WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2017 – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate Monday evening in response to the shooting in Las Vegas, which has left at least 59 people dead and more than 500 injured. Murphy lambasted his Congressional colleagues for taking no action in the wake of continued mass shootings, and demanded that Congress take immediate action to pass comprehensive gun safety reforms – like expanding background checks and closing the terrorist watch list loophole – to reduce gun violence.
“We have become normalized and regularized to 50 people losing their lives. This is a uniquely American problem,” said Murphy. “I want my colleagues to understand the pain that comes when the victims of this kind of epidemic violence see nothing but silence from this body. The hurt is deep, the scars are wide in Newtown, but they are made wider by the fact that this body, in four and a half years, has done absolutely nothing to reduce the likelihood of another mass shooting. There’s an unintentional endorsement that gets sent to these mass murderers when after slaughter after slaughter, Congress does nothing.”
“If the greatest deliberative body in the world doesn’t act to condemn [this violence] through policy change, it starts to look and feel like complicity,” continued Murphy. “I hope in the coming days we can come together, Republicans and Democrats, to start talking about at the very least some baby steps to show the people of Las Vegas, to show the people of Orlando, to show my constituents, my friends in Sandy Hook, that silence is no longer an option.”
Full text of Murphy’s remarks is below:
Mr. President, I think all of us felt a familiar knot in our stomach early this morning when we received news of what may be the deadliest mass shooting in American history. The numbers are hard to comprehend. They certainly aren’t final. 58 people are dead and perhaps over 500 have been wounded either by the gunshots themselves or by the pandemonium that ensued once the thousands of concertgoers in downtown Las Vegas figured out that they were being fired upon from above.
And there is nothing wrong with sending every thought and prayer, every bit of your heart to Las Vegas to all of the family members that lost loved ones to those that are recovering to the first responders, to the community writ large. It really does help. I lived through one of these as a witness in Sandy Hook. Many of those parents are my friends. We’re about the same age—our kids are the same age. While there are absolutely no words or gestures that can ever salve the wounds that can come with losing a child, especially a first grader, it did not hurt to know that the rest of the world was thinking every single minute about that community. The overwhelming amount of stuff that showed up in Sandy Hook, the teddy bears that piled up in the days and weeks that followed—it was a reminder to that town that they weren’t forgotten. It helps.
But it’s not enough. It’s not enough. I want to spend a few moments, I know to be proceeded by a few of my colleagues, to talk about the work that we have to do here. If we are to address what I would consider to be a festering lingering paradox that exists in this country. What I mean by that is this – this is a country that leads. Almost every great magical invention in this world today, whether it be open economies, participatory democracies, and communication through the internet, are essentially modern American inventions. The reason that we were able to catapult the rest of the world in a quarter millennium to a point of global preeminence is because we saw big problems and we solved them before anybody else did. And then we took those solutions and we exported them to the rest of the world. That is a definitional characteristic of this country – just working harder than anybody else to solve big problems and then giving that solution to others so they can use it for themselves.
The paradox lies here. We solved a lot of big problems – how to govern ourselves, how to organize our economies, how to talk to each other, how to save people from disease – and yet maybe the longest standing human concern is a very simple one: the concern for your physical safety. I can chart you a history of civilization based upon society’s ability to more consistently protect your physical body. That’s, in fact, one of the original reasons why humans found each other, to try to protect ourselves from physical harm that comes from the outside.
And the paradox lies in the fact that when it comes to this country’s ability to protect its citizens from physical harm, we are not a leader, we are a laggard. We are an outlier when compared to other industrialized first-world nations. You are much more likely to meet a violent death, especially by the hands of a firearm, in this country than you are in other first-world countries. And it’s time for us to explore why this paradox exists. Why are we such a leader — why have we been such a leader over the course of 240 years – on so many different concerns and yet we are a laggard when it comes to protecting ourselves and our fellow citizens from physical violence?
The scope of this problem is enormous. When you look at OECD countries, there are just a handful that have a higher rate of violence, and in particular gun violence, than the United States. I’ve been down on this floor, as has Senator Durbin and others, talking about the numbers over and over again. But every day approximately 80 people will lose their lives by gunfire. Two-thirds of those are suicide, but still 30 people are killed a day by a gun used by someone else and there is no other country in the industrialized world that meets that rate of gun violence. And the mass shootings which get the most attention are epidemic – are truly epidemic. We have become normalized and regularized to 50 or 40 or 30 people losing their lives, but this happens nowhere else other than the United States at this rate.
This is a uniquely American problem. By the way, it’s not just the Las Vegas and the Orlandos and the Sandy Hooks. We’ve had more mass shootings than days in the year if you categorize a mass shooting of four or more people shot at any one given time. And let me guarantee you, if four or more people were shot in your town or your neighborhood, that would be a cataclysmic event, and yet it happens on average more than once a day in this country. And yet because we have become so regularized to it, only the moments like last night where the scale is truly epic, do we focus on it as a nation.
I want my colleagues to understand the pain that comes when the victims of this kind of epidemic violence see nothing but silence from this body. The hurt is deep, the scars are wide in Newtown, but they are made wider by the fact that this body, in four and a half years, has done absolutely nothing to reduce the likelihood of another mass shooting. And, indeed, because we have done nothing, the mass shootings continue. I know these are harsh words, but I believe it in my heart there’s an unintentional endorsement that gets sent to these mass murderers when after slaughter after slaughter, Congress does nothing. If the greatest deliberative body in the world doesn’t act in unison to condemn them through policy change, it starts to look and feel like complicity.
