Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I take this time to continue the discussion as to the tragedy that occurred on June 12 in Orlando, FL. The shooting occurred at a popular LGBT club, Pulse. The club owner, Barbara Poma, lost her brother to the AIDS epidemic. The club was named to remember a pulse that faded from this world far too early. Pulse was not just a place to socialize, it was a refuge and a place of acceptance and solidarity where members of the Orlando LGBT community could be themselves without judgment.
The fact that an attacker would target this venue, especially during Gay Pride Month, is a horrific tragedy and a senseless loss of human life. My deepest sympathies are with those killed and injured in this terrorist attack, along with their families and loved ones. My thanks go out to the first responders who saved lives in the midst of such danger.
This attack, and others like it in recent years, tears at our hearts and leaves us angry, frustrated, and confused. We, as a nation, must resolve to stop those who wish to do harm to Americans from committing and encouraging acts of terror.
The Orlando shooter apparently subscribed to an extreme system of beliefs that led him to carry out this heinous attack. No religion condones or encourages such violence and killing. We must reject any ideology that leaves room for discrimination and dehumanization to a point where someone can commit these types of acts. No one should ever fear for their life simply for being themselves or expressing who they are as an individual. America’s values of tolerance, compassion, freedom, and love for thy neighbor must win out over hate, intolerance, homophobia, and xenophobia.
The time for talk is over. We, as a nation, as a community, and as an American family, must take actions to change minds, hearts, and, finally, change policies. The attack in Orlando was a terror attack and a hate crime. We can stop others and save lives by taking immediate action.
I was disappointed we missed opportunities to do that yesterday with sensible gun safety amendments. I cosponsored the Murphy amendment, which would have created a system of universal background checks for individuals trying to buy a gun. The amendment would have ensured that all individuals who should be prohibited from buying a firearm are listed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and would require a background check for every firearm sale. We know there are loopholes today. Why do we allow those loopholes to continue?
It should not matter whether you buy a gun at a local gun store or at a gun show or on the Internet, you should have to pass a background check so we can make sure guns are kept out of the hands of people who should never have one. This amendment would have helped keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons, domestic abusers, and the seriously mentally ill, who have no business buying a gun.
Studies have shown that 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 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 a weapon, but universal background checks could and would help us keep our communities safe by helping us keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and those who have serious mental illness and domestic abusers. We need to stop their ability to easily be able to obtain a weapon.
Universal background checks are strongly supported by the American people. Most background checks can be completed very quickly and do not inconvenience a purchaser at all.
To my colleagues who have reservations about this legislation, let me cite the Heller decision. In June 2008 the Supreme Court decided the case of District of Columbia v. Heller. The Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to bear arms rather than a collective right to possess a firearm. The Court also held that 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:
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 firearms.
That was Justice Scalia for the Court.
Justice Scalia recognized Congress’s right 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 illness the opportunity to easily be able to obtain a firearm.
The legislation pending before us in the Senate is fully consistent with the Heller decision. That amendment would have been fully consistent with the Heller decision and Justice Scalia’s opinion.
I know we can protect innocent Americans while still protecting the constitutional rights of legitimate hunters and existing gun owners. We should take that action on behalf of the American people.
There was a second amendment I cosponsored that unfortunately was rejected yesterday–the Feinstein amendment–that would close the terror gap. If you are not safe enough to fly on an airplane, you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun. The Feinstein amendment would give the Attorney General the authority to block the sale of guns to known or suspected terrorists if the Attorney General has reason to believe the weapons would be used in connection with terrorism. The amendment would have ensured that anyone who had been subject to a Federal terrorism investigation in the past 5 years would have been automatically flagged with the existing background check system for further review by the Department of Justice.
Note that under this amendment, being included on a terrorist watch list is not by itself a sufficient justification to deny a person the right to buy a firearm. The Attorney General may deny that weapon transfer only if she determines that the purchaser represents a threat to public safety based on a reasonable suspicion that the purchaser is engaged or has engaged in conduct related to terrorism. So there is a standard there.
A recent GAO report concluded that approximately 90 percent of individuals who were known or suspected terrorists were able to pass background gun checks. This amendment would have closed this loophole and would have reduced the risk of a terrorist being able to legally acquire a firearm.
Under current law, individuals who are known or suspected terrorists and do not fall into one of the nine prohibited purchaser categories can legally purchase a weapon. While the FBI is notified when individuals on the terrorist watch list apply for a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, it does not have the authority to block the sale.
The Feinstein amendment contains remedial procedures so that individuals get the reason for denial, the right to correct the record, and the right to bring action to challenge the denial. In other words, there is due process in the Feinstein amendment.
So I was disappointed that the two amendment chances we had yesterday were not approved by the Senate. I think both would have helped in making our communities safer.
Congress has an obligation to act. As I have indicated before, we need to act. Inaction is not an option. The President of the United States has already acted to the extent he is permitted using his Executive authority. Many of our States have acted as well, including my own State of Maryland, but we need a national law that applies to all 50 States to stop criminals, terrorists, domestic abusers, and others who should not get their hands on a gun from simply driving to a nearby State with less restrictive gun laws and being able to legally acquire a weapon.
I encourage my colleagues to continue to work on compromise legislation on the issue of universal background checks and terror watch lists. Congress should also act to ban assault-type weapons, which have no legitimate civilian use, and we should ban the sale of high-capacity magazines which only increase the level of carnage in a mass shooting.
The time for action is now. We cannot wait.