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Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. MURPHY. Madam President, they say when a person outlives their child, it is unnatural; it violates the laws of nature, and a person is never ever the same. We all wish we never have to experience that phenomenon.

But on Friday, December 14, 20 sets of moms and dads sent their first graders off to school at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, expecting, as every parent does, to see them come home on Friday and then go out and spend a wonderful weekend with their kids. It was going to be a great weekend because it was the Christmas season. As a parent of a little boy who is a little bit younger than the first graders who went into that classroom that day, I know how amazing the Christmas season can be with a little one. Whether they were going to be picking out their Christmas tree or putting up outdoor lights or visiting Santa Claus, it was going to be the kind of weekend parents live for.

Those parents sent their kids off to school that morning and a few hours later, one shockwave of violence later, 40 parents had outlived their children.

I have been so angry for months. I have been angry at Adam Lanza. I have been angry at his mother for giving him access to those guns. I have been angry at this place for 20 years of inaction. But, mostly, I have been angry at the people in this Chamber and outside of this Chamber who say what we are discussing here right now this week wouldn't have changed what happened in Newtown. I am angry for this first simple reason: They are wrong. Guns have become so much more powerful in this Nation over the past several decades--so powerful that the assault weapon, the military-style assault weapon that was brought into that school that day, was fired at 20 children and every single one of the kids who was hit died. None of them survived because of the power of that weapon. It got off over 150 bullets in a time period that was perhaps only 5 minutes long, from a weapon that could discharge 6 bullets a second. If there had been a weapon of lesser power in that school that day, there might be kids still alive.

Second, the shooter, to get 150 rounds off, only had to switch magazines 6 times. During at least one of those exchanges, a bunch of kids ran out of the room, and they are alive today. If we had a limitation on magazines that was closer to 10 rounds, Adam Lanza would have had to have changed clips 15 times, providing another 9 opportunities for some subset of those 20 kids to run out and rejoin their parents for the weekend.

In addition to passing laws that would have changed the reality in Sandy Hook, we have an obligation to make sure it doesn't happen again, and we have an obligation to do something about the routine, everyday gun violence plaguing this Nation. Twenty-eight people died in Newtown that day, including 26 at the school, the shooter, and his mother. But every single day the average is higher. Thirty people on average are dying across this country from gun violence. From a statistical point of view, December 14 was just an average day.

So what do we do? The amendments we are debating here today offered by my Democratic colleagues are a good step in the right direction. I suggest there are three rules that should guide our actions. Frankly, I think these are pretty simple rules that the vast majority of the American public in every single State we represent here would agree with.

First, I believe people should be able to own guns, to protect themselves, to shoot for sport, to hunt, but the criminals shouldn't be able to own guns. If someone opposes the Manchin-Toomey amendment, they cannot say with a straight face they oppose criminals getting guns. If a Member votes against Manchin-Toomey, they are basically saying they are OK with more criminals having guns.

Ninety percent of Americans want us to make this commonsense change. Ninety percent of Americans want us to crack down on the number of criminals who have weapons out there, because they know almost 40 percent of gun sales in this country are done without a background check.

For a while, I could only explain opposition to near universal background checks through the power of the gun lobby, because I thought people must know in their heart that a simple, easy thing to do is to make sure criminals don't own guns, so there must be some external pressure that is forcing people to do the wrong thing. The longer I have spent in this place, the more I am convinced there are people who actually believe we should go back to the days of the wild, wild west; that we should usher in a new era of gun control Darwinism, in which the good guys have guns and the bad guys have guns and we hope the good guys shoot the bad guys. The gun lobby frankly tells us this. We should probably listen to them. They say the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to give a good guy a gun, that the government should get out of the way.

The second rule is this: Some guns are too dangerous to have on the streets. We have always accepted this premise. We have always said there are certain weapons that should be in the hands of law enforcement and the military only. Guns have changed over the years. Guns that used to be in the hands of the military now are available to the public and Adam Lanza had one of those weapons when he walked into that school. These are military weapons. These aren't weapons one needs to defend one's home. These are not weapons we need to go out and shoot at targets or hunt in our forests. These are weapons designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible, and they are finding their way into our schools and our movie theaters and our places of worship. Some guns are too dangerous to have on the street.

