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

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, yesterday I had the solemn privilege of meeting with some of the families who lost loved ones in the Sandy Hook shooting. As a father, I can hardly begin to comprehend the enormous grief these individuals have suffered, losing such a young child or a spouse or a mother in an act of what would appear to be just senseless violence. Burying your child is something no parent should have to do.

The families and friends of the victims at Sandy Hook are owed the dignity and respect of a transparent, good-faith effort to address gun violence. I do believe there is common ground upon which Republicans and Democrats can come together. The issue of mental health of the gun owner is that common ground for me, along with enforcing current laws that are on the books.

If there is one thread that connects the horrific series of gun violence episodes in our country, particularly in recent times, it is the mental illness of the shooter. In every case, the perpetrator's mental illness should have been detected. In some instances it was detected but not reported. These individuals should never be allowed access to a gun. This is actually something we can and should do something about. We need to make sure the mentally ill are getting the help they need, not guns. As I said, this is something I believe all of us can agree on.

In response to the tragedy at Virginia Tech in 2007, the Senate and the Congress unanimously passed a measure to bolster mental health reporting requirements on background checks.

Some States, such as mine, Texas, have received high marks for their compliance. But many States have essentially been noncompliant, and the Department of Justice has failed to adequately back implementation of the law. So essentially the law that we passed in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting to require reporting of people who are actually adjudicated mentally ill in their respective States is not working the way it should. Rather than string along an ineffective program, I think this is a wonderful opportunity for us to fix it. And we should fix it.

I want to say a word, though, about symbolism versus solutions. I am not interested in Congress voting on a measure that would have no impact on the horrific violence we have seen in recent months. I am not interested in a symbolic gesture which would offer the families of the Sandy Hook shooting no real solutions. They told me they are not political. They don't come with an agenda. They are not asking us to pass a specific piece of legislation. They just want to know that their loved one did not die in vain, and that something good can come out of this terrible tragedy.

So I think dealing with this mental health reporting issue is a common ground we could come together on. But we also need to make sure we are not just going to pass additional laws that will not be enforced. What possible solace could that be to these families, for Congress to pass additional laws that will never be enforced?

Take, for example, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System--the NIC system, as it is called--which flags people who lie on their background check. The annual number of cases referred for prosecution fell sharply during the first 2 years of the current President's term of office. Indeed, there was a 58-percent drop in referrals and a 70-percent drop in prosecutions for people who lie on the background check. We can fix this.

Let's make sure that guns aren't getting into the hands of people who we all agree should not have them. We could be doing this right now with broad bipartisan support.

Let me conclude with a couple of observations about where we find ourselves with an 11 o'clock vote on an underlying bill which remains controversial and which I think the majority leader and all of us know has very little chance, if any, of going anywhere.

We heard yesterday that our colleagues from West Virginia and Ohio have come together on a bipartisan background check bill. I asked my staff as recently as on my way over here whether the language had been released so we could actually read it and find out what is in it, and it has not. We have no commitment in front of the Senate by the majority leader that there will be a robust debate and amendment process, because there are a lot of amendments that need to be offered to whatever that so-far-unwritten bill says, I am sure. And we need to have a full, robust, transparent discussion of this issue in front of the American people.

So I am not going to vote to proceed to a bill that has not yet been written, no matter how well intentioned it may be. We need to make sure that what we do is address the cause of this violence, and to come up not with symbolic gestures that will have no impact or to pass other laws that will not be enforced but to come together with real solutions. Rather than put on a show and pat ourselves on the back and call it a day, let's do something good to make sure we have done everything in our human capacity to prevent another Sandy Hook. This is what these families want. This is what they deserve. And this is what the American people deserve.

This calls on the Senate to exercise its historic and its central role in bringing all sides together to try to come up with solutions. But if we can't do that here, if we can't do that now, when will we ever address this tragedy?

The President has told some of these victims' families that this side of the aisle doesn't care about their loss. That is not true. That is false. The President is wrong. All of us care about these families. All of us should care about violence in our communities, and we should try to work together to find ways to address this--not in a symbolic sort of way but in a real way that offers a solution and maybe a little bit of progress on this issue that would allow these families to say, no, my loved one did not die in vain; something good came out of this. We want to work together to find real solutions to this type of senseless, incomprehensible violence that has taken too many lives. I hope we will.

Mr. President, I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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