Weekly Democratic Address
August 16, 2019
Hello, I’m Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
Every day, a hundred Americans are killed with guns. Hundreds more are shot and injured.
Almost three weeks ago, a lone shooter opened fire at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California. Three people were murdered, and more than a dozen were injured. The youngest victim, who was just six years old, was laid to rest on Monday.
Then, on Saturday, August 3rd, another gunman walked into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, with a high-powered assault weapon. He shot and killed 22 people and injured another 24. Press reports indicate that he told police after the shooting that he was targeting “Mexicans”.
Later, in the early hours of Sunday morning, another gunman opened fire at a popular bar in Dayton, Ohio, and in 32 seconds, nine people were murdered and another 27 were injured. The shooter used a semi-automatic weapon equipped with a hundred-round magazine. Over that one weekend, 31 innocent people were murdered and over 50 were injured because of just two mass shootings in America.
Even as our nation grieves over the horror of Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton, we must confront the reality that gun violence is not just a problem stemming from mass shootings. Gun violence is a public health epidemic that is plaguing our cities and communities every single day.
Domestic terrorists use high-powered, military-style assault weapons to kill our children and our families. This year alone, seven children under the age of 17 have been killed in St. Louis because of firearms. The most recent victim was just seven years old and he was shot while playing in his backyard with his sisters. He was supposed to start second grade on Tuesday.
Last October, the most deadly act of violence against the Jewish community in American history occurred at the Tree of Life synagogue in the city of Pittsburgh, when a shooter opened fire on three congregations worshiping during Shabbat morning services and killed 11 innocent Pennsylvanians and injured six more, including four law enforcement officers.
And on Wednesday in North Philadelphia, a man barricaded himself in a house and shot six police officers with a high-powered assault weapon. While facts are still being gathered, press reports indicate that the gunman had a long history of criminal convictions and would never have had access to a firearm with a proper background check.
It is time for Congress to act. On February 27th, the House passed H.R. 8 – the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. That was over 160 days ago, but Senate Majority Leader McConnell has refused to call this bipartisan bill to the floor of the Senate.
Our nation needs universal background checks in order to make all Americans safer from the horrors of gun violence. Reports indicate that in 2018 alone, approximately 1.2 million firearm classified ads were posted on armslist.com that do not, do not, require a background check before purchase. This loophole helps feed illegal underground gun markets in cities and communities across our country. If implemented, however, the universal background checks bill H.R. 8 would close this loophole and require a background check for all firearm sales between private parties.
Since 1994, background checks have prevented over 3.5 million gun sales to dangerous criminals and others prohibited from owning guns. The bipartisan universal background checks bill has not seen the light of day in the Senate thanks to Mitch McConnell. Senators are sent to Washington, D.C. to debate and to vote on big issues. Yet, the majority leader hasn’t called for a debate on any gun violence legislation in years. Public officials can’t continue to simply offer thoughts and prayers while lives are lost, and families and communities are destroyed because of legislative inaction.
We need action. The majority leader should call the Senate back to Washington to debate and vote on gun violence legislation.
Now, our first priority must be the universal background check legislation that was passed by the house in February, but there are other common-sense bills in the Senate that we should debate and vote on, including limiting the size of magazines and banning military-style assault weapons.
Now, some members of Congress say there’s nothing we can do about this uniquely American problem of gun violence. I have to ask, is there no action the most powerful country in the world can take? Are we gonna surrender to this problem that only America faces? No, we’re not! We’re Americans, and whenever Americans have been confronted with a challenge or a crisis or an enemy, we act together as one American family. We must do so again on this public health epidemic.
Universal background checks will not prevent every act of hateful gun violence or replace what has been lost in Gilroy, El Paso, Dayton, Philadelphia or in communities across the country, but we cannot surrender to a future where we continue to lose almost 40,000 lives a year to gun violence. We owe it to the victims, survivors, and families to keep working to reduce gun violence and fight the hateful extremism and white supremacy at the root of so many of these acts of domestic terror. This is a mission worthy of a great nation. Majority Leader McConnell must give the Senate the opportunity to debate and vote on universal background check legislation.