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Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013 - Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. CRUZ. Mr. President, I rise to speak on the Grassley-Cruz substitute amendment. This amendment has come through the extended process of consideration of legislation and, indeed, I think this amendment has come to pass precisely the way the process should operate as a result of multiple hearings in the Judiciary Committee; taking witness testimony, examining what the evidence demonstrates is the problem, and then endeavoring to craft a solution that multiple Senators have contributed to. It has been a long collaborative process. At this point this amendment has over 20 cosponsors, and I am hopeful and believe that when it comes to a vote, it will receive some significant bipartisan support.

In my view the approach of the Federal Government to violent crime should be very simple. It should be focused on stopping violent criminals, and we should devote every resource to stopping violent criminals from committing horrific acts of violence. Every one of us was horrified by the crime in Newtown, CT--at the senseless killing.

Mr. LEAHY. Would the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. CRUZ. I am happy to yield.

Mr. LEAHY. The Senator suggested this went through the process, went through the Judiciary Committee. I have been on the committee for 36 years. I have been chairman for a number of years. I don't recall when this happened. Would the Senator from Texas tell me when it was ever voted on. Did we ever have a markup? Did we ever have a hearing?

Mr. CRUZ. Mr. President, as the distinguished chairman is well aware, this amendment was not put before the committee, but it is as a result of the process in the committee; the testimony that was given in multiple hearings that I was honored to attend with the chairman and with the Presiding Officer, and it is in response to that testimony and that evidence that over 20 Senators have come together to craft legislation that actually addresses the problem.

Indeed, I would note, my biggest concern with the legislation--the Democratic legislation on the floor--is it doesn't address the problem. It doesn't target violent criminals. Instead, what it does is it targets law-abiding citizens. If we are to be effective in stopping violent crime--and I am confident every Member of this body wants to do everything we can to stop violent criminals from harming innocents among us--the approach that is effective, in my judgment, is targeting violent criminals while at the same time safeguarding the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. That is exactly what this substitute does. I wish to talk about several aspects of it, all of which are directed at targeting bad actors, at targeting violent criminals rather than law-abiding citizens.

One of the disturbing things we discovered in the course of these extended hearings in the Judiciary Committee is that the Obama Justice Department has not made it a priority to prosecute felons and fugitives who attempt to illegally purchase firearms. Indeed, we learned that in 2010, over 48,000 felons and fugitives attempted to illegally purchase firearms. Of those 48,000, the Obama Justice Department prosecuted only 44. That is 44 out of over 48,000. At the hearing, we heard from a police chief who yelled at a Senator and said he didn't have time to worry about paperwork violations. I would submit that if a convicted felon is trying to illegally buy a gun, that is not a paperwork violation, and that is a prime area for focusing law enforcement resources, to figure out why that felon wants a gun and to go and prosecute them.

If a fugitive fleeing from justice tries to illegally purchase a gun, we need to have the resources to prosecute it. So one of the things this bill does is to create a task force within the Department of Justice devoted to prosecuting felons and fugitives who attempt to illegally purchase guns. It provides $50 million--$10 million a year over 5 years--to provide the additional resources to make sure that when felons and fugitives try to illegally purchase guns, we go after them, we prosecute them, we put them away, and we prevent them from acquiring those guns and using them in horrific acts of violence.

A second aspect of this substitute focuses on gun crimes--instances where felons use a gun in the commission of a crime. In 1997, in Richmond, the U.S. attorney there pioneered a program called Project Exile, which was tremendously successful. I note that was the U.S. attorney under a Democratic President, Bill Clinton. Project Exile put serious Federal resources to prosecuting under Federal law anyone who uses a gun in the commission of a crime. As a result of that innovative plan, we saw tremendous success.

In 1997, before Project Exile had been implemented, Richmond had the third highest murder rate in the Nation. Yet, in 1998, after Project Exile was implemented, homicides dropped 33 percent. The next year, in 1999, homicides dropped an additional 21 percent. It was a program that worked.

