U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

May 21, 2022

Hate + Guns

Dear Fellow Marylanders:

Last weekend, when I heard that 10 people were gunned down in a Buffalo grocery store, my mind started racing. While I closed my eyes and took a deep breath to soak in the horrific news, I was simultaneously sad, angry, fearful and frustrated. I said a silent prayer and questioned aloud how one human could do such a thing.

We next learned that the grocery store was in a predominantly Black area of this upstate New York city and that the young shooter apparently described himself as a white supremacist. According to authorities, his online writings show that he believed in the so-called “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory about immigration and that he sought out this neighborhood specifically because of the large Black population.

The senseless loss of life astounds me. I mourn deeply for the lives lost and the families and neighborhoods that will never be the same again. Grocery shopping should not make anyone a target of violence.

Shocked, however, is no longer a word I can use to describe my reaction or the nation’s reaction to such an act of domestic terrorism. In addition to the callous daily violence that plagues too many streets in Maryland and across the country, recent years have brought a disturbing increase in mass shootings based on racial, religious and ethnic hatred, including in Charleston (2015), Pittsburgh (2018), El Paso (2020), Atlanta (2021); Dallas (2022); and now in Buffalo. Regrettably, this is only a sampling.

Lest you think America is alone in this problem, we have witnessed a rise in hate crimes and violence overseas as well. I have worked with our allies internationally to address these issues as the Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. We must work together to reverse the hate and prejudice; inaction will change nothing.

All leaders, everyone actually, need to speak out. Here at home, we must be clear that Americans come in all shapes, sizes, styles and colors. But we are all Americans and our diversity is a strength.

Race-based hate and prejudice is not a new phenomenon. As President Biden said when he visited Buffalo this week:

“White supremacy is a poison running through our body politic. We need to say, as clearly and forcefully as we can, that the ideology of white supremacy has no place in America. Failure to do so will be complicity. Silence will be complicity. We cannot remain silent.”

Hate and white supremacy may circle the globe, but what makes it different in America is the combined easy access to guns, including deadly weapons designed for battlefields, not backyards and basements. Many of the deadly weapons used in recent mass shootings have no legitimate civilian use.

More than 20,000 people were killed by guns in this country in 2021, including over 300 children under the age of 12. More than 24,000 other Americans used a gun to take their own lives last year.

To combat the dual epidemics of hate and gun violence, lawmakers – at every level of government – need to put saving the lives of our constituents ahead of any political pressures. I am proud that Maryland has taken aggressive steps to prevent gun violence, but there are more steps we can take right now.

Congress can enact legislation to combat the rising specter of domestic terrorism. This week the House passed the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, which would improve our federal agency coordination to prevent and respond to domestic terrorism threats, like what happened in Buffalo. I am a cosponsor of this legislation in the Senate and I expect us to consider it as soon as next week.

Particularly after 9/11, I have sought to find a balance between civil rights and public security measures, so it is reassuring to know that this legislation was drafted to ensure compliance with civil rights and civil liberties protections, and is supported by civil rights groups, as well as the Biden administration.

The Senate should hold a confirmation hearing for and confirm Steve Dettelbach as the next Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). This critical law enforcement agency has not had a Senate-confirmed director for over seven years.

Congress also should take up and pass commonsense gun safety legislation. I have cosponsored a number of bills that would make our nation safer and keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals.

  • The Background Check Expansion Act ( 529) would require checks for all gun sales, including those by unlicensed sellers.
  • The Background Check Completion Act ( 591) would eliminate the “Charleston loophole” that allows for a sale to go forward if a check is not completed within three days.
  • The Keep Americans Safe Act ( 1108) would prohibit the importation, sale, manufacture, transfer, or possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
  • The Assault Weapons Ban Act ( 736) would generally ban the sale, manufacture, transfer, and importation of assault weapons.

The Second Amendment protects the right to own a firearm. It does not convey the absolute, unrestricted right to own every type of weapon. Notable conservative Justice Antonin Scalia was clear when he said: “like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

Today, we remember the victims of the Buffalo attack: Celestine Chaney, Roberta Drury, Andre Mackneil, Katherine Massey, Margus Morrison, Heyward Patterson, Aaron Salter, Geraldine Talley, Ruth Whitfield and Pearl Young. And we keep in our thoughts those injured in this attack: Zaire Goodman, Jennifer Warrington, and Christopher Braden. Let their memory give us the strength and courage to stand up against hate and protect the lives of our fellow citizens.

As I’ve said many times before, thoughts and prayers are comforting for the victims and their families, but not sufficient. We must work together translate our grief into collective action that demands change to make our neighborhoods safer for every American, regardless of who they are or where they live.

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Thank you and stay safe. Get your booster.

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Ben Cardin