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Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013 - Motion to Proceed - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Madam President, in the midst of this momentous debate, truly one which will determine the future of the country, I rise on a matter of equal importance, in my view.

Today we welcomed to the Capitol 26 bicyclists, riders who left Saturday morning on this journey. This journey led them to travel the roads from Newtown, CT, to dramatize the importance of actions against gun violence in the United States.

I have said about Newtown that we saw on December 14 of last year enormous evil and depravity in the deaths of 20 beautiful, innocent children and 6 dedicated, courageous educators who literally perished trying to save the lives of those children. We saw evil that day in Connecticut, but we also saw enormous goodness and heroism in the educators who sought to save those children and the first responders who charged into the school. They did so not knowing what would befall them, what they would see, and thereby stopped the massacre.

The community came together in support of the families and all who were affected so deeply by that tragedy. This community has demonstrated enormous strength and courage over these months. It is an example of the quintessential values which make us proud to be an American.

The riders who came to the Capitol, who rode from Newtown on a rough and difficult journey, also showed something profoundly significant and important about Newtown as a community, as well as about themselves. They included as an honorary rider a parent of one of the victims, Chris McDonnell, who was at the departure, and his wife, Lynn, who was also there at the beginning, although she didn't ride.

They carried with them, those 26 riders, the memory of Grace McDonnell. As one of them said--, Monte Frank, who organized and led the effort--Grace was on their wheels. They carried with them the memory of Grace, but they also carried the hopes and hearts of America. Everywhere they went on that journey, people stopped them, thanked them and honored them, as I seek to do today here on the floor of the Senate.

I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record two letters, both written to the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the ranking member, along with Senators MURPHY and myself, letters written by Lynn and Chris McDonnell and a separate letter written by the families of some of those victims.


Mr. BLUMENTHAL. These letters summarize the reason for their journey in very specific terms, stating:

In the midst of our anguish we have learned about the dangerous loopholes in the Nation's gun laws, and we are compelled to speak out to save others from suffering what we have endured. We are writing today to express our deep conviction and support for the President's plan to reduce gun violence in America.

Specifically, we are asking Members of Congress to:

1. Require a criminal background check for every gun sold in America that includes a review of all disqualifying records and meaningful recordkeeping for all sales--in the same manner that federally licensed dealers are currently required;

2. Ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines; and

3. Make gun trafficking a Federal crime, with real penalties for straw purchasers.

The epidemic of injury and death from gun violence is a plague on America, especially since the toll it takes on our families is preventable.

The letters go on.

As I told them when they arrived, an event which was electric, literally in the shadow of the Capitol, their journey sent a message. Very simply, all of us who believe we must stop a scourge and epidemic of gun violence, all of us must keep on pedaling. We must do as they did. Even though our road, like theirs, may be rough and uphill at times, we need to keep on pedaling and working. Never give up. We need to keep faith with those victims and their families, the 26 victims of that massacre at Sandy Hook. When they rode to Congress, their message to us is we need to keep faith with those victims and assure Newtown never happens again. If it happened in Newtown, it can happen anywhere in America. It is not just a mass shooting which is involved, it is the 2,500 people who have been victims of gun violence since December 14, all around Connecticut, all around the Nation, not only in communities such as Newtown, the quintessential New England town, but on the streets of Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, in neighborhoods, in big cities, rural areas, and suburban towns.

Team 26 is really Team Connecticut and Team America. It brings those values, courage, and strength Newtown had shown to Congress. Congress needs to heed and hear the country, just as people on their route honored Team 26. The American people believe we must do something about gun violence in America. They believe overwhelmingly, the polls show 80, 90 percent on all of these issues. They want action from this Congress.

As the President of the United States said to all of us in his State of the Union, the American people want a vote. The victims' families from Tucson, Virginia Tech, and Aurora deserve a vote. This is why Team 26 made this journey, and why they embody the conscience of America. The letters they have written to Senators here call for action on measures which are common sense and common ground. We can reach a bipartisan compromise if we recognize the carnage, death, and destruction that is the result of gun violence in America.

These measures are law enforcement tools. Background checks enable enforcement of existing laws, the prohibition against criminals, drug addicts, domestic abusers, and the seriously mentally ill from purchasing guns, not just from federally licensed dealers. Background checks are necessary to enforce that law, just as is the prohibition on purchase of ammunition by those same categories of people. Likewise, the Federal ban on illegal trafficking and straw purchases is necessary to enforce existing prohibition. We have work to do.

I want to conclude by thanking those who are all family, who have stood strong and spoken out. Every time they do, it is with grief and pain. Anyone who spent time with them--and I have been privileged to spend hours and hours, days, over these past months with those families, as well as first responders, who still bear the scars, emotional scars, which are deeply felt.

I have great admiration for their courage and strength. I hope this body will take heart from it and will take their leadership as a message we must act, we must vote, we must do something about gun violence in America.

I am proud to welcome Team 26.

I ask unanimous consent the full list of all riders and their support group be printed in the Record.


Mr. BLUMENTHAL. I wish to briefly thank my great colleague and friend for those remarks stated so eloquently. I could not agree more. Mental health has to be part of a comprehensive strategy, as does school safety. No single measure for gun violence control can do it alone.

That is why I began by referring to the momentous debate we are having today about the future of initiatives such as mental health. And I join in challenging the NRA--for all its opposition, staunch and steadfast, against any measure trying to stem or stop gun violence in America--to join in seeking common ground on mental health initiatives and other measures that are common sense. I urge gun owners--responsible people who enjoy recreation and hunting--as well as others who are intent on stopping violence in America to support these mental health services for diagnosis and treatment. That is why I have joined in those measures as well for the Judiciary Committee and the HELP Committee.

But I really wish to thank the Senator from Maryland for her incomparable and invaluable leadership on this issue.

I thank the Chair.


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