S. 649, SAFE COMMUNITIES, SAFE SCHOOLS ACT OF 2013
Mr. CARDIN. Madam President, let me begin by offering my deepest condolences on behalf of all the people of Maryland for the 20 students and 6 adults who lost their lives at the hands of a single shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, on December 14, 2012. Some of the victims put themselves in harm's way in order to save the lives of children, true heroes.
We have an obligation to the Sandy Hook families to seize this moment, set our political fears aside, and act responsibly. America has more than 3,300 victims of gun violence nationwide since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT. Each heartbreaking event is shocking in its own right but also tears us apart, wondering what could we have done to prevent this from happening.
I am proud the Senate has come together to engage in a real debate on what steps should be taken to minimize the risk of future shootings.
The safety of our children and communities should never be put at risk by partisan gridlock. I agree with President Obama. We cannot wait for another tragedy to enact commonsense, reasonable gun safety measures, especially on weapons of war which have no legitimate civilian use.
I am sympathetic to the interests of legitimate hunters and collectors, but we should reinstate the Federal ban on assault weapons. We should also prohibit high-capacity ammunition clips which hold more than 10 rounds at a time. We must take steps together to strengthen our mental health system, make our schools safer, crack down on gun traffickers, straw purchasers, and reduce the glorification of violence in our culture.
The elimination of assault weapons in our community would have minimal or no impact on legitimate hunters or legitimate gun owners, but it could save lives. Listen to what law enforcement says. They don't think it is a fair fight when they have to go up against a criminal who has an assault weapon. The criminal has the advantage. We should support law enforcement and get assault weapons off the street.
Listen to the accounts of the massacres we have seen when the perpetrators had these clips with so many rounds of ammunition. At Sandy Hook, they went into a classroom and used the number of bullets which were in that round to massacre children. This was tragic. The consequences could have been different if these large ammunition clips were not available. It could save lives.
Dealing with mental health issues, dealing with school safety issues, dealing with straw purchase purchases, all that could keep these weapons out of the hands of those who should not have these weapons, the types of weapons which caused these massive killings.
I support universal background checks for all firearms buyers as proposed by Senator Schumer. I congratulate my colleagues, Senators Manchin and Toomey, for coming to a bipartisan consensus on strengthening the current background check system.
The background check proposals for the first time would require background checks for all gun sales in commercial settings, including at gun shows, Internet, and in classified ads. I believe this legislation will keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons, domestic abusers, and seriously mentally ill who have no business buying a gun. Studies have shown nearly half of all current gun sales are made by private sellers who are exempt from conducting background checks.
It makes no sense that felons, fugitives, and others who are legally prohibited from having a gun can so easily use a loophole to buy a gun. Once again, the use of a universal background check will have no impact on the legitimate needs of people who are entitled to have weapons, but it could and would help us keep our communities safe by keeping weapons out of the hands of our criminals who have serious mental illness, domestic abusers. We need to stop their ability to easily obtain weapons as they do today.
This legislation strengthens the National Instant Criminal Background Check System by incentivizing States to improve their reporting system and removing certain barriers to the submission of critical mental health records.
This legislation also makes it easier for Active-Duty military personnel to buy guns in States where they live and are stationed for duty. It clarifies people traveling across State lines may carry guns which are locked and unloaded.
It is heartbreaking to listen to stories of innocent lives cut cruelly short. The pain and grief of families and friends of these students and teachers is unimaginable.
We know that teachers and the aides put their lives on the line to try to save children, and that first responders coming to the scene had the unbelievable task of not knowing what they would find. We send our prayers to all, but we have to do more than just say words. We are going to be judged by our deeds, and we have a chance to take action that will be helpful.
This is a tragedy beyond words. I think President Obama said it best when he said that our hearts are broken. Congress needs to come together and take action to protect the safety of our children. We must do better. There have been too many episodes in which children's lives and others have been lost. We must figure out a way to prevent these types of tragedies.
I am pleased the State of Maryland has recently taken action in the general assembly session that concluded last week. Governor O'Malley recommended legislation adopted by the Maryland General Assembly that bans assault weapons, limits the capacity of magazine clips from 20 to 10, and increases restrictions on the possession of firearms and ammunition by convicted criminals and those with mental health disqualifications.
The President was correct to take executive action to strengthen and enhance our gun safety laws, but now it is time for Congress to act. The victims of gun violence deserve to have Congress take an up-or-down vote on these issues.
To my colleagues who have reservations about this legislation, let me cite the Heller decision. In June 2008 the Supreme Court decided the District of Columbia v. Heller. The Court held that the Second Amendment protects individuals rather than a collective right to possess a firearm. The Court also held the Second Amendment right is not unlimited, and it is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner and for any purpose. Justice Scalia wrote for the Court in that case, and I am going to quote Justice Scalia:
..... nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on the longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
Justice Scalia recognized Congress's right, and I would say obligation, to make sure those who are not qualified to own a firearm do not get that firearm. We have an obligation to make sure that background checks are effective so as to keep out of the hands of criminals and those who have serious mental health issues the opportunity to easily obtain a firearm, as they can in many States today.
The legislation pending before the Senate is in full consistency with the Heller decision and the language of Justice Scalia's opinion for the Court. I know we can protect children while still protecting the constitutional rights of legitimate hunters and existing gun owners. We should take that action on behalf of the safety of our communities. It is our obligation to act.
With that, Madam President, I yield the floor.
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