Blumenthal calls for ‘effective’ ban on assault weapons

Following is the text of the speech Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) gave Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 18, on the floor of the Senate.

One of my reasons for being on the floor today is to talk about action that we can take. And I want the families who are grieving now to know that my standing here to talk about policy and action in no way means any disrespect or effort to intrude on their grieving and emotional rebuilding.

But we know on Friday, a tragedy befell the community of Newtown, Connecticut, and that tragedy is expressed in Senate Resolution 621 and House Resolution 833. I thank my colleagues in both Houses for condemning the attack and offering their condolences to the people of Connecticut and more importantly the people and families who suffered these losses most directly.

I have spent last four days, or a better part of them, in Connecticut. Those three days are a time that I don’t want to relive, ever.

I first learned about this incident on Friday morning in the midst of a normal day. I had events scheduled. I heard that there was something wrong in the Danbury area.

As the details mounted, I left Hartford to go to Newtown and to the firehouse in Sandy Hook. I arrived there as a public official but what I saw was through the eyes of a parent.

The firehouse in Sandy Hook is where parents went to find out if their children were okay. The way they found out was that their children appeared — or they didn’t. And after a while, some of the children came, some were reunited with their parents there or at the school, and their parents took them home, and others did not.

I will live forever with the sights and sounds of those parents as they emerged from the firehouse — the cries and sobbing, the cries of grief and anguish, the look on those faces.

The murderer blasted his way into the elementary school at Sandy Hook armed with a Bushmaster AR-15, an assault rifle, a 10 mm Glock pistol, and a 9 mm Sig Sauer, and with multiple magazines filled with 10, 15, 30 rounds — hundreds of rounds that he used in an execution-style massacre.

Wayne Carver, who is the state medical examiner for more than 30 years. He has seen it all. He said he has seen nothing like this. Ever. Twenty small bodies ripped apart. Executed, en masse.

So there’s no question that evil came to Newtown as Governor Malloy said, that day. Evil came in its starkest most inhumane terms. But heroism also came to Newtown.

The SWAT teams that went into that building actually saved lives. They saved hundreds of lives of students and staff in the school because the murderer took his own life when he knew they were entering. There is the heroism, of course, of the principal, of the teachers, and others who ran toward the sound of gunfire. They ran toward danger to protect their children, children who were six and seven, their faces now on front pages of newspapers, their stories inside.

The heroism of the state troopers who had to confirm the identities of the victims for their families — and stayed with those families throughout the weekend.

The heroism of the community itself. Newtown is indeed a quintessential New England town. Everybody, virtually everybody knows everybody else, which is a good thing, but in a way, also a bad thing, because everyone’s children knew the other children.

At the vigil Sunday night, two of the children came up to me to show me some of the necklaces they have made, with blue beads — 20 of them — 20 blue beads, each one for a child, a victim, and six stars for the adults. This community is not only quintessentially New England; it is quintessentially American in its strength, its resoluteness, its resiliency, its caring, and courage.

Part of what also has also inspired Newtown is the outpouring of support that they have received from all across America, and all across the world. So never doubt that the messages you have sent, the thoughts and prayers, have made a difference to them. They truly have. Newtown is a call for national reflection and coming together. This tragedy hit Connecticut but the town of Newtown is supported by the grief shared by all Americans. But it’s also a call for action.

It is the right time to ask what we can do to stop this sort of tragedy.

In recent years, there have been horrific shootings at Virginia Tech, in Aurora, in Oak Ridge, on university campuses, in movie theaters, in places of worship, and many other places where unsuspecting Americans going about their everyday lives, had those lives cut short in a few minutes of slaughter.

In Newtown, a lone gunman was able to kill twenty elementary school children, ranging from six to seven years old. He killed the school’s principal, and the school’s psychologist, and four teachers.

Sadly, there have always been, and there will always be, mentally ill people, mentally deranged or hateful people who want to lash out violently at the world, and we will never be able to stop all of them from doing harm.

But even if we cannot prevent all of these tragedies, we must not surrender and say that we will do nothing to prevent any of them.