When President George W. Bush was elected, he expanded the program with Project Safe Neighborhoods, focused the same, putting law enforcement resources and priorities and prosecuting the use of guns in a violent crime. Unfortunately, under the current administration, this has not been a priority. Indeed, in firearms cases, prosecutions have dropped 30 percent in the Obama Justice Department.

All of us are united in wanting to stop violent crime and, in particular, stopping violent crime with firearms. I would suggest the most effective way to do so is to ensure we are prosecuting violent criminals who use firearms. For that reason this amendment creates a national Project Exile that would, in particular, focus on the 15 jurisdictions with the highest violent crime rates and three tribal jurisdictions with the highest crime rates. It would devote $45 million--$15 million a year for 3 years--for more assistant U.S. attorneys and agents to prosecute violent gun crimes, to target exactly who we want to target--violent criminals. I would note as well that this legislation also includes new language criminalizing straw purchasing, criminalizing trafficking but doing so in a way that targets bad actors and doesn't sweep innocent, law-abiding citizens inadvertently into its reach.

A third area of focus is school safety. Unfortunately, the Obama administration, in the past several years, has reduced the funding for school safety by over $300 million. Indeed, next to me are detailed examples: The Secure Our Schools grants were cut $110 million in 2012; readiness and emergency management for schools was cut $20 million to 30 million annually in 2012; school safety initiative was cut $53 million in 2011; and the safe and drug-free school grants were cut $184 million in 2010. This substitute restores funding for school safety.

If the effort is to protect our kids--and I know all 100 Senators want to do everything we can to protect our kids--one of the most direct ways is to make sure there are resources on the ground protecting our kids. So this bill would provide $300 million in funding--$30 million a year for 10 years--to do exactly that, to provide funding for the secure our schools grants.

A fourth area is improving the existing background checks as it concerns mental illness. If we look for a common theme among these mass murders we have seen in recent years, one of the most disturbing themes is we have seen person after person with serious mental illness accessing firearms and using them to commit horrific acts of violence. One of the real problems with our existing background check system is some 18 States have essentially refused to comply with reporting mental health records. Some 18 States have reported fewer than 100 records to the background check system. If adjudications of someone as a danger to others--having a serious mental illness that makes them a danger to others--if those adjudications are not reported to the background check system, then the existing system cannot operate. I would note my home State of Texas has devoted considerable efforts to reporting those records and, indeed, over 200,000 mental health records have been reported from the State of Texas to ensure that those with serious mental illness who are a danger to others are prevented from accessing firearms.

If the objective is to stop violent crime, then it seems to me we should focus on criminals. I would note that quite intuitive statement is not one which I am alone in viewing in that way.

Recently, a survey was done of over 15,000 law enforcement professionals about what measures would be effective stopping violent crime. Mr. President, 79.7 percent of law enforcement professionals, in this survey done by police, said, one, expanded background checks would not be effective in stopping violent crime; 71 percent of law enforcement professionals said the assault weapons ban being considered by this body would not be effective in stopping violence crime; interestingly enough, 20.5 percent of law enforcement professionals said if the assault weapons ban were passed, it would actually make violent crime worse; and 95.7 percent of law enforcement professionals--virtually unanimous--said the magazine restrictions that are being considered by this body would not be effective in stopping violent crime.

I would suggest we should listen to the men and women on the ground, to the police officers, who risk their lives defending us, defending our children, and we should trust their assessment.

I wish to make two final observations.

One, there has been considerable discussion about expanding background checks. Right now, background checks are required of any individual who purchases a firearm from a licensed Federal firearms dealer. That is the existing system, and the system that the amendment I am proposing would work to improve.

There is an amendment pending before this body to expand that system significantly and in particular to cross a threshold that has not previously been crossed: to require Federal Government background checks for purely private sales between private individuals. If an individual wants to sell, for example, his shotgun, and he puts an ad on Craigslist advertising that shotgun, under the pending bill, by putting that ad on Craigslist, that individual would be required to submit to a Federal background check, would be required to go to a Federal firearms dealer to do so, and would, of necessity, have to pay whatever fee was set.

