March 2, 2004
Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act
Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, the issue before the Senate today can really be summed up in one word: Responsibility. I first started hunting with my cousins when I was a kid, and I still enjoy hunting today. I believe strongly in the second amendment. I believe in the right to bear arms as it has been interpreted in our country.
But I also believe that with our rights come fundamental, commonsense responsibilities. The right to bear arms is a right that should be protected for law-abiding Americans who want to protect themselves and their families.
There is, however, no right to place military-style assault weapons into the hands of terrorists and/or criminals who wish to cause American families harm. There is no right to have access to the weapons of war in the streets of America. For those who want to wield those weapons, we have a place for them. It is the U.S. military. And we welcome them.
If we do not act today to continue the ban on these deadly weapons, then our families in America, our police officers in America, are more threatened than they ought to be. For 10 years, the assault weapons ban has stopped fugitives, rapists, and murderers from purchasing weapons such as AK-47s. And for 10 years, not one honest, responsible American has had their guns taken away because of this law.
It is interesting that a few months ago I was actually hunting in Iowa with the sheriff and with some of his deputies. As we walked through a field with the dogs, hunting pheasant, he pointed out a house in back of me, a house they had raided only a few weeks earlier, where meth and crack were being sold. On the morning when they went in to arrest this alleged criminal, there was an assault weapon on the floor lying beside that individual.
That sheriff and others across this country do not believe we should be selling these weapons or allowing them to be more easily available to criminals in our country. That is why gun owners across America support renewing the assault weapons ban. They support also closing the gun show loophole so that gun shows can continue uninterrupted without being magnets for criminals and/or terrorists who try to get around the law.
If there is a gun show loophole, a terrorist could simply go to one State, go into the gun show, buy a gun without the kind of ground check normal in the process, leave that gun show, travel to another State, and engage in either criminal or terrorist activity or both.
Let's be honest about what we are facing today. The opposition to this commonsense gun safety law is being driven by the powerful NRA special interest leadership and by lobbyists in Washington. I don't believe this is the voice of responsible gun owners across America.
Gun owners in America want to defend their families, and I believe the NRA leadership is defending the indefensible. There is a gap between America's "Field & Stream" gun owners and the NRA's "Soldier of Fortune" leaders.
When he ran for President in 2000, President Bush promised the American people he would work to renew the assault weapons ban. But now, under pressure, he is walking away from that commitment, as he has from so many other promises-from education, to the environment, to the economy. This President says he will sign this giveaway to the gun industry, but he is refusing to sign the assault weapons ban he told America he would support.
I believe gun owners have a responsibility, and so does the President of the United States-a responsibility to keep his word, a responsibility to do what he says he will do, a responsibility to protect Americans from danger, and to provide for the common defense.
There is a reason every major law enforcement and police group in America supports this ban. They know no police officer should ever have to face the prospect of being outgunned by the military-style assault weapons. No American citizen should have to live in fear of being gunned down by snipers, gang members, or even terrorists who wield assault weapons.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator's time has expired.
Mr. REID. Mr. President, is there any time left on our side?
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Four minutes.
Mr. REID. Mr. President, I yield the remaining time to the Senator from Massachusetts.
Mr. KERRY. I thank the distinguished leader.
President Bush needs to tell America's police officers why he is not standing on their side.
Today George Bush will celebrate the anniversary of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and I am glad the President joined us in that effort. But it will take more than a big, new bureaucracy to make America safer. Today airport screeners are being cut, air marshals are not getting trained, fire departments only have enough radios for about 50 percent of the firefighters, and almost two-thirds of our firehouses are shortchanged. The COPS funds have been eliminated in order to fund the President's tax cuts for the wealthiest few. By taking cops off our streets with one hand, and allowing military-style assault weapons back on them with the other, this President is jeopardizing the safety of our communities. It is wrong to do so, to pay for more tax breaks for billionaires and pay back more favors to a special interest lobbying group.
Let me just say one word quickly about the overall issue of liability itself. I am not for, and I do not think any reasonable person is for, a gun manufacturer being held liable for a murder that takes place in the life of America, unfortunately too often. But what we do know is about 1.2 percent or so of gun dealers and wholesalers are responsible for about 57 percent of the weapons that wind up in the hands of criminals. There are many "straw" transactions that take place in situations where manufacturers know who the problem dealers are.
To not have a wanton-and-reckless-conduct standard for liability is to avoid responsibility; it is to allow people to look the other way, as they have in the past, when we demand responsible actions in the communities of America.
I believe American gun owners are right to act responsibly and to live by common sense, and I am proud to stand with those gun owners today. I hope President Bush, the NRA leadership, and other lobby groups will reverse course and join the millions of Americans who know gun rights and gun responsibilities are mainstream American values, and that is what we should vote for in the Senate.
I thank the leader for the extra time.