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Mr. THOMPSON of California. Madam Speaker, I rise to call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join with us and pass the bipartisan legislation to strengthen Federal penalties for straw purchasing of firearms. I'm a hunter and a gun owner, and I believe strongly in the Second Amendment. I support law-abiding Americans' right to own firearms, and nothing in this legislation infringes upon that right. This bill simply helps keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals who cannot legally buy guns on their own.
I chair the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. Our task force has developed a comprehensive set of policy principles that will help reduce gun violence. To develop these principles, we met with virtually everyone who had an interest on this issue: Republicans, Democrats, the NRA, gun owners and gun safety groups, mental health experts, educational leaders, people from the video game and movie industries, hunting and sportsman's groups, law enforcement leaders, and the Vice President of the United States. Out of these meetings, one of the principles we developed dealt specifically with strengthening penalties for gun trafficking and for straw purchasing. This is something we should all be able to agree on.
At a hearing yesterday held by my colleague and friend, Mr. Cummings from Maryland, and one of his cosponsors, Mrs. Maloney from New York, we heard testimony from New York City fireman Ted Scardino. Mr. Scardino was wounded and two of his fellow firemen were killed when a gunman lured them to a house that that gunman had set on fire and then started shooting at them. The shooter had his neighbor buy the gun for him because he could not pass a background check.
Mr. Scardino said yesterday:
Putting a gun in someone's hand that isn't supposed to have one must be stopped.
So let's pass this bipartisan bill and let's stop it.
I now yield to my colleague and good friend from Maryland, the author of this legislation and a leader on this issue, Mr. Cummings.
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Mr. THOMPSON of California. I thank the gentleman.
I appreciate the fact that you provide clarity on the one issue, and that is that the critics of anything we try and do to prevent gun violence repeatedly state, Just enforce the laws that are on the books. Here, this gun trafficking proposal that you and Mrs. Maloney have introduced is, I think, illustrative of the fact that sometimes you actually need other laws. Because there are no laws on the books to prevent against something that leads to the tragedies that we heard about in your hearing yesterday and that, sadly, the folks in this New York area and the families of these slain individuals will have to live with for the rest of their life.
I can't emphasize enough: there is no dedicated law on the book that prohibits trafficking of guns. People are trafficking in guns, and they are used to kill people. We have an opportunity, and I commend you and Mrs. Maloney for not only your dedication and your effort to bring this to an end, but the fact that you've reached out across party lines. You have a bipartisan coalition; you have bipartisan authorship of this bill recognizing that we've got to bring this to a stop.
The only sad commentary that I have is one of our brave colleagues who was willing to stand up and take a position on this bill to prevent criminals from getting guns, has been under attack by some who have just mischaracterized his position, mischaracterized his dedication, mischaracterized his motives, and mischaracterized the bill that all of you are working so hard on.
So thank you for being here tonight, And thank you very much for your tireless effort in bringing closure to this issue.
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Mr. THOMPSON of California. I thank the gentlelady for her dedication, for her hard work on this, and for her taking time to be here tonight to talk about this.
You raised the issue and praised those on the other side of the aisle, many of whom have experience--one Member from Virginia, who is an NRA member, one from Pennsylvania, who is, I believe, a district attorney; extensive law enforcement background.
It's important that we have this type of across-the-aisle cooperation. As a matter of fact, the people of the United States of America, every one of us hears it every time we go home--we hear it in our townhall meetings, we can read it in our constituent mail, our friends tell us, our neighbors tell us: work together to solve the problems that we all face as Americans.
The fact that we have folks on the other side of the aisle coming forward to work together and then they're demonized and they're criticized for doing this, all Americans need to speak out against this. When something like this happens, we need to let everyone know that, no, we want our Members of Congress to work together to solve these problems that threaten our communities, threaten our children, threaten our grandchildren, and threaten our neighborhoods. It's very, very important to do that.
