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Public Statements

Commemorating Virginia Tech Shooting

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, let me first say I also am on the floor because today is April 16, the sixth anniversary of the horrible shootings at the campus of Virginia Tech. I think every Virginian and every American--I can say Virginians at least--remember when we first received those news reports of the violence perpetrated by Seung-Hui Cho.

I say to my colleague and friend, the Senator from Virginia, in the 33 years we have known each other I have valued his friendship and appreciate his intellect, grace, and knowledge. There was never a moment I was prouder of then-Governor Tim Kaine than those moments after the tragedy.

I don't know if in his comments he noted he had been on a trade mission in Asia when these incidents happened. He barely had landed when he turned around--he and his wife Anne--boarded a plane and came back with virtually no rest. As a Governor you bear these responsibilities in remarkable ways when Virginians are hurt, and in those days he spoke for all of us.

The words he said at the Virginia Tech campus in the ceremony afterward brought together the community and brought together our Commonwealth. In many ways he spoke for our whole Nation, as he has so eloquently spoken this morning. I thank him for what he did as a Virginian in those days afterward and thank him for the eloquent comments he made this morning.

In the aftermath of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, under the leadership of Governor Kaine, Virginia acted. We were within the legislature able to close the legal loophole which allowed Cho, who had been adjudicated mentally unsound, we closed the loophole so he could no longer--or someone who had been adjudicated in such a way--be able to purchase firearms. In the aftermath of the tragedy, then-Governor Kaine appointed a nationally respected commission of experts to recognize what happened and recognize ways we might make all our colleges and universities safer.

This leads me to some of my comments this morning. We are about to take on a debate around how we keep America and Americans safer in a way that also respects our constitutional amendment of the right to keep and bear arms.

An underlying amendment of the bill we are about to debate has at least one part of the legislation which is relatively noncontroversial, a piece of legislation I have been working on for some time. I know Senator Kaine has supported this as well. The issue is to look at campus safety. It has been one of the top priorities of those victims of the Virginia Tech massacre.

Those families who have spoken with me repeatedly, and with Senator Kaine as well, said let's at least make sure, if a tragic event takes place on a college campus somewhere in America, there are ways we can learn from these tragedies.

So the CAMPUS Safety Act, which is embedded in this legislation, will bring together research and resources on campus safety to strengthen training and improve collaboration. Today, campus public safety officers are the only first responders who don't have access to Federal support to assist in sharing the best practices, relevant research, and training opportunities.

The CAMPUS Safety Act, which received bipartisan support in the committee markup, seeks to address this by consolidating scattered Federal efforts into a national center for campus public safety housed within the Department of Justice. This Center would not only provide a one-stop repository of relevant research but also examples of best practices. It would have an ability to issue grants to colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations to strengthen efforts to help make our campus community safer.

This kind of planning and training will help prevent future violence on our campuses and will help improve responses in the event of another horrific outbreak of violence on our campus or other university. I am pleased our bipartisan CAMPUS Safety Act is included in the discussions we are having in this body in the coming days and weeks.

I wish to take a moment to speak about a specific aspect of this debate which will, I imagine, be coming up for a vote in the next few days. I stand before my colleagues to say a few words in support of the Manchin-Toomey amendment we will most likely vote on this week. Both Senators Manchin and Toomey have shown courage in working together on what Senator Kaine said is a difficult issue. I support the bipartisan compromise on background checks they proposed.

Their amendment will strengthen our background check system, close the gun show loophole, and prohibit the commercial sale of guns to those who are seriously mentally ill or have a criminal record. Let me also say their amendment also contains appropriate exemptions so responsible gun owners will still be allowed to make direct transactions between family and friends to ensure a father or grandfather could pass that shotgun along to their son or daughter.

Our shared goal is to ensure we keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people while respecting the basic constitutional right to bear arms. I have been disappointed by some who said somehow this amendment will infringe upon this right. I couldn't disagree more. This has been a common refrain on both sides of the aisle since we started this conversation in December after the tragic events in Newtown.

If we are serious about achieving this goal, the Manchin-Toomey amendment achieves a thoughtful, effective, and balanced approach to achieving our background check system. It strengthens the instant check system of all States to put their information into the NICS, the National Instant Background Check System. One of the outgrowths we saw after the horrible tragedy at Virginia Tech was so many States, while they may have collected this information, didn't even put it into the national database.

One other amendment Senator Toomey put forward would establish a national commission on mass violence to study all the causes of mass violence in our country, including school safety, mental health, issues about firearms, and also issues around some of the images all of us and our children are exposed to in television and film.

This amendment, combined with provisions to prevent gun trafficking and our proposal to improve campus safety, represents a reasonable path forward. In our efforts to reduce violence--as Senator Kaine has so eloquently stated--we are trying to ensure we don't have to create the kinds of heroes which took place 6 years ago on the campus of Virginia Tech.

Let me also add, as I am sure all my colleagues will express, our hearts go out to the families of the victims of the most recent tragedy which took place in Boston.

I think I can relate, as a former resident of Boston--and I know Senator Kaine, former Governor Kaine, then-law student Tim Kaine--he and I first met at a law school in Boston--remembering Patriots' Day in Boston, when even if you were not going to run in the marathon, the kind of joy that swept through Boston on Patriots' Day. We all know Boston will be back. We all saw those images yesterday of the horrific tragedy.

I talked to a friend whose wife had literally finished the race 4 minutes before the bombing took place. If she had finished 4 minutes later, he or his daughter or his wife might have been one of the victims of that tragedy. I know, as a father, I called my daughters last night to try to enforce how much I love them, how valuable life is, and how at any moment, whether in a classroom in Virginia Tech or running the Boston Marathon, life can be snuffed out.

I agree with Senator Kaine that in the coming days and weeks, as we have this debate, we are not going to be asked to make acts of courage; we are simply going to be asked to do our job. I believe the Manchin-Toomey amendment and the CAMPUS Safety Act are part of our role and responsibility in doing our job, and I hope we will be able to act on that matter.

With that, I yield the floor.


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