I would note that fee could well be substantial. We do not know what that fee would be, but we do know the District of Columbia right now charges $150 to conduct a background check. If the fee turned out be anything in the order of what the District of Columbia charges, the effect of passing that bill would essentially be a Federal Government penalty, potentially as much as $150, on an individual who wanted to sell his or her shotgun or rifle to another law-abiding citizen in a purely private transaction.

I would suggest if the objective is to stop violent crime, in all of the hearings we had before the Judiciary Committee, there was no evidence submitted that purely private transactions between private citizens were a significant source of firearms used in crimes and that regulating them would help reduce violent crime. Indeed, as I said, one police chief told the committee he did not have time to prosecute felons and fugitives who were illegally trying to purchase guns.

If law enforcement does not have time to prosecute felons and fugitives, then I would suggest they especially do not have time to prosecute private citizens in a private consensual sale, when neither of those individuals have committed a crime; they are law-abiding citizens. That is not an effective use of law enforcement resources.

But even more problematic, extending background checks to private transactions between private individuals--if this body did that--I believe would put us inexorably on the path to a national gun registry. The reason is simple: Because by extending background checks to private transactions--the Department of Justice has been very candid about this. The Deputy Director of the National Institute of Justice explained that with respect to universal background checks, ``effectiveness depends on requiring gun registration.''

Mr. SCHUMER. Will my colleague yield for a question?

Mr. CRUZ. I am happy to yield.

Mr. SCHUMER. I appreciate my colleague's courtesy.

I would ask my colleague this: Isn't it the case that the very background check proposed in Manchin-Toomey is the same one that has been used for 17 years for FFLs, for Federal firearm licensees? Isn't it the exact same one?

Mr. CRUZ. What is not the exact same is extending it to a private individual selling to another private individual.

Mr. SCHUMER. But it is the same technique, it is the same entry into the book, and everything else.

Mr. CRUZ. But what is consequential is extending it to private sellers, not licensed dealers. Because the argument surely would be--if this bill passed, the argument would immediately become: Well, it cannot possibly be effective because we do not know who owns those firearms.

Mr. SCHUMER. Just one more question.

Has my colleague in the last 17 years detected any move out of Washington for a national registration, any specific substantive move by ATF, the Justice Department, or any other Federal agency to begin a campaign, a move to any kind of national registration?

Mr. CRUZ. In my opinion, adopting mandatory Federal Government background checks for purely private transactions between law-abiding citizens puts us inexorably on the path to a push for a Federal registry.

Mr. SCHUMER. But my colleague has not detected any move of that as of yet?

Mr. CRUZ. It is not currently proposed.

Mr. SCHUMER. OK.

Mr. CRUZ. But if the bill that is being considered were adopted, it would put us on that path, and I think that path would be profoundly unwise and would be inconsistent with the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Mr. SCHUMER. I thank my colleague for his courtesy.

Mr. MANCHIN. Mr. President, will my colleague yield for a question?

Mr. CRUZ. I am happy to yield to my friend from West Virginia.

Mr. MANCHIN. I thank my friend from Texas.

I am a little bit confused since it is my and Senator Toomey's amendment, working with Senator Kirk and Senator Schumer. We excluded all private transactions. We did not ever even go close to a private transaction. Ours is only at gun shows, gun stores, and Internet sales, which is controlled now.

Mr. CRUZ. With respect, the legislative language, as I understand it, is triggered whenever there is any form of advertising, be it on the Internet or on Craigslist or The Greensheet or anything else, and that sweeps in a whole

category of new sellers, purely private sellers who are not commercial firearms dealers.

Commercial firearms dealers are already, as my friend is well aware, subject to significant regulation. Shifting to a new category of private law-abiding citizens is a major threshold and one that I think is unwise.

