Senator Leahy Chairs
The First Congressional Hearing On Gun Violence
February 4, 2013
On January 30, 2013, Senator Leahy chaired the first congressional
hearing on gun violence since the horrific shooting in Newtown, CT. The
Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from Captain Mark Kelly,
husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who also gave brief
remarks at the outset of the hearing. Also testifying was Wayne LaPierre,
head of the National Rifle Association.
Senator Leahy made the following comments, "On December 14, America’s
heart was broken when 20 young children and six dedicated educators were
murdered. This is the first Judiciary Committee hearing of the 113th
Congress. I ask all assembled here today to join in the discussion as
part of a collective effort to find solutions to help ensure that no
family, no school, and no community ever has to endure such a grievous
We must come together today as Americans seeking common cause. Let us
forego sloganeering, demagoguery and partisan recriminations. This is
too important for all that. We all abhor the recent tragedies – in just
the last two years – in an elementary school in Connecticut, in a movie
theater in Colorado, in a sacred place of worship in Wisconsin, and in
front of a shopping mall in Arizona.
Americans are looking to us for solutions and for action. This Committee
is a focal point for that process. I have introduced a measure to
provide law enforcement agencies with stronger tools against illegal gun
trafficking. Others have proposed restrictions on military style weapons
and the size of ammunition clips. Others have proposed modifications to
the background check systems to keep guns out of the wrong hands, while
not unnecessarily burdening law-abiding citizens.
I know gun store owners in Vermont. They follow the law and conduct
background checks to block the conveyance of guns to those who should
not have them. They wonder why others who sell guns do not have to
follow these same protective rules. I agree with these responsible
business owners. If we can all agree that criminals and those
adjudicated as mentally ill should not buy firearms, why should we not
try to plug the loopholes in the law that allow them to buy guns without
background checks? It is a simple matter of common sense. And if we
agree that the background check system is worthwhile, should we not try
to improve its content and use so it can be more effective? What
responsible gun owner objects to improving the background check system?
At the outset of this hearing, I note that the Second Amendment is
secure and will remain secure and protected. In two recent cases, the
Supreme Court has confirmed that the Second Amendment, like other
aspects of our Bill of Rights, secures a fundamental individual right.
Americans have the right to self-defense and to have guns in their homes
to protect their families. No one can or will take those rights or our
guns away. Second Amendment rights are the foundation on which our
discussion rests. They are not at risk. But lives are at risk when
responsible people fail to stand up for laws that will keep guns out of
the hands of those who will use them to commit mass murder. I ask that
we focus our discussion on additional statutory measures to better to
protect our children and all Americans. Ours is a free society, an open
society. We come together today to consider how to become a safer and
more secure society.
No one begrudges the government assistance provided to victims of mass
tragedies made possible by the law we passed after the bombing at
Oklahoma City. The bill I introduced last week against gun trafficking
will similarly prove helpful and become an accepted part of our crime
control framework. It, too, is a commonsense reform. It fills a hole in
our law enforcement arsenal so that straw purchasers who acquire weapons
for criminals can be prosecuted more effectively.
Thursday the President nominated the U.S. Attorney from Minnesota to
direct the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
I trust that all Senators will cooperate in a prompt hearing and action
on that nomination and will join in good faith to strengthen our law
enforcement efforts against gun violence and to protect public safety.
As a responsible gun owner and someone who cherishes all of our
constitutional rights; as a Senator who has sworn an oath to uphold
those rights; as a father and grandfather; and as a former prosecutor
who has seen the results of gun violence first hand, I undertake these
efforts with hope that this hearing can build consensus around
commonsense solutions. Previous measures to close the gun show loophole
or to improve the background check system have been bipartisan. I hope
in this new Congress, further improvements will also become bipartisan.
I have said what kinds of measures I can support. I challenge other
Senators to come forward and do so, as well. I will ask our witnesses
what legislative proposals they support to make America safer, and I
thank everyone for joining today’s discussion."