Gun Safety

Floor Speech

Date: April 11, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. REID. Mr. President, life can change in a moment. In Carson City, NV, a little over a year ago--actually, time goes quickly; it was in September of 2011, September 6--shortly before 9 o'clock in the morning, a deeply disturbed man with an automatic weapon stepped out of his car outside of a Carson City, NV, restaurant. In the few brief seconds that followed, he fired nearly 80 rounds from an automatic weapon, spraying bullets over the parking lot and into an IHOP restaurant that was packed with customers for breakfast. He killed four people instantly, wounded seven others, and then he took his own life after that. That took 85 seconds. In those 85 seconds, 5 lives ended, and countless more were altered forever.

Three Nevada Army National Guardsmen were on their way to work that morning: 31-year-old SFC Miranda McElhiney, 38-year-old SFC Christian Riege, and 35-year-old MAJ Heath Kelly. Florence Donovan-Gunderson, who was eating breakfast with her husband, was also killed--murdered.

In 85 seconds, Carson City joined the likes of Tucson, AZ, Fort Hood, TX, Blacksburg, VA, Columbine, CO, and scores of other cities and towns in America rocked by mass shootings in recent decades. And as were those other cities and towns, Carson City was left asking, Why? Maybe we will never know.

The gunman had been diagnosed earlier with schizophrenia. He had been involuntarily committed by law enforcement officials to a mental institution. He recently confided to a priest that voices he heard in his head told him to continue to do bad things. A lot is not clear.

What is clear is how the shooter obtained two assault rifles, two handguns, and almost 600 rounds of ammunition he took to the IHOP that day. I don't know--no one really knows--what happened. It is not clear what happened. Where did he get those weapons--two assault rifles, two handguns, and about 600 rounds of ammunition that he took with him to the parking lot to start shooting people?

Even though all of that is not clear in terms of how he obtained those assault weapons, this much is clear: We have a responsibility to do everything in our power to keep guns out of the hands of those who suffer from mental illness. I think it is clear we mean severe mental illness. Within our families we all have individuals who have periods of time when they are depressed. We must keep weapons out of the hands of those with illnesses that make them a danger to themselves and others. We have a responsibility also to keep the guns out of the hands of criminals--convicted felons.

The measure before the Senate today would institute universal background checks that would prevent people with severe mental illness from buying firearms--those with severe mental illness; I want to make sure we stress that--and criminals. This legislation would also crack down on anyone who buys a gun to funnel it to criminals and it would give schools the resources to improve security to keep children safe.

This bill won't stop every madman determined to take innocent lives. I know that. We all know that. Nor is this bill the only suggestion to prevent gun violence. In the coming days we will debate other proposals to make Americans safer.

An assault weapons ban will be debated and voted on. Improvements to our mental health system will be debated and voted on. A ban on high-capacity clips such as those used to kill four people in Carson City at the IHOP, and how the man in Columbine, CO, was able to get a magazine with 100 bullets in it--that is the only reason the people in Colorado weren't massacred even more. The gun jammed.

There are powerful feelings about each of the proposals I have mentioned, both strong support and strong opposition. But whichever side one is on, we ought to be able to agree to exchange thoughtful debate about these measures. Let's engage in it. We ought to be able to agree to a careful examination of the culture of violence that is growing in this Nation.

I am pleased a number of reasonable Republicans have joined Democrats in welcoming this debate saying they are not going to debate cloture. I hope we have enough to have cloture invoked. I feel fairly confident that, in fact, is the case.

As I have indicated for the last many weeks, we are going to have an open amendment process, as much as possible, on this bill. As always, the process will depend on the goodwill of all Senators. Somebody could come and do all kinds of things to stop us from doing anything on the bill. I hope that is not the case.

Once we are on the underlying bill, the first amendment, as I have indicated, will be on a substitute compromise background check proposal offered by Senators Manchin, Toomey, Kirk, and Schumer. I thank the Senators for their diligent work on this issue. They have been working a long time.

I am hopeful we will be able to debate and vote on a reasonable number of amendments offered by Senators who feel passionately about reducing gun violence or respecting Americans' second amendment rights. I also respect those who want to weaken the laws that now exist. They have a right to try to do that. But three soldiers--Miranda, Christian, and Heath--and Florence, who was not a soldier but was one of those killed--deserve some attention. There were seven people who were hurt as a result of these bullets as well as those killed. That was a terrible day in Carson City. Each one of them deserves a thoughtful debate, and they deserve votes.