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CBC Hour: A Culture of Violence

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. FUDGE. The Congressional Black Caucus, better known as the CBC, is proud to anchor this hour. My name is Marcia Fudge, and I represent the 11th Congressional District of Ohio, and I'm currently the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. CBC Members stand firm as the voice of the people and as the conscience of the Congress. We are dedicated to providing focused services to the citizens who elected us to these offices.

Tonight, the CBC will focus its attention on the culture of violence. With no end in sight, the culture of violence continues to permeate and define our society, Mr. Speaker. We cannot hide from it. It is everywhere we go.

Merriam-Webster defines an epidemic as ``something affecting or tending to affect a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community, or region at the same time.'' It is clear the culture of violence is an American epidemic. It is time for us to face the music.

We are complicit in the violence that takes place in our Nation if we fail to strengthen our gun laws, if we fail to invest more resources into our mental health services, and address the issue of bullying. We must take meaningful and immediate action to eradicate the culture of violence in our country.

Mr. Speaker, this evening I am joined by a number of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and I now yield to the gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Danny Davis.


Ms. FUDGE. Thank you so much. I thank the gentleman. I certainly am pleased to know how supportive you are of efforts to make this a safer country for our young people.

Mr. Speaker, each year, in its Uniform Crime Report, the FBI compiles a list of the cities with the most murders per capita. According to the most recent report, which uses data from 2011, there were over 3,300 murders that occurred in just 15 cities. There were 515 murders in New York City in 2011; 431 in Chicago, Illinois; 344 in Detroit, Michigan; 324 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 297 in Los Angeles, California; 200 in New Orleans, Louisiana; 198 in Houston, Texas; 196 in Baltimore, Maryland; 133 in Dallas, Texas; 117 in Memphis, Tennessee; 116 in Phoenix, Arizona; 113 in St. Louis, Missouri; 108 in Washington, D.C.; 108 in Kansas City, Missouri; and 104 in Oakland, California.

Now, some people may think that violence is only prevalent in urban America, but that is just not true. Recent mass murders have occurred in places like Tucson, Arizona; Aurora, Colorado; Oak Creek, Wisconsin; and Newtown, Connecticut. Violence is truly all around us. It is at our movie theaters, our shopping centers, colleges, places of worship, and even our elementary schools.

During the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, a gunman took the lives of 26 people, including 20 children as young as the age of 5. The victims of this heinous crime were killed at a place that we all consider to be safe.

Since 1982, there have been more than 60 mass murders carried out with firearms across this country. We have had 19 mass shootings in the last 5 years alone. That is a rate of more than one every 4 months. The uptick in these types of crimes should be enough to push our Nation forward on reassessing our gun laws. Unfortunately, our country appears to be at a standstill. Each year, 30,000 Americans lose their lives as a result of gunfire, and about 80,000 Americans were wounded in that same period of time.

The number of gun crimes continues to be high; and yet, we, as a Nation, are hesitant to take immediate action to address this issue.

Thirty-three Americans are murdered with guns every single day. Our Nation has the distinction of having the highest rate of firearm violence in the world.

Proponents of gun rights say that there is an absolute right to bear arms. Mr. Speaker, I disagree. All rights are subject to reasonable restrictions. One can support the Second Amendment while also advocating for policies that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and other dangerous people. We must act immediately on creating a comprehensive, national gun policy that eliminates loopholes in the laws, bans assault weapons, and places limits on high-capacity magazines.

Under current Federal law, background checks are only required for gun sales at licensed dealers. According to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, approximately 6.6 million guns are sold each year in America by unlicensed private sellers. That translates to 40 percent of all U.S. gun sales. These transactions typically occur online or at gun shows without the buyer having to pass a background check.

Federal law carves out a broad exception for private gun sellers who only make what are called ``occasional sales'' or who sell from a ``personal collection.'' What is problematic about this is that there's no set standard for what is considered an ``occasional'' sale.

In a national survey of inmates--listen to this--in a national survey of inmates conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, it was found that nearly 80 percent of those who used a handgun in a crime acquired it in a private transfer. In another troubling statistic, a 2009 New York City undercover investigation at seven gun shows in three States found that 63 percent of private sellers at those shows were willing to sell to someone who admitted that he couldn't pass a background check.

The private-sale loophole has made it far too easy for criminals to exploit the system to obtain guns. For example, in October 2012, Radcliffe Haughton was able to purchase a gun from a private seller even though he was federally prohibited from doing so. His wife had initiated a restraining order against him. He used the gun that he purchased online to go to a spa where his wife worked. He killed her and two other people and injured four other people before killing himself.

Requiring uniform, criminal background checks for every gun sale is something that has garnered broad support. A 2012 survey by Republican pollster Frank Luntz revealed that 82 percent of gun owners, including 74 percent of National Rifle Association members, support requiring criminal background checks for potential gun owners. This is a prime example of a sensible gun regulation that should be implemented now.

Failing to fully enforce current laws can be just as bad as not having any laws at all, Mr. Speaker. Since its creation in 1999, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, better known as NICS, has prevented more than 1.7 million permit applications and gun sales to felons. The seriously mentally ill and drug abusers have also been stopped in some instances. But despite its success, NICS has a number of gaps and limitations that still enable firearms to be sold to dangerous people. Many prohibited purchasers are able to get their hands on guns because NICS is missing millions of relevant records due to lax reporting by State and Federal agencies.

