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Public Statements

Gun Safety

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. TESTER. Mr. President, I would like to thank the Senators from West Virginia and Pennsylvania. I rise to talk about the Toomey-Manchin amendment, knowing this is not an end-all when it comes to violence in America.

We have to do some things that revolve around mental health, mental illness, how we treat that, how we move forward in ways that make sense for folks who believe strongly in the second amendment, but also believe in how we make our communities safer. So whether it is the Toomey-Manchin amendment or whether it is some other amendment that may came up during this debate, or whether it is an amendment that deals with mental health and how we treat it and how we get professionals out there on the ground, this is a very important issue for folks in this country.

The second amendment is very important. I now want to give a little bit of background, which most of the Senators know. I come from a farming background. My grandparents came to our farm a little over 100 years ago. When my folks took the place over, my dad set up a custom butcher shop. For 20 years my wife Sharla and I ran that custom butcher shop. That means every morning, literally every morning, I would get up and we would go knock down a beef or a pork with a gun.

I literally made a good portion of my living on the farm with a gun. It was a tool. It was a way that kept us on the farm. It was a way that kept our farm economically viable. But you do not have to be a butcher to know the value of a gun. In Montana, we have sports men and women who literally start hunting at a very early age and know how to handle a gun. They know responsible gun ownership when they see it. They know irresponsible gun ownership when they see that too.

Right now, anybody can go out and buy a gun. In some States where the national instant crime background check is not very good, literally anybody, whether they have a criminal record or history of violent mental illness, can go out and buy a gun. I think what we are trying to do, what Senators Manchin and Toomey are trying to do with this amendment is to make the second amendment stronger for the people who are law-abiding gun owners but yet trying to keep guns out of the hands of folks who cannot handle them in a responsible way, and have a record of that--a court-adjudicated record.

As we move forward and talk about the things this bill does positively and negatively, I want to tell you, I have read it forwards and backwards. I have talked to folks. I can tell you this makes my second amendment rights stronger. For that I thank you.

Here is how it does it: My second amendment rights are only put at risk by people who use guns in an improper way. This bipartisan agreement makes sure we protect that second amendment for responsible gun owners, not just in a willy-nilly way, by the way. This clearly defines what irresponsible gun ownership is. It fixes the underlying bill that, quite frankly, I moved to move forward on. But without this amendment I could not support it.

It does some positive things like lets gun dealers sell firearms across State lines at gun shows. That is new. It improves the process by which someone can get their rights restored. This is a big one for me. We have veterans returning from Iran and Afghanistan, by the way, who need treatment, can go get treatment. This bill does not impact them whatsoever.

On the other hand, if somebody has a serious problem, gets put on a list, they have the ability through this law to be able to get off that list once they prove they can handle that gun ownership responsibly. There has been a lot of talk about gun registries. This bill prohibits it from the Department of Justice. The way the world is right now I think it is fair to say nothing changes: No gun registry now. No gun registry after this amendment is passed. In fact, this strictly prohibits it when it comes to the Department of Justice.

There are protections in here for veterans to make sure they are treated fairly by the system. I serve on the Veterans' Affairs Committee. Montana has the second most per capita number of veterans in the country. It is important--it was true in Vietnam, but especially with Iraq and Afghanistan--that these folks are able to get the treatment they need without impacting their second amendment rights. I think we are clear on that. It does not impact them in a negative way.

If you want to give a gun to your son or daughter or you want to sell it to your neighbors or friends, there is no background check required. Active military can buy a gun in their home State or the station where they are, not just their duty station. It allows for a concealed carry permit to be used in lieu of a background check. But the bottom line is it does not impact my second amendment rights whatsoever.

I was on the tractor this weekend seeding a few peas and a little bit of barley. On the radio came a show called ``Tradio,'' where if you have something you want to sell, you put it on the radio. One of the things that was being sold was a .308 rifle. Under this bill, if I put a .308 rifle on the radio, and Patrick Toomey calls me and says he wants to buy that gun, I can. Patrick Toomey is a friend of mine. We can sell it; no background check.

But if someone I do not know calls, then we whip down to the local store, do a quick background check, which takes--well, I will ask Senator Manchin from West Virginia. How long does a background check typically take on an individual buying a gun?


Mr. TESTER. Exactly. So you zip down to the local gun store, wherever it might be in your town, do the background check. Then you do not have to worry about if, in fact, that person has a criminal past or is severely, violently mentally ill. It will be there. There is also language in this bill that if a State is not putting information in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, money is pulled back.

In the State of Montana, I believe it is about 10 percent. In the State of Montana, that is serious dollars. It is well over $100,000 to be pulled back.

Would the Senator from West Virginia like to talk about the thinking that went into that and how this could impact the background checks?


Mr. TESTER. Well, the bottom line is, I think this puts into effect real incentives to keep this National Instant Criminal Background Check System database up to snuff.

There is also a Commission on Mass Violence in this bill, which I think is good policy as we move forward, as we find almost on a daily basis some incident which has happened and is unacceptable.

The bottom line--and I know the Senator has talked about this a lot during the presentation of his bill. He has spoken about something called common sense. This would ensure when we do a background check it actually is a background check. This bill will not solve all the violence problems in this country, not even close. Is it a step in the right direction while protecting my second amendment rights? Yes, it is.

Does it take away my guns? Does it stop my ability to go out and buy any guns I could buy today? No, it does not.

Does it have any impact on things like assault rifles or big, large magazine clips? No, it does not.

What it does is once the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is up to snuff, it will contain people who have a history of violence who used guns improperly. It will prevent people who are violently mentally ill from going out there and purchasing a gun.

If we are able to work together in a bipartisan way, as the Senator from West Virginia and the Senator from Pennsylvania have done, hopefully, we may move forward with some issues and policies which deal with mental health in this country, an issue we have not dealt with well as a society, or the stigma associated with it. If we can do this there are other amendments we may potentially put on this bill as we move forward.

If the amendments have commonsense backing and protect the second amendment, we should take a hard look at them and have a debate on those also. The bottom line is I want my second amendment rights protected. I want law-abiding citizens in this country to be able to continue to purchase firearms. I want my kids to be able to do that, my grandkids to be able to do that. I think this bill ensures that. I thank the sponsors for their hard work.

I yield for the Senator from West Virginia.


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