Harris at Judiciary Committee Hearing on Gun Violence: "What We Need is Congress to Act"

Press Release

Date: March 14, 2018
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Guns

Harris: Thank you, I also want to recognize not only the hard work of the men and women of each of your agencies but the students who are out there right now protesting. They're mourning the loss of their classmates and frankly their innocence to some extent, knowing that they have to be prepared for what might be a massacre in their own schools. But they are also protesting our inaction, the inaction of Congress, the United States Congress.

And whether it's Sandy Hook or Sutherland Springs or Stoneman Douglas High School, what I think all of these young people, these leaders, are making very clear is that it's a false choice to suggest that you are either in favor of the second amendment or you want to take everyone's guns away. And right now what we need is we need to have common sense gun safety laws in our country and frankly to get to that place I would suggest that I don't think - I don't know what we are waiting for. We don't need any more tragedies. We've seen some of the most tragic incidents that one could imagine, and we don't need any new ideas, we've got great ideas. What we need is we need the United States Congress to have the courage to act.

And so, you know, having said that, I'm troubled by a suggestion that has come from the Administration that one solution might be that we arm teachers. And I just want to really understand what that might mean, let's break it down. So as a career prosecutor, I have worked with many communities where children go to sleep each night hearing gun fire. And so what we're proposing is that those children, remember Sandy Hook, we're talking about six and seven year olds, so children are supposed to go to school and look at the front of their class at their second grade teacher and she is going to be strapped with a gun. I don't understand how that makes any sense. Let's also talk about it in the context of the studies that have been conducted by the National Criminal Justice Resource Center, which is funded by the United States Department of Justice, which tells us that for trained law enforcement officials, they only hit of their intended target approximately 20% of the time.

So in an armed confrontation, they only hit their intended target approximately 20% of the time. Now we are talking about giving teachers some limited training on how to use a gun, I would suggest that their numbers aren't going to be any better than that. And when we say we miss our intended target, we are necessarily also saying that there may be people we hit that we may not intend to hit.

And if we're talking about a teacher in a classroom, that could very well be the students. So we have to, I would suggest, be a bit smarter about what we really intend to be the focus of legislation and policy. And Director Bowdich, I would love your thoughts on that in terms of what that would result in if we're talking about limited training of teachers to be strapped with a gun and what might be your concern about unintended consequences of a policy of that nature.

Bowdich: Well ma'am, I've spent my - I share the outrage at these attacks, first off. And as a career law-enforcement officer, both at the local and the federal level, I'm not a legislator. And I believe that is the legislator's job -

Harris: Just as a practical matter, what are your thoughts? Just as a practical matter. Are you concerned?

Bowdich: I, like everyone else in the room, have personal thoughts on things. But I'm not here representing me. I'm here representing the FBI. My thoughts are this is a matter for the legislators to take up and decide what is the best solution.

Harris: Okay, I would suggest that your thoughts would be very relevant to the decisions we make. But we can have that conversation another time. I also have a concern when we talk about this, of the impact of having armed teachers as it relates to African American and Hispanic students. And here's why I say that. There's an overwhelming body of evidence that shows that harsh disciplinary protocols disproportionately impact children of color. We know that in the studies that talk about what the rates are in terms of suspensions and expulsions from school. The FBI has done an extraordinary job I think of recognizing implicit bias among all professions including law enforcement, and I would suggest that it applies to all professions. Do you have any concern about a policy that would result in arming teachers and the concern that we should make sure that if something like that were to occur, that there would be training around implicit bias?

Bowdich: Senator, it's a good question. I have never really put the two together but I have not seen the document that you're referencing. I think any - whatever we decide, training is necessary on all fronts. The implicit bias training that we in the FBI administered I believe it was two years ago is actually very important for the organization as a whole, both internally, but also from the optics of the external as well.

Harris: And you've been a leader, the FBI has been a leader on recognizing we all carry implicit bias and it's important that we are aware of it when we make decisions, especially exercise judgment that might result in harm or even death to another person. And so I applaud your leadership in that regard. My time is up. Thank you.