WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the Las Vegas shooting by delivering one of his “Voices of Victims” speeches on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Murphy called on Congress to take action to pass commonsense gun reform laws that will make our streets, schools, and communities safer. Murphy told the stories of Candice Bowers, Angela Gomez, Charleston Hartfield, and Bill Wolfe, all victims of last year’s mass shooting, in addition to stories of other victims of gun violence across the country.
“As we came out of that shooting a year ago, it seemed that we all at the very least agreed that these things called bump stocks…shouldn't be legal … Yet we are now a year since Las Vegas, and you can still get one of these … And so to me it's just unbelievable that our ability to work on the issue of gun violence has broken down so badly that even on an issue where we profess agreement a year after 58 people were killed – and by the way, 800 people injured – we still haven't done anything, anything in this Congress about the narrow issue of bump stocks which turn a semiautomatic weapon essentially into an automatic weapon,” said Murphy.
“A vast majority of our violence in this country today are done by guns, and the data tells you that the places in the United States that have invested in the kinds of reforms we would like to take nationally, like universal background checks, violence rates are much lower, gun deaths are much lower. It's not a guessing game as to what works here if you actually want to reduce the number of people who are killed by guns,” added Murphy.
The full text of Murphy’s remarks is below:
Mr. President, Candice Bowers overcame a lot of challenges in her life. She raised two children as a single mother. She worked as a waitress at Mimi's cafe. She had a wide circle of friends. She adopted a daughter Ariel who was a relative's baby who couldn't care for her. Ariel was 2 years old, her children were 16 and 20. A year ago yesterday Candice Bowers was one of the over 50 victims of the biggest mass shooting in American history in Las Vegas. Her aunt said “everybody loved her,” speaking about Candice, “she always had a smile on her face. She would help anybody. She had a big heart. She was just a sweetheart.” Robert Layaco, who is a 78-year-old veteran who served in the Korean War who was her grandfather says that “everybody else might forget about this in six months, but we'll never forget about her. I won't. Her daughter won't. Her little daughter won't. Her son won't forget about her,” he said, thinking ahead about all the Thanksgivings and Christmases where there will be an empty seat at their dinner table. He said, “Thoughts and prayers are just not going to do it.”
Angela Gomez was 20 years old when she was gunned down at that concert a year ago yesterday. She had just graduated from Riverside Polytechnic High School in 2015 and was attending classes at community college. Her former cheer coach said that Angie was “a fun loving, sweet young lady with a great sense of humor.” She challenged herself all the time. Angie enrolled in advanced placement classes. She loved the stage. She was involved in cheer. She was involved in choir. She was involved in the Riverside children's theater. She had an amazing life ahead of her filled with joy, filled with enthusiasm for performance.
Charleston Hartfield was 34 years old when he was killed in the shooting in Las Vegas. He was a Las Vegas police officer and he was off-duty when he decided to attend the Route 91 Harvest Festival. That's where this shooting took place. One of his friends said, “I don't know a better man than Charles. They say it's always the good ones we lose early. Well, there's no truer statement than that with Charles.” Charles enlisted in the Army in 2000, and he was a paratrooper, the 82nd Airborne Division. He deployed to Iraq in 2003 and he served in a task force that was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism. He survived deployment to Iraq, one of the most dangerous theaters of combat in modern history. He couldn't survive going to a concert to hear a singer he liked in his hometown of Las Vegas.
Mr. President, I come down to the floor every week or so, a little less frequent now than I did a few years ago, to talk about who these people are. The statistics, I think, have kind of come to wash over people. There's no other country in the world, at least in the advanced world, the industrialized world, that has numbers like this: 33,000 a year dying from guns, 2,800 a month, 93 a day. These are epidemic-level numbers. There's lots of different stories inside these numbers. The majority of these are suicides. We have an epidemic level of suicide alone in this country that is going nowhere but up. But a lot of these are homicides. A lot of these are accidental shootings. They're domestic violence crimes. Suffice it to say it only happens in the United States and it's getting worse, not better. I can certainly show you a 200-year trajectory in which violence in the United States is getting better, but in the last several years since these mass shootings have become so regularized, all of it is getting worse. There seems to be a lot of consensus about at least one very narrow cast idea to try to reduce the likelihood that 58 people could die all at one time as happened in Las Vegas. As we came out of that shooting a year ago, it seemed that we all at the very least agreed that these things called bump stocks, these things that are manufactured to turn a semiautomatic weapon essentially into an automatic weapon where you can fire multiple rounds with one pull of the trigger, that these things shouldn't be legal, that they shouldn't be allowed to be sold because we all had made a decision a long time ago that notwithstanding our differences as to whether these semiautomatic tactical weapons should be sold in the commercial space, we at least knew that automatic weapons should not be available to consumers, and now this modification was being allowed to turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons. Yet we are now a year since Las Vegas, and you can still get one of these – you can still turn a semiautomatic weapon into an automatic weapon with ease. In fact, bump stock manufacturers don't need a federal firearms license to sell them. So you don't even need a license to sell these things because the federal government classifies them as accessories, not firearms. And so to me it's just unbelievable that our ability to work on the issue of gun violence has broken down so badly that even on an issue where we profess agreement a year after 58 people were killed – and by the way, 800 people injured – we still haven't done anything, anything in this Congress about the narrow issue of bump stocks which turn a semiautomatic weapon essentially into an automatic weapon.
