Progressive Caucus: Addressing Gun Violence

Floor Speech

Date: June 24, 2015
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Guns Legal


Mr. Speaker, let me thank the gentlewoman from New Jersey for her consistent leadership and, particularly, her friendship, her passion for her district, and her commitment to policies that will lift all of us together as Americans.

This is the first time, Mr. Speaker, that I have had an opportunity to speak on the floor of the House since the moving and horrific tragedy that occurred in Charleston, South Carolina, to be able to first publicly express my deepest sympathy to the families that now mourn.

I think this may be the longest period of time that I have had a chance to speak. My recollection may be that I offered sympathies last week.

But to take a moment to explore the heinousness of the acts of the perpetrator who knocked on a door that was not closed, entered a sanctuary that did not reject him, walked down some stairs to a historic basement that reminds all of us of our church basements across the Nation, being that houses of worship, in particular, African American churches, will have their Sunday or Sabbath school in areas that are basements, particularly along the northern and eastern coasts.

We know that Sunday or Sabbath school is particular to all of our many denominations in the Protestant faith, and every one of us understands that weekly Bible study that, through the traditions of our lives, we have seen our families and grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and those of us who joined in Bible study. In fact, Mr. Speaker, a Bible study is a phenomenon of the American church, the Protestant Church, where people gather to study and to understand the Word.

I said in a memorial service in Houston, it is a time of joy, a time of pain, a time of explaining one's self, and a time of redemption. And you feel good, for you join with your fellow travelers, and in a weary week, midweek, you come and restore yourself.

I can imagine that during the time that this evildoer was there, there was a lot of laughing or asking questions about the Scripture; might have been some joyful, argumentative interpretation, where Bible study participants give their perception or their interpretation. I know this because, if you have gone, you know what Bible study is all about.

In the course of that, the evildoer, filled with the sickness--and I hesitate to say ``cancer.'' Cancer is something that people do not voluntarily seek, but we know that cancer can eat at a body and kill someone.

So the cancerous racism that this individual possessed and internalized and, in fact, duped himself and took the medicine and continued to fill himself with a deadly concoction that was going to do nothing but kill him, but before it killed him, he felt compelled to kill someone else.

The money that he received for the celebrating of his 21st year, very young years--I guess what breaks my heart is how, in those young years, he could become so hateful. For as I said, he came into a place that did not reject him. He went down the stairs in a place where people were rejoicing.

And he, at the conclusion, after sitting next to Reverend Doctor Senator Pinckney, took out a gun and methodically killed those wonderful families--mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers and a son and father--without a pain.

He took a gun that none of us would raise to any Member on this floor or none of us in our houses of worship would raise to any forlorn traveler, any weary person that would come into our place of worship, whether a mosque, a Catholic parish, a synagogue, a Hindu temple, or any form of Protestant church, big or small.

Houston prides itself on having many, many denominations. In fact, we are now in the middle of Ramadan. Houston has many, many places of worship. I wouldn't venture to say I have been to all all over the world, but I have been to all in the city of Houston, my own congressional district, and each place, in their own faith, have welcomed people in.

We only see where there are evildoers that people would blow up temples, mosques, synagogues, and churches. This person didn't blow it up a distance away. He methodically did this. And a mother had to watch a son try to rescue those, protect them.

Heroes shown. The stories have not all been told, but we know that there were heroes in the midst. In fact, they all are heroes.

So I come for two reasons. I come to indicate that much of what we heard here today is true, that for us to do honor to those who died in this disastrous massacre, murderous, blood flowing from the church, that it will have to be our actions. It will have to be what we do about education and criminal justice reform.

I almost want to stop myself for the broken recordness of this because we will only do it in unity. We will only do it after we put aside contentious votes and we begin to say, What will heal America? We will not heal--and we have said this before--on the issue of cancerous racism unless we admit that it exists.

Many of us will present to this Congress a resolution that calls upon the recognition that there are some symbols of hate that we cannot deny. We will frame it in America's unity, as has been noted already earlier today, Governors and State representatives and others of good thought. Mitt Romney, for example, joined with President Obama's tweet that it is the right thing to do, to take down that rebel symbol that has been used to run onto the plantations of yesteryear with individuals clothed in white clothing, providing fear, intimidation, and evildoing.

Certainly we know the threats that Dr. King received during his life, or Medgar Evers during his life, who was murdered on his front porch, were all circling around people not talking about slavery. They were talking about desegregation and their opposition to desegregation and their support of upholding segregation.

This symbol of evil is not far from our life of 2015. Many of us lived through it and saw the disaster of such. Many of us saw the killing of civil rights workers, bound in hatred and not wanting to change what did not unify America but divided America.

So the guns that I have addressed now for the period of time that I have been here--I passed one of the few gun ordinances in a lawmaking body, the city council, which most people don't realize that some city governments give lawmaking legislative authority to their elected representatives. Houston, a noncity manager government, does that.

And I remember that ordinance, amongst the mayor and city council persons, packed the chambers. People with revolutionary outfits, gun enthusiasts, the NRA, all opposing a simple gun ordinance that said that, if a parent allowed a child to get a gun in their hand and a horrific incident happened, a shooting or the child shot themselves, the parent would be held responsible. It was some semblance of not taking a gun away, but trying to instill responsibility with guns.

When we talk about this on the floor of the House, why all of a sudden, Mr. Speaker, does it become that we are against the Second Amendment and the National Rifle Association, and that this is going to be the undermining of this powerful organization if we even utter the words ``gun responsibility''? Why?

