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Public Statements

Gun Violence

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. LEAHY. Madam President, 4 months after the horrific day in Newtown where 20 children and 6 educators were senselessly murdered, the Senate is posed to make further progress toward the goal of reducing gun violence. It is a goal that all Americans, regardless of political party or philosophy, should share. I don't know how any parent, any grandparent, or any relative ever gets over the horrific disaster of Newtown.

I thank our ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Grassley. He worked with us, and he favorably supported two of the measures reported by the Judiciary Committee last month. Senator Grassley helped make sure we had hearings that were substantive and that we had a schedule so we could vote.

I commend Senator Collins, who has been my partner as we have moved forward with legislation to combat illegal gun trafficking and straw purchasers who obtain firearms legally but then provide them to criminals and gangs. We have been joined in that bipartisan effort by Senators Durbin, Gillibrand, Kirk, Klobuchar, Franken, Blumenthal, Shaheen, and King.

Our bill is intended to give law enforcement better and more effective tools. A bipartisan majority of the Judiciary Committee voted for the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act, S. 54. It has provisions that are included in the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act, S. 649, which Majority Leader Reid placed on the Senate calendar just before the last recess and on which he has now moved to proceed.

Straw purchasers get around the purpose of the background check system. Straw purchasing of firearms is undertaken for just one reason: to get a gun into the hands of someone who is legally prohibited from having one.

We know that many guns used in criminal activities are acquired through straw purchases. It was a straw purchaser who enabled the brutal murders of two brave firefighters in Webster, NY, this past Christmas Eve, and it was a straw purchaser who provided firearms to an individual who murdered a police officer in Plymouth Township, PA, last September. Is it any wonder that law enforcement across this country says: Stop the straw purchasing. We are losing too many brave men and women in law enforcement, to say nothing about all the others who have been killed by drug and criminal cartels.

We need a meaningful solution to this serious problem. We have included suggestions from Senator Gillibrand to go after those who traffic in firearms by wrongfully obtaining two or more firearms. We worked hard to develop effective, targeted legislation to help combat a serious problem. We are doing it in a way that protects the second amendment rights of law-abiding Americans.

It was an ATF whistleblower who testified in the last Congress that the existing firearm laws are "toothless.'' We can create better law enforcement tools, and that is what we are doing with the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act. I urge all Senators to join with us and close this dangerous loophole in the law that Mexican drug cartels, gangs, and other criminals throughout our country have exploited for too long.

I wish to recognize the dedication and leadership of Senator Collins of Maine to confront the issue of gun violence. She is not a member of the Judiciary Committee, but she has been committed to finding commonsense solutions to the problems of gun violence. She has been dedicated in working with me to address the concerns of other Senators. She and I share a deep respect for the second amendment. We also agree our laws can be improved to give law enforcement officials the tools they need, and she has been a steadfast partner.

Our bill protects second amendment rights of lawful gun owners, but at the same time it cracks down on criminals. It also cracks down on the people who assist criminals. It doesn't create a national firearms registry, it doesn't place additional burdens on law-abiding gun owners or purchasers, but it does send a very clear message that those who buy a gun on behalf of a criminal or member of a drug cartel or domestic abuser will be held accountable. That is why law enforcement says: Pass this bill. Give those of us in law enforcement who are on the frontlines the tools we need.

Some have expressed frustration about the level of prosecution under existing gun laws. Some have suggested that instead of making sensible changes to our public safety laws to prevent gun violence, Federal law enforcement officials should focus exclusively on existing laws. I share some of that frustration, but it is not a valid excuse to do nothing. Improvements in the enforcement of existing laws and efforts to give law enforcement officials better tools to do their jobs are not mutually exclusive. Those are efforts that complement each other.

A recent article in the Washington Times documented that gun prosecutions were in decline beginning in the Bush administration and suggests that having a Senate-confirmed Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would significantly help law enforcement.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that a copy of the article be printed in the Record at the conclusion of my statement.


Mr. LEAHY. As I said in January, America is looking to us for solutions, for action, not sloganeering, demagoguery, or partisanship. That is why it is disappointing to hear that some Senators pledge to prevent Senate consideration of these proposals by a filibuster. It is especially disappointing that some who claim to support regular order and a transparent legislative process accord that process no deference.

Mr. President, there are only 100 of us who have the privilege to serve at any given time in this wonderful body. We represent 325 million Americans. How can we talk to those Americans and say: We won't even vote. We won't even let it come to a vote. We don't have the guts to stand up and vote yes or no.

Tell that to the families in Newtown, CT. Tell that to the families in Aurora, CO. Tell that to the people of the United States, that the Senate is not willing to stand up and vote either yes or no; they want to vote maybe.

I am a gun owner. I live in a State with a lot of gun owners. I have the courage to stand here and vote. I want to vote. Some will agree with my votes, some will disagree, but this Senator feels it is part of his sworn duty to vote--vote yes, vote no, but vote.

In the Judiciary Committee, we held three public hearings and four public markups on this legislation. We gave them full and fair consideration. We debated and considered amendments-- Democratic and Republican amendments. The distinguished Presiding Officer is a member of that committee. He knows the debate we had and the votes we held. What a filibuster would do now is obstruct the open process of the Senate consideration of gun violence prevention legislation, and it is wrong. It is absolutely wrong. It demeans the Senate, and it turns our backs on 325 million Americans who expect better.

I have worked with Senator Collins and others to provide a real-world and commonsense solution to the problem of gun trafficking and straw purchasing. That is the course I urge the Senate to take. Let's go forward and vote. Vote yes, vote no, but vote. Have the courage to vote. Don't turn our backs on the families who have suffered so much.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that my full statement be printed in the Record.


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