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Kennedy Urges Colleagues to Vote No on NRA Backed Vitter Amendment

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Kennedy Urges Colleagues to Vote No on NRA Backed Vitter Amendment

"Here we go again. Without shame, the Republican leadership has brought back another special-interest, anti-law enforcement measure that strips away the rights of law enforcement to respond to public safety emergencies.

The National Rifle Association clearly has priority in the Senate's Republican agenda. This proposal is part of the NRA's nationwide campaign to target the nation's Mayors and Police Chiefs. With fear tactics and inflammatory rhetoric, the NRA is looking for pledges that the people protecting our communities will never confiscate a weapon during a natural disaster. The NRA's perverse response to the devastating tragedy caused by Hurricane Katrina has been to launch an aggressive fund-raising campaign to undermine the very law enforcement and public safety officials who protect us during times of crisis.

It should come as no surprise though. Every day, we see new headlines about gun crime and rising gun violence - in large part because the NRA and its lap dog supporters in Congress have systematically weakened federal gun laws over the past two decades. Unbelievably, the gun industry and the tobacco industry are the only two consumer industries that are not subject to federal consumer safety regulation.

Cities, counties, and states incur billions of dollars in costs each year as a result of gun violence - stemming from the loss of life, the costs of medical care for wounded victims, the costs of law enforcement, the costs of many other public services. Studies estimate that the public cost of firearm-related injuries is over one million dollars for each shooting victim. Yet, this amendment asks us to undermine the ability of every community in the nation to protect itself during an emergency or disaster. How can the Senate possibly adopt an amendment that would prevent police officers from taking a weapon from an abandoned building during an evacuation, so that looters can't get to the weapon first?

How can our Republican colleagues say they're on the side of law and order when they support an amendment like that? And on a homeland security bill no less!

During an emergency, the Major Cities Police Chiefs have said unequivocally that "police should be allowed to take into safekeeping any dangerous weapon or explosive they find abandoned in a building or home."

The International Brotherhood of Police Officers opposes this amendment, because it interferes with a police officer's discretion to react as they see fit under extreme emergency circumstances.

They point out the obvious fact that responsible gun owners who continue to act in accordance with federal, state and local law are unlikely to have their guns confiscated, unless they use or possess the guns in a manner or place that would be prohibited or threatening. That's why they aren't endorsing this amendment.

The far-reaching consequences of this amendment are appalling. New Orleans police officers confiscated more than a thousand firearms in the days after Katrina. In such a severe emergency, law enforcement officers have no time to bicker with a gun owner - or look for paperwork. In New Orleans, the officers who seized such weapons were responding to sniper fire at helicopters carrying first responders. In such an extreme crisis, Congress should put no such limit on the ability of state and local law enforcement to restore law and order. The safety of our first responders must come first. Yet, some of our colleagues are prepared to say that the right to bear arms trumps everything else, even the lives of our first responders.

This amendment would prohibit law enforcement officials from using funds from State Homeland Security Grants, Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Programs and the Urban Area Security Initiative to confiscate weapons during an emergency, at the very time when first responders are reacting urgently and have no time to try to figure out whether a citizen is in lawful possession of a gun. The critical funds in this bill are to be made to local governments to carry out comprehensive, long-term strategies to protect communities from the grave threat and consequence of a terrorist attack. It is wrong for Congress to include an amendment that limits the effectiveness of our first responders during an emergency or natural disaster.

The Vitter amendment also prohibits States from using critical funds to create safe zones during an emergency. It's outrageous that communities would even be prevented from using these funds to establish gun-free community centers, gun-free recreation areas, and other public facilities where guns are prohibited.

We know that America has a massive gun problem compared to the rest of the world. Why would we want to compound that problem in the worst kind of emergencies? In one recent year, firearms killed no children in Japan - none - 19 in Great Britain, 109 in France, 153 in Canada, and 5,285 in the United States.

The gun crisis is especially serious for children. For every child in the United States killed with a gun, four more are wounded. The overall rate of firearm-related deaths for children in the United States is nearly twelve times greater than in twenty-five other industrial countries. Yet, year after year for the past thirty years or more, the nation's response to this unacceptable death toll has been minimal, and little has changed in our approach to regulating guns.

I urge my colleagues to break the stranglehold of the gun industry and gun dealers on Congress, and oppose this shameful amendment."

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