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Public Statements

Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. COLLINS. Madam President, I rise to discuss the background check amendment proposed by our colleagues Senator Manchin and Senator Toomey.

I grew up in northern Maine where responsible gun ownership is part of the heritage of virtually every family. In fact, I cannot think of a family in my hometown of Caribou that did not have firearms in their homes when I was growing up, and that includes my own family. I strongly support our Second Amendment rights, and two recent Supreme Court decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago make clear that those constitutional rights pertain to the individual.

As we have studied this important issue during the past several months, I have met with countless people who hold a wide range of views. They include the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, known as SAM, Maine law enforcement officials, the NRA, victims of gun violence, licensed gun dealers, firearms manufacturers, mental health professionals, and school superintendents, among many others. These discussions have been so helpful to me as I seek to better understand the issues which confront us as we shape this bill.

We have discussed issues, including the inadequacy of mental health services, gaps in the reporting of data to the National Instant Background Check System, school safety, excessive violence in video games and movies, the lack of effective laws for gun trafficking, and straw purchases aimed at getting guns in the hands of criminals. Those are just some of the many issues I have had the benefit of discussing with my constituents.

As a result of these extensive discussions, I have decided to support the bipartisan compromise authored by Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey. Their bipartisan effort would strengthen the background check system without in any way infringing on our Second Amendment rights. I would note their proposal represents a vast improvement over the provisions currently in the bill.

There were particular provisions of the legislation which was drafted by Senator Schumer that I oppose, such as the background check provisions which are in the bill. For example, if a father gives a gun as a gift to his son or daughter or a brother sells his hunting rifle to his brother, the provisions of the legislation would require that those individuals undergo background checks. I found that to be completely unnecessary and onerous.

In addition, the bill that is on the floor now has burdensome paperwork requirements that are unnecessary and that many believe are unworkable as well.

By contrast, the Manchin-Toomey compromise takes a much more commonsense approach by requiring background checks only for commercial transactions. Their approach clearly exempts family gifts and transfers and truly private sales. Their amendment protects private sellers from lawsuits if the weapon is cleared through the expanded background check and is subsequently used in a crime. That is the same kind of protection that licensed gun dealers receive now.

The compromise also authorizes the use of a State concealed carry permit instead of a background check when purchasing a firearm from a dealer, recognizing the rigorous background checks and approval process these concealed carry permits require. Their amendment also improves interstate travel laws for sportsmen and sportswomen who transport their firearms across State lines in a responsible way.

The term ``transport'' includes staying in temporary lodging overnight, stopping for food, buying fuel, vehicle maintenance, and medical treatment, which will improve the quality and completeness of the data in the NICS. Their amendment would also mandate improvements that would require States and the Federal Government to send relevant records on criminals and people who are dangerously mentally ill through State plans that are developed in conjunction with the Department of Justice, which is another important improvement made by the Manchin-Toomey amendment since we know there are gaps in the reporting that make the background instant check system less effective than it should be.

The bill also fixes an unjust situation, where veterans have been inappropriately reported to the database without due process. The amendment requires a veteran to receive extra due process prior to losing his or her right to buy a gun, and that is only fair. Specifically, it requires that the VA either establish or designate a board for the purpose of hearing appeals by veterans who are considered adjudicated as mentally ill and the veteran can appeal directly to this board or an outside court of jurisdiction.

It was critical to my support of the Manchin-Toomey amendment that it explicitly bans the Federal Government from creating a national firearms registry. I am completely and unalterably opposed to creating a national registry of gun owners that would be maintained in Washington by the Federal Government. The bill imposes serious criminal penalties on any individual who misuses or illegally retains firearms records.

I am also pleased that the Manchin-Toomey proposal would create a national commission on mass violence. This is a proposal I have long advocated and is very much needed. It would convene experts to study all aspects of these horrible attacks and mass murders that have plagued our country, caused so much anguish to the families left behind, and have caused unbearable anguish for the survivors as well.

Obviously, this debate is just beginning on the Senate floor, and the Manchin-Toomey amendment is just one of many that will be considered. I will support some amendments, others I will strongly oppose. It is impossible to predict, at this early point before we have cast a single vote on the many amendments that have been filed to this bill, what the bill will look like in the final analysis and whether I shall be able to support it. I do believe the Manchin-Toomey background check amendment is a reasonable, commonsense, thoughtful proposal that I can and will support.

I yield the floor.


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