WASHINGTON – Following the massacre of 26 people at a Texas church, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) called on Congress to take action to enforce gun laws that make our communities safer from gun violence. Specifically, Murphy demanded that Congress work together to ensure that civilians cannot access after-market modifications that turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons, prevent those with serious mental illness from accessing firearms, and fix the broken National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
Click here to view a video of Murphy’s remarks.
“Ninety people die every day from gun violence,” said Murphy. “When a terrorist plows into civilians with a truck in New York City, Republicans in this body are talking about policy change within hours. But after somebody walks into a school or a church or a shopping mall, we're told that there has to be a restraining order on policy debate for days. I think it's unbelievable that universal background checks supported by 90% of Americans can't get a vote here. It's ridiculous and it's offensive to the families that have gone through this.”
“This feeling of helplessness…isn’t real. There are things we can do. Let's work together to make sure that automatic weapons can't be in the hands of civilians. Let's make real the very simple premise that seriously mentally ill people shouldn't be able to buy guns. Let's fix the background check system so that as Republicans tell us over and over again, at least we can enforce existing law,” continued Murphy. “There are ways that we can stop this slaughter, and I don't know how we live with ourselves, how we sleep at night as a body if in the face of these massacres, we don't even do the stuff that we all agree on.”
The full text of Murphy’s remarks is below.
Thank you, Mr. President.
Mr. President, we are grieving yet again today, another horrific mass shooting in a church in Texas – over 25 dead, others still clinging to life. We were barely past our stage of grief as more than 50 people were shot dead and 500 injured at a country music concert in Las Vegas. And of course, every single night in this country, parents and brothers and sisters go to bed having lost their loved ones. Ninety people every day die from guns in this country.
I just think it’s worth stating that this happens nowhere else other than the United States. This is not inevitable, this is not something that we should accept. We are not impotent or helpless to try to change the scope of tragedy that is crippling for families that have to go through this. I just want you to take a quick look at this pretty simple chart. The United States has more guns and more gun deaths than any other developed country, and it is not close. We are not even in the neighborhood of any of our other G-20 competitor nations. And while the president told us the other day that this was a mental illness problem, you cannot explain this outlier status through mental illness because none of these other countries have any lower rate of mental illness.
There are just as many people who are mentally ill in these countries as there are in our country. You cannot explain it by the attention we pay to mental illness. We spend more money on treating mental illness than these countries do. This isn't a mental illness problem. We've got to do better in treating people who have psychological disorders in this country, but the reason that we are an outlier nation when it comes to the number of gun deaths and the epic scale of our mass tragedies is explained by something else.
Here's a quick story for you. Here are the states that have background check requirements on all gun sales in the private sector. Here's the states that have no background check laws beyond those that are required in federal law. It's a fundamentally different story when it comes to gun-related homicides. In states that have background check laws, the average rate of homicide is substantially lower – substantially lower – than in states that don’t have background check laws. That's because in this country, with the loosest, laxest gun laws in the industrialized world, with private citizens able to get their hands on weapons designed not for hunting, not for shooting for sport, but to kill, these tactical assault-style weapons that are being used over and over again in these mass tragedies, more people end up in harm's way. Smarter gun laws, just making sure that the right people have gun, not the wrong people, leads to less gun deaths.
And so it's time for us to admit that this is a uniquely American problem, and it deserves our attention rather than our silence which has been our response every single session that I have been a member of Congress.
These are but a few of the faces that have been lost to gun violence in this country. My small town of Sandy Hook is a broken community. It's a beautiful, wonderful community, but it's a broken community because of the ripples of grief that come with losing that number of children – beautiful children – at one time. It never really gets repaired. That small community in Texas, Sutherland Springs will suffer that same fate. It will be a community that will never ever truly repair itself having lost so many beautiful people at one moment. You cannot rewind the clock.
And so it is increasingly impossible for me to continue to go back to Newtown, Connecticut, and tell the people of that community that after mass murder after mass murder in this country at a scale that occurs in no other nation, that our response as a body is to do nothing. It is a level of callousness that is, frankly, unexplainable to the victims of this violence, and this club of families that had to deal with the consequences of gun violence is getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Why? Because the number of people who died by guns isn't going down. It isn't leveling off in this country. It's exploding. Every year, more people, not less people, are killed by guns in this country.
And it seems to be the only problem that there is zero interest in this body to solve. When a terrorist plows into civilians with a truck in New York City, Republicans in this body are talking about policy change within hours. But after somebody walks into a school or a church or a shopping mall, we're told that there has to be a restraining order on policy debate for days. It's ridiculous and it's offensive to the families that have gone through this. And so let's just, for a moment, set aside the issues that I will admit are unlikely to come up for a vote in this body between now and the end of this session.
I think it's unbelievable that universal background checks supported by 90% of Americans can't get a vote here. I don't think there's another issue like that in the American public where 90% of Americans agree on something and Congress can't even conceive of getting it done. The only place where background checks is controversial is in the United States Congress. Every single gun owner I talk to in my state wants to make sure that criminals and people who are seriously mentally ill can’t buy guns.
