from Connecticut to comment on it, is the promise of this community. They gave me a list of things and said: This goes beyond guns and gun safety. I would ask the Senator if he could address this promise that came out of Newtown, CT, after the terrible tragedy on December 14.

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Mr. DURBIN. I would like to ask if the Senator would yield for a further question through the Chair.

One of the issues the Senator just raised is one I would like to have him expound on; that is, the issue of mental illness and mental health. I think this is something in my lifetime on which we have seen dramatic progress made, not just in the treatment of mental illness but in our attitude toward mental illness.

There was a time in the history of this country and this world when mental illness was viewed not as an illness but a curse. The people who were afflicted by it were often shunned and institutionalized and treated very badly because it was considered to be something incurable and they had somehow been cursed. That was their plight on Earth. Thank goodness that has changed and we now have a more positive attitude toward dealing with mental illness.

I might say I have read--I believe it is accurate--more than half the people in America suffer from some form of depression. It is very common in most families. It is treatable. Most mental illnesses are treatable. Most victims of mental health illness are people who are peaceful, God-fearing, loving people who need understanding and help. They are no threat to anyone. More often, they are the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators of violence.

One person in the community of Newtown who stepped up and clearly was unstable and used those firearms on December 14 to kill innocent people has caused us to step back and take a look at the issue of mental illness as it relates to guns and firearms. I think what we are trying to do in this legislation is to say: If your mental illness has reached such an extreme, if you are so unstable or threatening that you need to be watched in terms of purchasing firearms, let's make sure the records are there.

But I hope--I know the Senator agrees with this--I hope we will not allow this discussion to take us away from the beginning part: that treating mental illness and helping people is the right thing to do, not shunning them, not pushing them aside from the rest of the mainstream, but understanding that treatment of mental illness makes us a better people, gives them a better chance at life. It is that small, small minority of those suffering from these afflictions who need to be monitored in terms of the use and purchase of firearms.

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Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, the last point I would like to make is that included in the bill that came before us is not only an opportunity to change some of the circumstances that might have saved lives in Newtown but also to address some underlying issues of gun violence that is not resulting in a mass killing but the killing on a day-to-day basis of innocent people.

A measure I have joined Senator Leahy, Senator Kirk, and Senator Collins in introducing relates to straw purchases. These are purchases by some individual who does not have a problem in their background that would disqualify them from buying a gun. They buy a gun and then turn it over to someone who has a problem. This straw purchase or third-party purchase happens way too often.

In the city of Chicago, where we are making progress toward reducing gun violence and murder, in a recent survey of the crime guns confiscated in the last 10 years, 9 percent of them in the city of Chicago came from the State of Mississippi. The State of Mississippi is not contiguous to Illinois. It is a long way away. But clearly someone had started an industry of buying guns easily in Mississippi and moving them up the interstate system all the way to Chicago and selling them to the gang bangers and the thugs and criminal elements in this city.

Another 20 percent of the guns came from one gun shop outside the city of Chicago, in the suburbs. We know exactly where it is--it is in Riverdale, IL. That has become the venue of choice for girlfriends to go buy a gun for their boyfriends, who are going to use them to kill somebody. Well, the provision in the law we are going to try to bring to the floor in the base bill says that this will now be a stiff Federal crime--a hard-time Federal crime--to buy a gun that you knew or should have known was going to be used in the commission of a crime. So although it does not directly affect the circumstances of the tragedy in Newtown, it really does hold out promise to reduce some of the other deaths.

Yesterday the Senator gave us a chart that showed how many have died from gun violence since December 14. It was a big chart with a lot of faces on it of people who had died. I thank the Senator for what he has done in terms of what has affected Newtown, but I also thank him for supporting this underlying legislation.

I think this chart is now being shown here. I hope we keep in mind that gun safety and reducing gun violence means start with the massacres, the tragedies that have stricken us, but also go beyond that and find a way to make the streets safer for Hadiya Pendleton, a high school girl who came up from Chicago for the inauguration, could not have had a happier day, and then 10 days later was gunned down in a park next to her school in the city.

So we want to make this a comprehensive and a balanced, commonsense approach to gun safety. I thank the Senator from Connecticut for that.

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Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, before I make a statement relative to an unrelated issue, I just want to say a very quick word about the historic vote that took place a few minutes ago on the floor of the Senate. I believe we had 16 Republicans who joined us in an effort to proceed to a bill that will initiate a debate--one of the first in years--on the floor of the Senate about gun safety in America.

I salute those Members of the Senate from both sides of the aisle who supported that motion to proceed, but especially from the other side. I know it took a great deal of courage, political courage, for them to step up and to at least initiate this debate. I will tell you, there were those among them--some 13--who signed a letter saying: We are going to filibuster this matter to stop it. They did not succeed today in that effort because 16 on the Republican side joined us. I do not presume they are going to vote for all or any of the amendments to be offered. But at least they allowed the Senate to be the Senate instead of having us bogged down--as we have over 400 times in the last 6 years--in a filibuster.

I hope during the course of this debate on the floor we are able to have amendments debated and voted on. The majority leader made that request earlier, and I believe, for the good of this Senate--and certainly for the debt we owe to America to address the issues of the day--we should address them in a bipartisan fashion in courteous but thorough debate. That is what the Senate has stood for as an institution, and I hope it does, and continues to.

Madam President, I ask unanimous consent to speak as in morning business.

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