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Mr. SHELBY. Mr. President, this afternoon I, rise to defend the Second Amendment to our Constitution. Recent mass killings, such as those in Connecticut and Colorado, are the impetus for the gun control legislation we are discussing before the Senate now.
I mourn the victims of these senseless acts of violence carried out by serious and disturbed individuals. Unfortunately, this legislation, I believe, would do nothing to prevent such tragedies going forward.
The harsh but unavoidable fact is no amount of government intervention can prevent irrational people from doing terrible things. Therefore, we should not react to these tragedies in an irrational manner in the Senate which would erode a fundamental right of every citizen in the United States.
The Second Amendment states, as you well know, unambiguously, ``The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.'' It makes plain to criminals their targets have the right to defend themselves, their families, and their property.
Since criminals do not follow the law and never will follow the law, new restrictions will hinder only the law-abiding among us, I am afraid. Make no mistake, this is only the first assault on the Second Amendment. More background checks today, gun registration tomorrow, who knows what will follow after this. Congress should reject it all now.
My opposition to the legislation before the Senate is not abstract. Gun control laws have proven ineffective in reducing violent crime. As gun ownership in the United States has increased over recent years, nationwide crime rates have decreased. Nonpartisan studies, however, show no correlation between the now-expired assault weapons ban and the decrease in crime rates. Still, violence has spiked in certain parts of this country.
In Chicago, for example, murder rates are soaring. Yet Chicago has among the most Draconian and restrictive gun laws in the country. These trends have developed not because of gun control legislation but in spite of it.
Despite this failed record, the legislation before the Senate pushes more of the same. This so-called compromise amendment would do nothing but compromise our Second Amendment rights.
First, it would drastically expand background checks for gun purchases in an inconsistent and unenforceable manner. The legislation mandates background checks for all firearms purchases at gun shows between two nonlicensed parties. Yet it is unclear whether the same buyer and seller would have to run a background check if they meet at a gun show but wait until it is over to execute the sale.
The legislation also mandates background checks for any gun purchase pursuant to an advertisement by a buyer or seller. This would be extremely difficult to enforce under a narrow definition of what constitutes an advertisement. Under the extremely broad definition provided in this amendment, enforcement would be virtually impossible.
Will determined criminals not simply avoid gun shows and advertisements? We can bet they would. I believe we should not restrict transactions between law-abiding citizens, especially when we will not prevent such transactions between criminals.
This amendment would also allow health care providers to place a patient in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database. I believe this would violate patients' privacy and remove their Second Amendment rights based on subjective judgments and without any clear guidelines or due process.
It is unclear whether a patient must be informed of the health care provider's decision to submit his or her private health information to authorities. This provision could very well discourage those who need mental health services from seeking them for fear their constitutional rights may be abrogated. We should not put doctors and patients in this position.
In addition, the FBI estimates enforcing these background checks would cost approximately $100 million annually. At the same time, this amendment would prohibit the FBI from charging federally licensed firearms dealers to run these background checks.
To carry this out if it were to become law, the money must come from someone. Will it be gun buyers or taxpayers? Either way, I oppose it.
Again, this legislation is just the first step. It would lay the groundwork for even more Draconian and ineffective gun control measures. As one of the Justice Department's leading crime researchers has stated, the government's ability to implement near-universal background checks would rely, at least in part, on ``requiring gun registration.''
I oppose that.
Mr. President, there are as many guns in this country perhaps as there are people, according to some estimates. That is more than 300 million people, and there are probably over 300 million guns. The bureaucracy we have today cannot track all of the people illegally residing in this country, why then would anyone believe the bureaucracy could track all of the guns illegally possessed in this country? And who would pay for that? Would gun owners again be subject to still more fees or taxes for exercising their Second Amendment rights?
Who would have access to this so-called registry? Would the public know who owns guns and who does not? Who would ensure this sensitive information is protected and not used for political purposes, and how?
We do not know the answers to these questions, but we do know that such restrictions will not prevent the next tragedy. We should not start down this dangerous road. What should we do instead? I have a few suggestions.
Instead of undermining the Second Amendment, Congress should focus its attention on three areas: First, I believe robust prosecution of violent criminals is the best deterrent to violent crime. Prosecutors should punish to the fullest extent of the law individuals who misuse guns, knives, or anything else to commit violent crimes. There should be no leniency whatsoever for the commission of such crimes.
Secondly, we should examine and address any deficiencies--and we have them--in our mental health system. Time and again we have seen a strong connection between mental illness and violent crime. We should not fall prey to the delusion government can prevent all bad things, nor should we assume simply throwing money at the problem will solve it. We should, instead, do a better job of helping those with mental illnesses before their problems spiral out of control.
Third, I would suggest we should weigh the impact of violence in the entertainment industry on violent crime in this Nation. Many video games, movies, television shows, and songs contain graphic depictions of violence. Common sense tells us that glorified violence can distort impressionable minds, particularly those afflicted with mental illnesses or mental challenges. Still, many in Hollywood defend the First Amendment to the Constitution with the same wild-eyed zeal they trash the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
I stand here to defend the Bill of Rights in its entirety.
In closing, let me mention that since January 1 of this year I have held public meetings in each of my State's 67 counties. Overall, my constituents are deeply concerned about any infringement upon their Second Amendment rights. They are concerned about their ability to protect themselves, they are concerned about their ability to protect their families, and they are concerned about their ability to protect their property.
They are concerned that the activities, traditions, and way of life they have long and peaceably enjoyed, and which are protected by the Constitution, could possibly be outlawed. They are concerned they may unknowingly run afoul of a new gun control law because the proposals before us are so illogical and inconsistent and contrary to common sense.
I believe this bill is an overall legislative misfire. I have outlined what I believe would constitute a clear-eyed response to the situation at hand. I will continue to vigorously oppose gun control legislation, and I will continue to stand firm in defense of the Second Amendment.
I yield the floor.
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Mr. SHELBY. I would tell the distinguished Senator and my friend from West Virginia, for whom I have a lot of respect, that I totally disagree. This is the first step in the erosion of our rights under the Second Amendment. That is why I oppose this legislation. I totally and fundamentally disagree with the author.
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