Similarly, let’s admit what is happening here. It is not a coincidence the same kind of weapon is used every single time in these mass shootings. These are copycat shootings where people see the kind of destructions that come with an AR-15 style weapon and they use it again in order to maximize the lethality.
Wake up. Wake up to the reality that these weapons are being used to murder with speed and power, and that killers are watching what happens in Sandy Hook and what happens in Texas and what happens in Orlando, what happens in Las Vegas and they are repeating the process. They are replicating the weapon. It shouldn't be in the hands of civilians. You can have plenty of fun hunting without an AR-15 or AR-15 style of weapon. Let's set aside universal background checks for a moment. I get the politics of this place. I understand that those are unlikely to pass.
Why, then, can't we work on the things that we know we can agree on? I have listened to dozens of Republicans in the House and the Senate claim that they are for making real the prohibition on automatic weapons. People shouldn't have fully automatic weapons in this country. Nobody should be table to do what that guy did out of an upper story window in a hotel in Las Vegas. And the law that we all passed is being ignored by companies that are selling these after-market modifications that turn semiautomatic weapons into automatic weapons.
The company that sold the modification took it off the market, but only for a couple of weeks. They’re back to selling bump stocks again because we have signaled that we're not going to do anything about it. It's not enough to tell the ATF to do it – why? Because the law is vague. The ATF said it was vague in 2010. All we have to do is clarify that after-market modifications that turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons shouldn't be legal. And it seems like we have agreement on that because I have listened to so many Republicans say that they are willing to take this step.
Well then let's take it. Stop talking about it. Put legislation on the floor that says you cannot have an automatic weapon in this country. Let's do it. We agree on it.
I don't agree with the president yesterday when he said it's a mental illness problem, but similarly, we could work together to make sure that people who are seriously mentally ill don't buy weapons. That's the second policy proposal that is not controversial, that we could work together on. And yet let's just admit we're going the wrong way, not the right way.
Republicans passed earlier this year a piece of legislation that allowed for 75,000 people in this country who have serious mental illness to be able to get off the list of prohibited purchasers and start buying guns again. These are people who were judged to be so mentally ill that they couldn't deposit a check. They were given conservator status, people who are so mentally ill, so limited in their cognitive abilities that they couldn't take a Social Security check and deposit it. Those people were prohibited from buying guns.
This Congress passed a law earlier this year to say that those people who can't deposit a check should be able to go buy an assault weapon. If we're serious about trying to stop people with mental illness from getting weapons, let's work together on that instead of moving backwards.
And finally, it is an open secret that the existing background check system is broken. Let's not pretend that we just woke up yesterday in amazement that the records of people who are seriously mentally ill or have been convicted of crimes aren't ending up on the background checks list. I'm holding in my hand the data that is available to every single one of us about the records that are being uploaded onto the background check system. For the Department of Defense, it's a whole bunch of zeros. The Army, the Navy, the Air Force, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero.
But similarly, states aren't doing their part either. Connecticut uploaded 363,000 felony records onto the NICS system this year as – excuse me – over the course of 2016. Colorado uploaded 10 felony records in 2016.
New York uploaded 57,000 domestic violence records in 2016. North Carolina uploaded 261. There aren't 261 people in North Carolina that were convicted of domestic violence crimes in 2016. It's just that only 261 people went up on the list.
Many other states, like the Department of Defense, have zeros in all of these columns. Many states are uploading no records onto the system. Now, admittedly NICS tries to get those records through other means when states don't give it to them, but it is an open secret that the system is broken.
Now, this is a place where Congress at least tried to make some changes after the Virginia Tech shooting. Congress did pass a NICS improvement bill but it has not worked. It gave the Department of Justice the power to withhold federal funding if states don't upload records. Despite the fact that there are a handful of states that have uploaded no records – zero – no state has been penalized under that 2007 law. That's not a Democratic or Republican problem. Why don't we work together on that?
The House a couple of years ago passed additional funding to help states, other jurisdictions upload records. Why don't we find a way to work together to at least make the existing background system work?
This feeling of helplessness that people have in this country, this feeling of impotence that nothing can be done to change the trajectory of violence in this country, the regular scroll across the bottom of your TV screen telling you news of the latest mass shooting where little kids and senior citizens are being gunned down in churches and schools, that sense of helplessness isn't real. It's a fiction, an invention of the gun lobby designed to make this place feel as if there's nothing that can be done in order to make sure that they can continue to make these obscene amounts of profits.
There are things we can do. And I understand that despite the popularity of background checks in the public, we're probably not going to get a vote on that. But let's work together to make sure that automatic weapons can't be in the hands of civilians. Let's make real the very simple premise that seriously mentally ill people shouldn't be able to buy guns. Let's fix the background check system so that as Republicans tell us over and over again, at least we can enforce existing law.
There are ways that we can stop this slaughter, and I don't know how we live with ourselves, how we sleep at night as a body if in the face of these massacres, we don't even do the stuff that we all agree on.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.