I wish I didn’t see the things I saw at the Sandy Hook firehouse on December 14, 2012, as 26 families were told that their loved ones – 20 children and six educators – lay dead on the floor of their school. I walked away from that day pledging that I would do everything in my power to fight the scourge of gun violence, which – as the parents of slain sons and daughters in Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport have reminded me – was a largely ignored crisis in our urban communities long before the Sandy Hook tragedy.
In the years since the tragedy in Sandy Hook, the gun violence epidemic in America has only worsened as countless families and communities continue to be torn apart by violence. The solutions are not a secret; we know that simple and broadly-supported measures like universal background checks, cracking down on straw purchasers and illegal weapon sales, and limiting access to high-capacity magazines and military-style assault weapons would save countless lives.
That’s why on June 15, 2016, in the wake of another mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, I went to the Senate floor and conducted one of the longest filibusters in Senate history in order to force the Senate to have a debate on measures to end gun violence. While the Senate failed to pass the bill my filibuster forced a vote on, our efforts were successful in jump-starting a national conversation about gun policy change.
Shootings in Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, Santa Fe, Dayton, El Paso, Boulder, Atlanta, Oxford and so many other communities drew national attention and spurred calls for action, but still Congress failed to act. Despite countless obstacles and frustrations, the gun violence prevention movement continued growing stronger with every passing day.
On May 24, 2022, a gunman shot and killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. This was barely a week after a gunman motivated by racism and hate killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. That night, I went down to the Senate floor to plead with my colleagues to come to the table and find a path forward on a piece of legislation to make these massacres less likely. Within two days, Senators John Cornyn, Thom Tillis, and Kyrsten Sinema and I started working day and night to draft a bill that would save lives.
Just one month later, we broke a thirty year political logjam and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was signed into law by President Biden. This legislation provides support for implementation of state crisis intervention orders, closes the ‘boyfriend loophole’ for individuals convicted of domestic violence crimes, clarifies the definition of a ‘federally licensed firearms dealer,’ enhances background checks for buyers under 21 years old, and creates federal penalties for straw purchasing and gun traffickers. It also makes historic investments in community violence intervention, children and family mental health services, and keeping communities and schools safe.
Our bill is a compromise that doesn’t do everything I want, but it will save thousands and thousands of lives. It’s just the beginning of what this movement can and will accomplish, and I’ll never stop fighting to get us there.
And while mass shootings get most of the national attention regarding gun violence, it is just as important to continually call out the gun violence that plagues our cities daily. Community violence intervention (CVI) programs are a proven way to break the cycle of violence by lifting up communities and creating economic opportunities. In Connecticut, we’ve seen the success of CVI, and I’m pushing to make sure these programs get the federal investment they need to expand and reach as many people as possible. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act invests $250 million for community-based violence prevention initiatives.
Gun deaths are way up across the country since the pandemic began, and I regularly speak on the Senate Floor to profile victims lost to gun violence in the hopes that my colleagues will finally pay attention and work with me to stop this rising carnage.
There is no one law or regulation that will save every life, but Congress can and must build upon the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to end the scourge of gun violence.