Enough Inaction: Gun violence in America, Trauma doesn't vanish

Floor speech as delivered during Sen. Murphy’s filibuster calling for the end of Congress’s deafening silence in response to gun violence. Also posted on Medium.

I want to begin by thanking my friends Senator Murphy, Senator Booker and Senator Blumenthal for what they have done today.

Here’s the bottom line for me. Mass shootings are now happening like clockwork in America.

Thurston, Columbine, Blacksburg, Tucson, Newtown, Aurora, Charleston, Roseburg, Orlando. Communities are being torn apart by unspeakable gun violence like clockwork. In this building, we come together for moments of silence honoring the victims of these shootings like clockwork.

And like clockwork, again, Congress does nothing about it.

While I was home last month, I visited Umpqua Community College, just outside of Roseburg, which was the site of a horrible shooting eight months ago. It was one of the deadliest school shootings in our history as a nation. What I saw at Umpqua Community College, what I heard from the people at that school and the families in that community, is probably a lot like what my friends from Connecticut see and hear in Newtown, about how the suffering doesn’t go away.

The one-year anniversary of the shooting in Charleston is fast approaching, and I’m quite sure it’s the same feeling for people in South Carolina. The trauma, the process of mourning, rebuilding, and trying to move forward from the enveloping grief?—?it’s a horrendous common experience that so many of our communities now share.

The reality is, the trauma does not vanish. The news cameras will eventually leave Orlando, just like they left Roseburg. The bullet holes in that nightclub will get patched up. The families and friends of the victims will try to live their lives as best they can, as will Orlando’s LGBTQ community. But trauma does not vanish.

There’s no perfect solution to fix this crisis, but trauma should be followed up in some way with a debate, with a plan, with some specific, concrete steps that can begin to lay out an answer.

The idea of following up more moments of silence with more inaction is not good enough. There are common-sense steps the Congress can take now.

Those who’ve argued that the only possible response to this shooting in Orlando can come in a war zone thousands of miles away are looking for excuses not to do something meaningful, not to do anything, here at home.

There are steps that can be taken now to curb this violence. They won’t stop every last crime, and unfortunately a lot of these ideas have been discussed before, but the victims of these shootings are owed a response.

First is an issue I know my colleagues have already talked about this afternoon. Senator Feinstein has put forward a proposal to close the dangerous, terrorist gun loophole. In my view it’s a sensible step?—?common sense. People shouldn’t look at that as a partisan issue. Americans want to know why anyone would vote to allow individuals suspected of terrorist ties and motivations to purchase regulated firearms.

Next, the loopholes in background checks must be closed. It is way past time to stop allowing the purchase of a gun online or at a gun show without a background check. The background checks themselves must be substantially improved. There are holes that need to be plugged, including those that keep guns in the hands of convicted domestic abusers.

Once and for all, Congress needs to close off the pipeline for illegal guns. Straw purchasing and gun trafficking should be federal crimes.

The Senator from Connecticut and I have also been strong advocates of beefing up the research into gun violence. The ban in place today defies common sense. It makes no sense at all to block the CDC from gathering information that could help keep our communities and our families safe.

Finally I want to address something that’s more personal. My late brother suffered from a serious mental illness. Not a day went by that I didn’t worry that he, a schizophrenic, would be out on the streets and would hurt himself or somebody else. That was the reality for my family. It is time to establish, once and for all, a system through which individuals who are found to be a potential threat to themselves or others can receive the treatment that they need.

A majority of Americans find these kinds of common sense gun safety measures not to be ones that infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners or violate the second amendment. A majority of gun owners think that these proposals make sense.

So I’ll turn to my friend Senator Murphy from Connecticut to ask a question. Senator Feinstein’s proposal, of course, is designed to prevent those on the terrorist watch list from buying a gun. Numbers have been thrown around repeatedly about the sum total of people this would actually impact. And I know that the GAO has looked into this.

Can you tell me how many people on this watch list have been able to buy a gun?

Senator Murphy: Thank you, Senator Wyden for the question. It’s a really important one because the number in certain ways is shocking for how high it is and how low it is at the same time.

Let’s take 2015. In 2015, there were 244 individuals who are on the terrorist watch list who attempted to buy weapons, and 223 of those were successful in buying the weapon. In 90 percent of the occasions that someone on the watch list attempted to buy a weapon, they walked out of that store with the weapon.

It gives you a sense of the scope. There are only 224 people, over the course of the whole year that were on the terrorist watch list that attempted to buy a weapon, but what we know from this weekend is that it only takes one in order to create a path of death and destruction that is almost impossible to calculate.

It’s just impossible for the American public to understand how that number persists, how we allow for 90 percent of the people on that watch list to walk into a store and to successfully buy a weapon. That’s the number from 2015, 223 out of 244 they were successful. I yield back for a question.

Senator Wyden: I thank my colleague. I’ll just wrap up by way of saying that it seems to me that what has been learned here is that while the investigation goes on, this may have been a terrorist attack, this may have been a hate-inspired attack. My question is, aren’t the steps that I’ve outlined here today common sense, practical steps, whether it is a hate- or terror- inspired attack? We’ve seen the human toll that discrimination takes against those who are targeted on the basis of hate. We’ve seen what it means to families who have been struck by terror. Aren’t these common sense legislative efforts that make sense whether this has been primarily a terror attack or a hate-inspired attack?

Senator Murphy: I thank the gentleman for the question. They are common sense measures and measures supported by the broad cross-section of the American public. What you are proposing is only controversial here in the United States Senate. It’s controversial nowhere else in this country.