Mr. MANCHIN. On the Internet right now, as I understand the law as we have it, without changing anything--mine or yours--if I buy from you in Texas, and you send me that gun, it has to go by law through a licensed dealer for me to go get a background check to pick it up. We have not changed that, sir. All we do is say if you buy in State or out of State they are treated the same.

Mr. CRUZ. Well, except the bill also applies to any advertising. It is not limited to the Internet. I would apply to a listing on Craigslist, to a listing in the local newspaper. If an individual wanted to sell his or her firearm and advertised in any way, they would potentially be guilty of a felony for not going through the Federal background check.

What I would suggest--and I want to be respectful of my time because I think I am nearing the conclusion of it--what I would suggest is all of us want to stop violent crime. In drafting this substitute, what a number of Senators endeavored to do is look at the most effective proposals to do exactly that: to stop violent crime. My view is, if you have a violent criminal, we should come down on them like a ton of bricks. But at the same time we should be especially careful to safeguard the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.

The Second Amendment is a critical part of the Bill of Rights, and each of us has taken an oath to defend the Constitution--an oath that I know every Senator takes quite seriously.

I would suggest there is no evidence to support the claim that regulating millions of law-abiding citizens, who do not currently pose a threat, would be remotely effective to stop violent crime. What it would do is increase the pressure substantially for a national gun registry.

I would suggest, instead, the contrast between this substitute and the Democratic bill is striking. The Democratic bill includes no additional resources for prosecution at all. It does not focus on prosecuting criminals. I would suggest that omission is quite striking.

It is my hope that--we are going to have a vote on background checks; this body will decide its view in terms of whether to expand those to private citizens--but I am hopeful that after that vote, when this substitute is considered, we will see some significant bipartisan agreement that says let's provide the resources to the men and women of law enforcement to go after violent criminals, to go after and to incapacitate those with serious mental illness. Let's do everything we can to stop violent crime and protect the most vulnerable among us.

Mr. MANCHIN. Will the Senator yield for one quick moment?

If I may ask the Senator, would he agree that a bill or an amendment should be posted for 48 hours prior to voting?

Mr. CRUZ. Is the Senator suggesting that the Senate should move these votes?

Mr. MANCHIN. No, no. I am saying, does the Senator believe we should have 48-hour postings?

Mr. CRUZ. I think that is ordinarily the right process to follow. In this case, this bill, this substitute took considerable time and was the result of extended negotiation among a great many Senators. And I know my friend from West Virginia has gone through those extended negotiations before and surely will again. This was filed as soon as there was agreement that brought people together in an area that is my hope we should be able to find consensus. We should be able to find consensus on targeting violent criminals. That is what this bill endeavors to do.

I yield the floor.

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Mr. CRUZ. Mr. President, I rise to speak in favor of the Grassley-Cruz substitute.

Now that the previous vote has been taken, I would suggest this is a bill we all should be able to support. This is a bill that provides major resources to prosecuting violent criminals, to going after felons, to going after fugitives, to preventing them from getting guns. It provides resources for school safety. It provides additional resources to improve the background check system and to encourage States to provide more records on mental health illness.

This is a strong law enforcement bill. I know everyone in this body, regardless of party, wants to act decisively to stop violent crime, and it would be a shame if this amendment is subject to a partisan vote which would result in inaction rather than our standing together to put law enforcement resources toward stopping violent crime.

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Mr. CRUZ. Mr. President, I rise to speak against this amendment. It is worthwhile to strengthen the protections against straw purchasing and trafficking, but unfortunately this language, in my judgment, is overbroad and in particular has a real risk of criminalizing innocent conduct. For example, if your father asks you to purchase a firearm for him and your father pays you, under this bill both you and your father become felons because it bans any purchase for another person if that individual pays for it. In my judgment, that is overbroad, and that is the reason why in the prior amendment we changed the language to target bad actors and to exclude innocent conduct, to avoid ensnaring those law-abiding citizens with no ill will and inadvertently making law-abiding gun owners into felons.

I urge my colleagues to vote no on this amendment.

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