Third, some ammunition too easily allows for mass murder. The young man who walked into the movie theater in Aurora had a weapon and attached to it was a 100-round drum. Who on Earth needs a 100-round drum of ammunition to protect themselves, to go out and

shoot for sport? Nobody does. It should be illegal. Thirty rounds is too much as well. Thirty-round clips, one-hundred-round drums, too easily lead to mass murder and it is being seen in this country over and over and over.

We can take a step forward to realizing those three basic principles today on the floor of the Senate. We can vote for the Manchin-Toomey amendment supported by 90 percent of the American public which will make sure less criminals have guns, something that everybody out there--except for a subset of people in this Chamber--agrees on. We can make the decision to take these dangerous assault weapons off the streets, allowing for thousands of weapons to still be legally purchasable, but to say the most dangerous ones should stay in the hands of the military and law enforcement, and we can say enough is enough when it comes to these high-capacity clips.

We know the shooting stopped in Aurora and Tucson when they exchanged magazines. We know kids escaped in Newtown when the shooter exchanged clips. Less bullets per magazine means more people survive these mass shootings. We can do that today as well.

When we vote today, I would suggest that of all of the victims we can think about--and I have been coming down to the floor for the last 2 weeks talking about victims; I probably told the story of 50 or 60 or 70 victims on the floor of this Senate--that we think of two specifically. I would end today by talking first about a woman from Chicago named Shirley Chambers. Shirley raised her four kids, three boys and one girl, in the infamous Cabrini-Green housing complex in Chicago. That is where ``Good Times'' supposedly took place. It was a tough life, but she remembers her kids riding tricycles throughout the neighborhood and she said they were all happy kids.

On January 26 of this year, seven people were killed from gun violence--seven people in 1 day were killed from gun violence in Chicago. One of them was her son Ronnie Chambers. His mother buried him soon after his death. Ronnie was one of the 3,300 people who had been killed by gun violence in our cities and in our suburbs since December 14 of last year. She had four kids, but after Ronnie died Shirley was childless, because all four of her children had been killed by guns on the streets of Chicago: Carlos, Jerome, LaToya, and now Ronnie, all gone. She said, ``My life will never ever be the same again.'' Isn't that the understatement of the decade.

Lastly, I want my colleagues to think of Mark and Jackie Barden. I have talked a lot about little Daniel on the floor of the Senate, so I will end my remarks in this debate with him. Mark and Jackie lost Daniel that morning. These parents from Newtown have been so generous. They have visited our offices. They have allowed myself and Senator Blumenthal to come to this floor and to tell the story of who their kids were and who their kids would have been. Mark and Jackie said this of Daniel after he died:

Everyone who has ever met Daniel remembers and loves him. Words cannot express what a special boy Daniel was. Such a light. Always smiling, unfailingly polite, incredibly affectionate, fair, and so thoughtful towards others, imaginative in play, both intelligent and articulate in conversation; in all, a constant source of laughter and joy. Daniel was fearless in his pursuit of happiness and life. He earned his ripped jeans and his missing two front teeth. Despite that, his mother said, he was just so good. He embodied everything that is wholesome and innocent in the world.

Every morning, the Bardens' kids would leave for school in succession. They all went to different schools. Daniel was the youngest, so he left the latest. Like most kids, he never got out of bed until he absolutely had to. So every morning, his older brother, whom he adored, left for school before Daniel had gotten up. But not on December 14. Every single morning that school year, Daniel had slept in as his brother went off to school. But on Friday morning, something different happened. Daniel got up early, and as his brother was walking down the driveway to the bus, for the first time that entire school year, Daniel ran after him in his pajamas and flip-flops, and he hugged his older brother, and he said goodbye.

Losing a child is unnatural, but what should be just as unnatural is a Senator's unwillingness to do something to change that reality. Occasionally, in truly exceptional moments, we hold the power here that is so big and so bold to change the reality of life and death. We cannot amend what happened to the Bardens. Their loss will sear forever. We cannot change the fact that Shirley Chambers lost her four children. She will bear that loss for the rest of her life. But we can reduce the likelihood that more kids will die of gun violence in Chicago. We can reduce the chances that another Sandy Hook will happen. These parents cannot understand the casual willingness of this body to turn our backs on a chance to make sure that kind of loss does not happen to more parents. To them, that would be truly unnatural.

I yield back.


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