In the last few days, everywhere I have gone in Newtown, people have come up to me and said the same words over and over. “We have to do something. We have to do something” and people in law enforcement, families of the victims, members of the clergy again and again, the same words. “We have to do something.”

And so, that is my commitment today. To do something. In fact, to do everything I can as a Senator, to press and prevent the next tragedy. As a former law enforcement official — and as a father — I cannot do less.

There is no single new law, no simple solution, that will be a cure-all.

But there are sound, sensible steps that we can take — involving, some of them, new laws, some involving better enforcement of existing laws. Our local and state police, for example, and federal agencies need more resources and support.

We need to do something to effectively ban assault weapons. I am talking about weapons that are not designed for self-defense or hunting, but rather for killing and maiming human beings, often as many as possible, as fast as possible. Weapons that are civilian versions of military weapons. There is no reason that such weapons should be for sale today in America.

We need to do something to ban high-capacity magazines also involved in this mass murder. What real hunter uses or needs 30-round clips? What self-defense situation is served by them?

We need to do something to better prevent mentally ill people and criminals from having firearms. I don’t know whether better laws could have prevented the shooter in Newton from getting his hands on the weapons he used. But we must look at what we can do to identify such people with serious mental problems before it’s too late. And provide intervention and treatment.

To date, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System has prevented nearly 1.8 million attempted purchases of firearms by mentally ill people or criminals. Clearly, that alone was not enough to prevent a number of tragic shootings. But I think we can all agree that it’s good those sales were not completed. And right now, only 60 percent of gun sales involve a background check. We should ensure that all firearm sales involve a background check, including guns that are not sold by licensed dealers — and that those checks, wherever they’re done, are thorough and comprehensive.

Nothing here means that we should trample on the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court has spoken clearly in the Heller case that law-abiding Americans have a Constitutional right to own firearms, whether for self-protection, hunting, competitive shooting, or any other proper purpose. That is now the law.

But the Supreme Court has also made clear that government can appropriately impose sensible regulation, just as it can in many other areas of constitutional rights, on how firearms are used and purchased. And everyone would agree that criminals and deranged people should not be able to get their hands on firearms.

On all of these issues, we have to look for sensible common ground, rooted in common sense. And I do believe that there is room for people of good will to work together to find it.

Even as I say that, I am mindful that issues involving Second Amendment rights and violence have in the past fueled deep passions. Suspicions and passions have run deep and wide, on both sides of this debate, including in this Chamber, and there is a lot of distrust to overcome.

I am here today to keep faith with the people of Newtown who have grabbed my arm and said, “We have to do something.” And that is my commitment: I will work with the President, and my colleagues in the Senate, regardless of party or geography. I will work with any organization that is willing to engage in a thoughtful, constructive discussion about what steps to take to avoid tragedies like the Newtown shootings in the future.

I will work to find a solution to this crisis — because it is a crisis — and I will not be deterred by any organization or campaign that uses scare tactics or intimidation. Because there was nothing more frightening — nothing more horrifying — than looking into the eyes of the parents who came out of that firehouse in Sandy Hook who lost their babies last Friday. That is any parent’s worst nightmare.

I know there are some who say that we can never do anything about the problem of gun violence, that we are entrenched as a nation and so polarized as a political body, that we will just continue to wring our hands after every massacre but never take action.

And yet sometimes events happen that so horrify our country and our fellow citizens, that they change the nature of the discussion. They change the political ground under us. They are a tectonic shift. And I believe that the massacre of these innocent children and their loving teachers in Newtown is exactly such an event.

Yesterday, some of my Senate colleagues had the courage to join this call for action and say publicly that we cannot go on as before. And I want to thank particularly Senators Manchin and Warner. Their heroic stance is an invitation, indeed a challenge, to every other member of the Senate to join in this common effort, to find common ground — and at long last do something to stop the killing.

I also want to thank particularly Senator Reid, our Majority Leader, for his leadership in calling for a meaningful and thoughtful debate on gun violence.

“We have to do something. We have to do something. We have to do something.” That is what people in Newtown have beseeched me, over and over. I believe the American people agree. This is our moment and we are the people to do it. And we can. I ask each of my colleagues to listen to those voices, and to hear their own hearts.

I thank you, Mr. President, and I yield the floor.