Now, in February of this year, President Trump directed the Department of Justice to propose a rule that would do this, and just last week, the Department of Justice announced that it was submitting its rule to the Office of Management and Budget, one of the final steps in the rule-making making process. But as we all know, that rule-making process takes a long time. We're talking about a rule that won't be effective, at least until 2019. And even when that rule is put into place, it will be easily contested in the courts because we all know that it is doubtful as to whether the administration has the ability to ban bump stocks given the nature of the underlying law. It would be so much easier for us to just pass a law that says bump stocks are illegal, thus taking the question away from the courts as to whether the administration has the power to do it. And we could also do it much more quickly because this rule is still going to take months and months and months before it is fully put into effect, putting more and more people in this country at risk.
And so I wear my frustration on my sleeve when it comes to the issue of gun violence because I just don't understand why there's only one issue like this in the American public where the public has made up its mind. The polling tells you that universal background checks enjoy 97% support in this country, people want these assault weapons off the streets by a two to one margin. Bump stocks – the ban of bump stocks enjoys ratings similar to that of universal background checks and yet we still can't get it done. We still can't get it done. And there are consequences. There are consequences. If you look back over the history of this country, we have always been a more violent nation than our parent nations in Europe from which a lot of the original settlers came from. But we are more violent now by a factor of five or six, and in some cases a factor of 20, because a vast majority of our violence in this country today is done by guns, and the data tells you that the places in the United States that have invested in the kinds of reforms we would like to take nationally like universal background checks, or the bans on certain very dangerous high capacity weapons, violence rates are much lower, gun deaths are much lower. It's not a guessing game as to what works here if you actually want to reduce the number of people who are killed by guns. We know ultimately what works. And maybe one of my chief frustrations continues to be the fact that we only get attention on the issue of gun violence when 50 people are killed or when it's the one-year mark of 50 people being killed. Because this number is daily. 93 people every day are being killed by guns, and they do not make it on to the evening talk shows. They don't make headlines, but the pain for those 93 families today that will lose a loved one from a suicide or homicide or accidental shooting, it is no different than the pain that comes with losing a brother or a sister or a son or a daughter in Parkland or Las Vegas or in Newtown.
Betty Sandoval had a toxic relationship with a man who had been threatening her for some time. There were text messages found on her phone threatening her life if she ever left her boyfriend. She was followed home by this young man one day who shot and killed her out of anger that their relationship was going the wrong way. Betty was 16 years old and was shot by a young man in a fit of passion who had easy access to a weapon with which to try to exorcize his demons over a relationship. Is this a story of America. We don't have more mental illness than any other country in the world, we don't have more broken relationships than any other country in the world, we just have more guns. So when a young man is really upset about how things are going with this 16-year-old girlfriend, he can easily find a weapon. That's the story of suicides as well. Tons of data shows that if you don't have easy access to a gun in those moments when you're contemplating taking your own life, you have a chance to survive that moment, get help, have a conversation with your mother, father, or friend that gets you to a different place. The proximity of that weapon makes a difference as it did for Betty Sandoval who died just about three weeks ago in Houston, Texas.
Dezmen Jones was 15 years old, Jameel Robert Murray was 28 years old when they were shot to death in York, Pennsylvania. Of Jameel Murray, one of his mother's friends said, “He was always smiling.” “He was larger than life,” one of his mother’s friends said. Classmates of Dezmen Jones said, “He was a really cool person who had lots of friends.” Dezmen was 15 years old and he rode his bike all around town, from friend to friend and back and forth to William Penn Senior High School. He was 15 years old when he was gunned down. Jameel's mother’s friend set up a memorial on Facebook because his family didn't have enough money to have a funeral so they asked for donations online to give Jameel a proper burial. That shooting happened a week ago on September 26.
Close to home in Waterbury, Connecticut, on September 2nd, Matthew Diaz was shot in the back early Sunday morning September 2, in the Berkeley Heights housing complex. This is about three miles from my house – from our house in Connecticut. He was the father of two. He had an 11-year-old son. He had a 2-year-old daughter. Imagine having to tell an 11-year-old kid that your dad's gone, he's never coming back. Matthew's mother said, “He loved his children to the fullest. He would do anything for his children. He would do anything for me. He was my friend, my protector, my comedian.” Diaz was unconscious when police found him but was pronounced dead at after arriving at the hospital. When an 11-year-old loses a dad or when you lose your mom or a newly adopted 2-year-old no longer has her adopted mother, everything changes, everything is cataclysmic for those families. There are 93 stories every day, but it doesn't have to be that way. It is not inevitable. It is within our control. I think these numbers tend to stun people after a while. I think these numbers don't mean anything to folks so I will continue to come down to the floor and tell the story of these victims, give voices to these victims, especially today as we mark one year since the worst mass shooting in the history of the country since we recognize one full year, since we pledge to do something about it, since we talked about the narrow area of agreement around bump stocks, one full year of total inaction on the one thing we thought – we thought we could do together to make this country a safer place.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.