Twenty-three States and the District of Columbia have submitted fewer than 100 mental health records to NICS--100. Seventeen States have submitted fewer than 10 mental health records, and four States have not submitted any mental health records at all. State substance abuse records have always been significantly underreported. Forty-four States have submitted fewer than 10 records to the Federal database, and 33 States have not submitted any records at all.

Federal agencies have also dragged their feet in fulfilling their reporting responsibilities. Despite being required to do so, many Federal agencies have shared very few mental health records. Only nine of the 60 Federal agencies listed in relevant FBI data have submitted any mental health records.

Incomplete records have allowed dangerous killers to purchase guns. In 2007, Seung Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people at Virginia Tech before taking his own life. Cho had been found mentally ill by a judge; and, as a result, he should have been prohibited from buying a gun. He was able to slip through the cracks and pass a background check at a licensed gun dealer because his mental health records were never submitted to NICS. It is clear that our background check system is broken and needs to be fixed.

The prevalence of assault weapons is another issue that raises great concern for me. These military-style

weapons with high-capacity magazines tend to be the weapon of choice in mass shootings and police murders. Those kinds of weapons have been used to inflict the greatest amount of pain in the shortest amount of time.

In a study of high-profile shootings over the past 4 years, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has found that at least one-third of those shootings involved assault weapons and/or high-capacity magazines.

They were used in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012, to kill 26 people; in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, on August 5 to kill six people and wound three others; in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012, to kill 12 people and injure 58 others; in Tucson, Arizona, on January 8, 2011, to kill six people and wound 13 others; in Fort Hood, Texas, on November 5, 2009, to kill 13 people and wound 34 others; and in Binghamton, New York, on April 3, 2009, to kill 13 people and injure four others.

Assault weapons are also a threat to our local law enforcement. On June 8, 2009, in Chesapeake, Virginia, a gunman shot two police officers with a semiautomatic AK-47 assault weapon, firing at least 30 rounds.

In St. Louis, Missouri, on January 7, 2010, Timothy Hendron entered the ABB, Inc. factory with two handguns, a shotgun, and a semiautomatic AK-47 rifle with high-capacity ammunition magazines. He fired approximately 115 rounds, killing three and wounding five before taking his own life. After the shooting, the police chief of St. Louis, Daniel Isom, said:

Our officers didn't have sufficient weapons systems to engage a person with an AK-47.

On January 26, 2011, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, a police officer was ambushed by a teenager who fired a semiautomatic weapon 26 times. Responding to the crime, Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty stated:

There are just more and more assault rifles out there, and it is becoming a bigger threat to law enforcement each day. They are outgunned.

Reinstating the assault weapon ban must be a priority for our Nation. It is estimated that there are nearly 18 million assault weapons in circulation in the United States. A 2010 survey by the Police Executive Research Forum revealed that there has been an increase in criminal use of assault weapons since the Federal ban expired in 2004. Thirty-seven percent of police agencies have reported noticeable increases.

Weapons with the ability to carry out such deadly force do not belong on our streets, Mr. Speaker. There is no justification for the use of these weapons anywhere but on the battlefield for which they were designed. I firmly support banning assault weapons of all types.

A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines has been endorsed by several organizations, including Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Major Cities Chiefs Association, the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Police Executive Research Forum, the Police Foundation, and the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

The culture of violence doesn't necessarily start with guns. It can often be traced back to mental health concerns and bullying.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's 2009 national survey on drug use and health, there were an estimated 45.1 million U.S. adults living with a mental illness. That is 20 percent of all American adults. Sadly, only 17 million of these adults received services to address their illness. A significant number of the country's inmates also have mental health problems. According to the Department of Justice's 2004 survey of inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities and its 2002 surveys in local jails, nearly 45 percent of all inmates in Federal prison have a mental health problem; over 55 percent of the inmates in State prison have a mental health problem; and nearly 65 percent of inmates in local jails have a mental problem.

We cannot continue to ignore the fact that we need to do more to address the issue of mental health. Turning our back on this problem will not make it go away.

The issue of bullying has become rampant in our society. Too many of our children are being bullied during and after school and on the Internet. According to Stomp Out Bullying, it is estimated that one out of four teens is bullied during their lifetime. Fifty-eight percent of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 40 percent say it has happened to them more than once. Fifty-three percent of kids admit having said something mean or hurtful to another person online, and more than one in three has done it more than once. Fifty-eight percent have not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that happened to them online.

Many believe that bullying is a right of passage. I'm here to tell you that it is not. Bullying is intentional, it is cruel, and abusive. It can set the tone for a lifetime of hurt. Many people are never the same after being bullied. Depression, anxiety, and many other psychological problems can result from bullying. Some turn to substance abuse, even suicide.

Bullying is no joking matter. It is not something to be taken lightly. We must inform our children of the consequences of bullying. We must be attentive and listen to their cries for help. How many of our children need to fall victim to this cruel behavior before we are moved to act? We must address this issue now.

Mr. Speaker, as I close, it is very clear that we live in a culture of violence. The culture of violence has ravaged our communities, taking the lives of innocent Americans, ripping apart American families, and destroying families along the way. We must act now because our Nation is depending on us. Anyone who believes that it is okay to use a gun in an open theater is not really thinking very rationally. Someone who believes that you can put a police officer at every single entrance into a school is really not thinking very rationally.

We have to do something. No matter what our personal beliefs are, we are all here to work for the American public, not ourselves. We may have a personal opinion as to what should be done about guns, but the people of America are speaking, and we need to listen to them.

With that, I yield back the balance of my time.


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