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Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Madam President, I join my other colleagues in thanking the Senators who joined us in the vote earlier today. My profound thanks go to all who voted among the 68 to enable this debate to go forward, to provide and permit debate and votes in coming days, and to enable the families of Newtown to have a vote; to enable the victims of Tucson and Virginia Tech and Aurora and Oak Ridge to have a vote.

Voting is what we are sent here to do. The American people hold us accountable when we have votes. Votes enable us to be held accountable and those votes will take place. The vote today is exciting and encouraging and energizing, but it is only a first step. The critical test and profoundly significant steps will be next week when we vote on the bipartisan compromise that our colleagues have fashioned, that Senators Manchin and Toomey have together forged on national criminal background checks.

That is not necessarily as strong as many of us might have preferred. That is not a final or ultimate result on this issue for all time. But it is a solid foundation and a path forward to enable more bipartisan compromise, more momentum and impetus.

The brave families from Newtown who were part of this discussion this week deserve our thanks as well. They turned the tide. They faced our colleagues in meetings, visit after visit, conversation after conversation--painful, demanding, grief-stricken in recalling those hours after that horrific, unspeakable tragedy. As one who arrived there within hours of the shooting, I saw, firsthand, their unimaginable pain and grief as they came out of the Sandy Hook firehouse after learning for the first time that their babies would not return; loved ones, teachers, educators perishing while trying to save their children in their care.

Those families came to Washington to tell their stories and advocate for change so that others would be spared that same experience, so that others would be spared the same fate as the 3,300 who have died since Newtown and the horror they and their families experienced.

Just 4 months ago the conventional wisdom was that gun violence legislation would never go anywhere in the Congress. In fact, gun violence was politically untouchable. Just days ago, 60 votes was thought to be unreachable as a goal. The fact is the political landscape is changing seismically as we speak. As we deliberate, minds are changing. Voices are piercing that conventional wisdom. The courage and compassion of the Newtown families have disproved and completely defeated the pundits, the conventional wisdom, the prognosticators who said it could not be done.

The world watched that tragedy on December 14 at Newtown. I said on that evening at the vigil at St. Rose of Lima Church: The world is watching Newtown.

Indeed, the world watched Newtown, and today the world watched the Senate as it took this historic, and for many of our colleagues a courageous, brave step.

Today we kept faith with those families and the victims of that tragedy in a first step to finally do something about gun violence. Now we must continue working, taking nothing for granted, avoiding complacency and overconfidence because every step is uphill when it comes to gun violence.

I thank particularly two of my colleagues, Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, because they stepped forward from States that may not be as receptive to what they have done as others, but they deserve the thanks and gratitude of their States in their statesmanship in supporting and forging this compromise.

I will continue to support and work for a truly universal background check system, but this bipartisan compromise represents significant progress. It is a vast improvement over current law. It will make sure that a lot fewer criminals get their hands on guns.

It will make our streets and schools safer.

On the morning of December 14, I--along with Senator Murphy--pledged to do everything I could to make sure more parents will not have to bury their children because of preventable gun violence. Expanded background checks are part of that pledge, and we are helping to fulfill it by supporting it. This is only part of a bigger and more comprehensive solution to this problem, but this compromise is a good starting point for next week's debate on gun violence.

We have talked a lot about Newtown and the victims who have evoked our most powerful grief, breaking our hearts, and evoking memories of our own children at that age. As I said, I went to Newtown as a public official, but what I saw was through the eyes of a parent. Other victims of loved ones evoke the same memories.

Today, I wish to evoke the memory of another tragedy that many of us in Connecticut remember well. It happened at Hartford Distributors, which is just outside Hartford.

On a beautiful morning, August 2, 2010--and a lot of what I am going to summarize comes from this great newspaper account which appeared in the Hartford Courant shortly thereafter.

As the Courant reported:

In three minutes on that bright summer morning, Thornton executed eight men, shooting them all from behind and laughing at one point as he chased down a wounded victim.

Thornton went into a kitchenette near the office, saying that he wanted a drink of water. He pulled a pistol from his lunch pail and shot operations director Louis Felder. Hollander said he heard Felder yell: ``Omar, you can't!'' followed by loud bangs.

Hollander was hit by one of the bullets that passed through Felder. As he crawled into his father's office--

Hartford Distributors is owned by the Hollander family.

Hollander heard Cirigliano yell--``Omar, no! Omar, no!'' Thornton shot Cirigliano twice, once in the back of the head and once in the forehead.

He systematically executed another six people after those two, and then he killed himself.

The victims that day were men who came to work every day and had families. They came to work expecting to come home at the end of the day. Their families expected them to come home. They were men who had worked in that place for many years by dint of their sweat and backbreaking labor. They had come to a place in their lives where they could enjoy it. They had enough financial security that they expected to enjoy it for some time. That day the killer deprived them of their future and their families' future as well.

Gun violence affects all of us in different ways. I have visited the memorial that was established for the brave men who died that day at Hartford Distributors. It is a quiet, peaceful place that is exquisitely and beautifully done. It evokes the memories of men who died while they were on the job because of a deranged individual who was, in fact, about to be fired.

Connecticut's experience with this kind of death extends to its own facility. The State lottery experienced a similar horrific and brutal slaying. The scene played out in seconds, which seemed to take an eternity, on a Friday morning.

It was a routine morning for dozens of State lottery office workers, and it turned into a nightmare of blood, fear, and betrayal. The shooter was named Matthew Beck, and he summarily executed men and women there that day. Connecticut remembers those State employees who provided public service day in and day out and were killed while they were at work. Again, they were working men and women who wanted nothing more than to go home safely that night.

My colleague, Chris Murphy, has recounted many stories. Many of the stories were about children. All of them had their future ahead of them. Their future ended brutally and horrifically because of gun violence.

We have taken a step today--a first step--hopefully followed by more steps next week.

I wish to end by thanking Members of this Chamber for giving us the opportunity to debate and vote and say to the American people we are willing to be held accountable.

The majority of American people want commonsense and sensible measures to end the violence on the streets, in our neighborhoods, and in our place of work, such as Hartford Distributors and the State lottery. We want to make sure the hard-working men and women who go to their jobs, play by the rules, and expect fairness have the opportunity to go home that night.

I thank this Chamber and the Members who voted today, and I hope those Members will join us in the future so we can make sure fewer victims perish as a result of this horrific epidemic in our country, gun violence.

Thank you.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.


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