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Public Statements

Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, I am here today with sadness and anger after one of the saddest and most troubling days in my career in public service. Yesterday the Senate turned its back on the families of Newtown--some of them sitting in this very gallery, along with victims of other shootings.

The first words I heard when Vice President Biden banged the gavel to end the vote on the background check bill yesterday were, ``Shame on you.'' ``Shame on you'' were the words of a rightfully angry mother of a Virginia Tech student who was shot in the head twice 6 years ago this week. This heartbroken mother had the courage and the fortitude to say the words that all of us who have been fighting for commonsense laws to reduce gun violence felt at that moment.

Shame on us. Shame on the Senate. It was, in fact, a shameful day for this Nation and for our democracy. The hardest part of that day was to explain to the loved ones who lost children, spouses, family members in Newtown that day how 90 percent of the American people--the majority of gun owners and even NRA members--and 54 Members of the Senate could favor a proposal that failed to become law. How could that be in a democracy?

Part of the answer relates to the filibuster, which is a now proven despicable antidemocratic feature of this body. I have voted several times to, in effect, eliminate it, and yesterday's vote was a nail in the coffin of the filibuster because the American people simply will not stand for a result that so typifies an antidemocratic result but, even more, an antidemocratic process.

The filibuster fight is for another day. The fight today is to continue this effort against gun violence. I will pledge to every Member of this body, every person in Connecticut, and anyone who is engaged in this fight, that I will continue with redoubled determination.

When I tried to explain to one of the family members yesterday how this process could be so broken and reach such an intolerable result, I said: We are not done. And she said to me: We are not even close to done.

So resolute and resilient are these families that they should inspire us and uplift us in their determination to continue this work for the sake of the loved ones they lost and to keep faith with the 3,400 innocent people who have perished as a result of gun violence since December 14 and the thousands who perished before.

It is not just our opportunity in the Senate--one of the great institutions in the history of the world--but our obligation, as public officials and as Members of a body that holds a trust for democracy and for safety, to provide better security for our people and our children.

The mother of that Virginia Tech student was sitting in the same gallery with those members of Newtown, CT, who lost 20 precious, beautiful children and six brave, great educators. They were keeping vigil as the Senate turned its back on them.

Despite their profound and harrowing loss, those parents, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, grandmothers and grandfathers have kept faith. They have spent the last 4 months tirelessly and relentlessly advocating for changes and reforms in our gun laws so that the loss they suffered will not have been in vain. Still, the Senate failed in its responsibility in turning its back on them.

I do not want to relive December 14 when I went to Sandy Hook and heard and saw the grief and pain of those parents and loved ones as they emerged from the firehouse. That unspeakable and unimaginable horror I do not want to see again.

Yesterday was demoralizing and discouraging but not defeating because, ultimately, this reform will be delayed but not denied.

The massacre of 20 innocent children and their teachers will bring us, ultimately, to our senses, but so will the violence, carnage, and killing since then. In the words of Mark Barden, whose son Daniel is in this picture: We are not defeated. We are here now. We will always be here because we have no other choice. The "Connecticut effect'' is not going away. The Bardens are not going away, nor are any of the Newtown families. The advocates of sensible, commonsense gun reform are not going away. We are here to stay.

For Mark and Jackie Barden and all of the other families from Newtown and every other victim of gun violence in this country, there is no going back. There is no turning back the page. We must simply move on to the next issue. As the bicycle team who came from Newtown to Washington, Team 26, said, we must go on pedaling. The only way to keep a bicycle upright is to move forward. That is a simple lesson of life the families of Newtown learned in their horrific tragedy. I will continue to stand with them and all of the other victims of gun violence to work, to fight another day.

I say to every one of my colleagues, my friends who sided with the proponents of fear, do not underestimate the power of the Newtown families and the other victims of gun violence. They are not going away. They will help to hold accountable and answerable to the people of America the actions that were taken here, the votes that were cast. Votes have consequences, just as elections do. The people of America will remember. Our job now is to raise awareness, spread the rage that we feel, raise that rage, and organize and enable and empower citizens to be heard and heeded by this body, whether in the next election or before then. My hope is that it will be before then because we must act before the next election. That action is an opportunity, a historic moment we must seize.

Not everyone in this body turned their back on the victims of Newtown or on this cause yesterday. There were genuine profiles in courage on this floor, in this body: first and foremost, Senator Manchin, who led the fight on background checks and forged a compromise that should have won the day, and Republicans who chose to buck their own leadership and follow their hearts and consciences--Senators MCCAIN, COLLINS, KIRK, and TOOMEY. The American people will thank you.

There are Democrats who took some tough votes--tough votes particularly for their States. I thank Senators HAGAN, CASEY, LANDRIEU, HEINRICH, MARK and Tom Udall, Jon Tester, and Senator Shaheen. These Senators put saving lives above the politics of the moment. They showed true leadership in the face of lies and fearmongering. They deserve our thanks and praise.

I wish to pay tribute to the Senators who have led this effort over many years: Senators FEINSTEIN, LAUTENBERG, SCHUMER, and DURBIN. I thank my colleague Chris Murphy for his leadership and his courage. Senators FEINSTEIN, LAUTENBERG, SCHUMER, and DURBIN have been a tireless foursome on behalf of this fight. They have been dogged and determined. No amount of NRA deception or dishonesty has deterred them or stopped them.

I thank the majority leader, Harry Reid, for his courage. He has persevered in seeking a path forward on this legislation in the face of some of the most difficult political and procedural obstacles. He has been as passionate and persevering in this cause as any one of the advocates in these last weeks.

If you want to know the definition of ``resilient,'' look up ``Frank Lautenberg'' in the dictionary because there he was, right here yesterday, after weeks of debilitating illness, with his wife Bonnie in the gallery. She cheered him on, and so did we. Nothing was going to keep him from voting on the gun control bills he had championed for a lifetime.

In moving forward, let's take heart and inspiration from the families of Newtown, who have been resolute and resilient at every turn, from the continued strength of the advocates, from the courage of our colleagues who stood strong yesterday, and from the American people.

I have said, along with others, that at the end of the day the American people would be the ones to make a difference. Their rage and disbelief is palpable. They will be there for Daniel Barden. He is only one among thousands. We have seen their pictures. They have been on display on this floor. Their names have been recited and their memories revived.

Yesterday the Senate said no to America, but the people of America will not take no for an answer. As Martin Luther King said, ``The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.'' We are on the right side of history, which will eventually vindicate this cause. I look forward to being here, if not within days, at least in the very near future when we take another vote and we stand 60 or more strong to make sure that Daniel Barden's memory is not in vain and that his brave parents are also vindicated in their trust in us.

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


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