There is going to be another wave of unimaginable pain that will sweep across Las Vegas and the country as we learn about who these victims were and perhaps the numbers will mount. And they will overtime be just as angry and just as furious at this body as the parents in Sandy Hook are today that we do nothing to reduce the likelihood of these shootings. Compassion is important, but it is not enough.
Now, I read a little passage of the Bible to my 5-year-old son every night, but I am the furthest thing from a theologian. I know sprinkled throughout the Bible are references to the fact that prayer has to be matched with action, with works. James says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
Thoughts and prayers need to be matched by action, and that’s our job. Our job, frankly, is not just to send good thoughts. The reason why we exist is to act, is to change the laws of the nation to address challenges that our constituents face, and since the beginning of time the most important challenge that our constituents have faced, that the human race has faced, is that of physical security.
So before I turn this over to my colleagues, let me just run down very quickly the arguments that are going to be used over the next few days to continue to do nothing.
Now, the first is already in operation today, and it’s a critique that I hear very often, often lodged at me personally, which is this – to talk about policy change in the wake of a mass shooting is to politicize it, is to cheapen it. I reject that argument in full force because the reality is every single day there’s a mass shooting. Every single day 80 people die from gun violence. Unfortunately, the news media doesn’t pay attention to that regular carnage. If we aren’t talking about policy change the day after a mass shooting in this country, they you are never talking about policy change because a mass shooting happens, on average, every day. Unfortunately, the ones where eight or 12 people are shot do not get national attention.
Second, whether we like it or not, the world’s attention – the country’s attention – is positioned on this question of how we protect our country from harm in the immediate aftermath of these mass shootings. It’s an enormous gift to the gun lobby, to the forces of status quo, if we cannot talk about how to change our laws to make people safer when everyone’s mind is on that question. When a murder occurs, there is not a 48-hour waiting period before the police can try to investigate who did it and how to hold them accountable. So why can’t we get immediately to the question of why these shootings are happening and try to solve it?
Second, others today are saying that legislation is a pointless exercise because you can’t regulate away evil. Well, there is truth to that. There are evil people in the world who are regularly doing very bad things, and there is no way this a set of laws can stop people from doing harm, but I would argue in some way, shape, or form at the very nature of government is an attempt to try to regulate the effect of evil on citizens. Our laws against murder and arson, rape and assault are attempts to try to protect people from evil, from bad people. And so why can’t we have a conversation about how to make sure that people who are contemplating mass violence at the very least do the least amount of violence possible?
It is not coincidental that these epidemic mass shootings in which 50 or 60 or 40 people are dying largely have happened after the expiration of the assault weapons ban. Now that it is much easier to get your hands on a gun that is much more accurate and much more lethal, the likelihood of large numbers of people dying – like what happened last night – is much greater. An AR-15 style weapon does something different to a human body than a pistol does. That’s why 20 kids were shot in Sandy Hook and not a single one of them survived. Laws do work. Just look at a state like Connecticut that requires universal background checks, that doesn’t allow you to buy assault weapons, that requires you to get a permit before you can carry. When we passed that set of laws, it resulted in a 40% reduction in gun violence, even when you account for other factors that could have caused reduction. That’s a Johns Hopkins study. In places that have universal background checks, domestic homicides are much lower by a degree of 40%. Laws work. The data is irrefutable on this point. And so even though you can’t regulate away evil in total, you can do more to protect people, especially from this mass scope of gun violence.
Third, people will say, well, this guy clearly was very mentally ill. You can’t do anything about the fact that people are mentally ill with gun laws. Well, that’s true. And we should fix our broken system of mental health treatment because it’s broken, but we should also recognize that this problem of mass execution is a uniquely an American problem, despite the fact there’s no evidence that we have a higher rate of mental illness than any other country. There are plenty of very mentally ill people in other OECD countries. But in those countries, their mental illness is not a straight line to a gun crime. In large part because they have a different set of laws that makes it harder to get your hands on a gun and much harder if not impossible to get your hands on a weapon that does the kind of mass violence we saw last night.
Lastly, one of the favorite arguments is that this is just too hot an issue for the United States Senate or a political body to handle – that it’s controversial. Well, it is controversial but it’s not as controversial as people may think. In fact, the issue of background checks – which I understand may not have been dispositive on what happened in Las Vegas last night but might have reduced the likelihood that another 80 people died from gun violence over the course of Sunday – background checks are supported by 80% of Americans. Most polls suggest that the majority of Americans support the other suite of law changes I talked about as well. In fact, many of the first steps that we would take as a body – saying people on the terrorist watch lists can’t buy guns, tightening up the law to make sure people who are mentally ill can’t buy guns –those are supported by 80% to 90% of our constituents, no matter whether you live in the bluest state or the reddest state.
The question of making sure that only the right people own guns, that actually is one of the least controversial issues in the American public today. Why don’t we start by finding that common ground and maybe after that we can find other common ground.
This is going to keep happening. This is going to keep happening over and over again. And I know the answer can’t be that we are powerless as a body to do something about it. I just personally can’t bring that answer back to the families of Sandy Hook for another year. And I have a feeling – I don’t want to speak for them – but I have a feeling that the delegation from Nevada is going to have a hard time bringing that answer back to the victims in Las Vegas as well.
This is a growing fraternity. A tragic, awful fraternity. Members of Congress who represent states who have gone through these horrific mass executions. I had too many phone calls from senators and representatives who are already part of that club when Sandy Hook happened, and I got to make that call this morning as well to offer whatever advice I could on how to help a community heal.
But this silence has become an unintentional endorsement, a sick simplicity. I hope in the coming days we can come together, Republicans and Democrats, to start talking about, at the very least, some baby steps to show the people of Las Vegas, to show the people of Orlando, to show my constituents, my friends in Sandy Hook, that silence is no longer an option.
I yield the floor.