As the gentlewoman pointed out, I am a gun owner and I hunt, and I believe strongly in the Second Amendment. I'm not interested in giving my guns up, and I'm not going to ask any other law-abiding citizen to give their guns up. At the same time, I'm a father and I'm a grandfather, and my kids and my children deserve to live in a safe community. Two of my sons are first responders. One is a firefighter; another one is a deputy sheriff.
When I sat through your hearing yesterday and listened to the testimony of the wounded firefighter talk about his colleagues who were killed--called to respond to a community catastrophe, a house on fire--doing their job, doing what we ask these first responders to do--and they get there and they're ambushed by a sick deranged murderer who has a gun because somebody bought it for him, because it was illegal for him to buy it himself, he couldn't buy it himself. It was just terrible to relive this for the witnesses who were there and certainly eye opening for anyone who paid attention to what the possibilities are out there in any of our communities.
Madam Speaker, I would like to yield time to a new Member of our House--someone who has been doing outstanding work, vice-chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, someone who brought with her not only an interest and a passion for this, but also an incredible constituency, because it was in her district that Sandy Hook took place--the gentlewoman from Connecticut (Ms. Esty).
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Mr. THOMPSON of California. Thank you, Congresswoman Esty, and thank you for your work on the task force and for your work every day to make sure that we all come together to make our communities safer places to live, to work, to recreate, and to raise our families.
One of the things, one of the beautiful benefits of doing this work for me has been the honor I've had in not only working with great dedicated people, yourself included, but meeting some of your wonderful constituents. Their passion is on fire in Connecticut. I've met with them many times with you, sometimes alone. We got another glimpse of it yesterday, as you mentioned, when Team 26 rode into Washington, D.C., rode all the way from your district to Washington, D.C., to call on all of us to work together to pass these bills to make our communities safer. They're wonderful folks, they're dedicated, they're hardworking, and I can understand why after watching you and experiencing your leadership on this issue. So thank you very much for all that you are doing.
And I just want to remind folks that the American people want us to make our communities safer; they want us to pass sensible laws that will do this. And everyone will tell you we shouldn't allow criminals and the dangerously mentally ill to get firearms.
Well, how in the world can you do that if you don't do some just real commonsense steps to make sure that doesn't happen?
We're talking about a couple of them today--straw purchases and gun trafficking.
Who in the world could be opposed to stopping straw purchases? And that means just what it says. That means somebody buys a gun and gives it to somebody who's not allowed by law to own a gun, who is trafficking in guns, making a living, making a profit, making a business out of buying guns and then shipping them someplace, taking them someplace, introducing them to a community where they're going to be used for unlawful purposes. No one could possibly be against that.
Background checks is another one. As you know, our task force will be holding a hearing this Friday on background checks. Ninety-four percent of the American people believe we should pass background checks. Eighty-four percent of the NRA members think we should pass a background check bill. We're going to have an opportunity next week when I introduce legislation to put in place background checks for the American people to call their Representatives and let them know. This is important stuff. We need to have that check in place so people who are dangerously mentally ill, people who are criminals, if they try and buy a gun from someone selling that gun, it will be flagged if they're not allowed to have them and they'll be stopped, at least in that case. They may try and find other ways to do it, but it's incumbent upon us to do everything we can to make sure that that doesn't happen again.
I'm now going to yield to my friend and colleague, the vice chair of the task force, the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Scott).
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Mr. THOMPSON of California. I thank the gentleman for being here tonight and for his leadership.
Madam Speaker, I'll end where I started. As I said, we have to come together to work on these issues. These are the issues that the American people want us to find solutions for. Let's close these loopholes, make sure that illegal gun activity doesn't take place, and protect the Second Amendment. You know I'm four-square on that, and we'll do everything we can to make sure that that happens. These are commonsense issues, and we should find cooperation across the aisle.
As I said, I'll end where I started. I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join together and to pass these bills that both protect our Second Amendment rights and help make our communities safer places in which to live, work, play, and raise our families.
Madam Speaker, thank you, and I yield back the balance of my time.