Why in Newtown?

I thought I had seen enough, heard enough when 20 little babies in a corner, no less, 6 adults murdered in a murderous fashion from someone who absolutely did not deserve a gun for whatever the reason, as they took their own life, or someone who now stands on trial in Colorado who decided that a night out with a dad and his daughter in a theater--something that Americans know is part of our American culture. We are just moviegoers. We make the movie industry.

In the old days, in those outdoor drive-ins that many remember were some of the best times with your family--and thank God they didn't cost a lot--or the sophisticated high-tech theaters of today, it is still the same. Dads and little girls are going to theaters together. And this criminally minded person, evildoer, decided to kill 12 or, to our very distinguished colleague, the Congresswoman from Arizona, who was maintaining the dignity of her office, was shot down in the street by a gun, killed a Federal judge and many others, a 9-year-old girl, her staff, whose memory that we continue to mourn.

So, Mr. Speaker, I would offer to say that I joined with Congresswoman Watson Coleman to indicate that the issue of gun responsibility legislation is not even overdue. We are crying out for relief. The violence that is used with handguns and AK-47s and automatic weapons is unspeakable.

We need to close the gun show loophole that allows people to go and get guns at gun shows. The name of my good friend Carolyn McCarthy and John Dingell, they worked together and had compromises. We could not get them on the floor of the House.

We need to go even further. We need to be able to assure that where this evildoer brought the gun, his exposure to the criminal justice system should have disallowed him from purchase until he was completely vetted. Some say that he would have stolen one or gotten one out of the back of a pickup truck, but maybe, Mr. Speaker, he would not have been able to go on that fateful night down those stairs through that open door to kill those blessed souls who were studying the word of the Lord.

So it is a challenge now. I know that those of us in the Congressional Progressive Caucus are Americans. I know that those who adhere to the Tea Party philosophy are Americans. To our various conservative caucuses that are in the Conference, our Republican friends, to the various caucuses that are in the Democratic Caucus, all are Americans. All felt the pain of the murderous act. In fact, it is almost like we are living in a cocoon. It is not over yet, as these families bury their loved ones.

But I think it is upon us--it is an onerous responsibility--to confront this whole question of racism, as the President has charged us to do, and not do it with another round of conversation, but confronting the fact that we can begin by removing symbols and doing something proactively on changing lives.

Then it is upon us to take on this gun responsibility question, to call the NRA to a table of reconciliation, to master a legislative agenda and an omnibus initiative that doesn't have anyone hiding under tables, that there will be no indictment of whether you are for or against. But we hope the majority would move this legislation forward to change the way young people, people who are on the edge, people who shouldn't have guns get guns and kill people. It is time for this Congress to pass the legislation. It is time for the President to be able to sign the legislation.

Let me thank the gentlewoman from New Jersey for her genuine courtesy extended this evening to allow me to both mourn and condemn racism that has been the plight of many of our people in this country and to, as well, remind us that we are derelict in our duty if we do not pass real serious gun responsibility legislation.

Mr. Speaker, last weekend we were faced with another example of what damage results from easy access to guns. The violence that took place in Charleston, South Carolina last week is something that is not new to our nation but is something that we can and must come together to prevent from happening in the future.

As a senior member of the Judiciary Committee and the Ranking Member of its subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, and the author of H.R. 65, ``Child Gun Safety and Gun Access Prevention Act, I am in support of our Congress coming together to find solutions to the issue of gun violence, through gun law reform and active engagement of our communities to get to the heart of these problems.

Today, homicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24 years old.

Even more disturbing is the fact that homicide is the leading cause of death for African Americans between ages io and 24, and the second leading cause of death for Hispanic Americans.

The leading weapon of choice used to kill those victims was a firearm. (82.8% were killed with a firearm.)

Many guns are in the wrong hands, and end up being the highly efficient tools of criminals and mass murderers.

Every 30 minutes, a child or teenager in America is injured by a gun.

Every 3 hours and 15 minutes, a child or teenager loses their life to a firearm.

In 2010, 82 children under 5 years of age lost their lives due to guns.

To put that number in perspective, 58 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty that year.

While preventing the deaths of so many young people should be our highest priority, we also need to address the broader culture of violence that pervades our society.

The Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus recognize the need for a comprehensive approach to addressing the problem of gun violence in America.

Guns and the harm perpetrated by them impact every American and the events at Sandy Hook and Aurora only underscore how random gun violence events can be; but it is important to appreciate that regular gun violence has a particularly devastating impact on the communities we represent.

We must use the tragedy in Charleston, which took the lives of nine innocent church members, as an opportunity to take action to improve the lives of all Americans.

We need to reform current gun laws and implementing change that will prevent these types of events in the future.

As the Founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Children's Caucus and as a senior Member of the Judiciary Committee, I have listened far too often to the tragic testimony of individuals who have survived or lost loved ones as a result of gun violence.

We respect the Second Amendment, but we understand that supporting universal background checks for all gun sales is not inconsistent with supporting responsible gun ownership. With rights come responsibilities.

And responsible gun ownership requires at a minimum that guns in the home be stored safely out of reach of unsupervised children and making sure that guns are not transferred to non law abiding citizens or the mentally ill.

My bill, H.R. 65 ``The Child Gun Safety and Gun Access Prevention Act of 2013'', would do just that.

Mr. Speaker, gun violence has reached epidemic proportions.

We must pass responsible gun violence prevention legislation like H.R. 65 and require universal background checks for all gun sales.