[Congressional Record Volume 159, Number 51 (Tuesday, April 16, 2013)]
[Senate]
[Pages S2676-S2679]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




         SAFE COMMUNITIES, SAFE SCHOOLS ACT OF 2013--Continued

  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Minnesota.
  Mr. FRANKEN. Mr. President, I want to start off by saying I am deeply 
saddened by the tragedy in Boston. Franni's and my thoughts and prayers 
are with everyone who has been affected.
  Franni and I went to school in Boston. In fact, we met more than 43 
years ago at a freshman mixer in Copley Square, so we know Boston. We 
have witnessed firsthand the kind of compassion and resilience we have 
seen from Bostonians, and I have faith we will find whoever did this 
and bring that person or those persons to justice.
  Mr. President, I came to the floor today to speak in support of the 
gun violence legislation we are considering. Since the tragedy in 
Newtown, we have been asking ourselves what we should do to address 
this problem of gun violence in our country.
  My primary focus in the wake of Newtown has been on mental health. 
Improving the access to mental health care has been one of my top 
priorities since I came to the Senate, and I am glad people are 
beginning to focus more on the issue. If we are going to make mental 
health a part of this, let's make it more than just a talking point. 
Let's make it a true national priority. Let's really do something to 
improve access to treatment for folks who need it.
  Since the first day I got here, I have been pushing the 
administration to issue the final regulations for the Wellstone-
Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which requires 
insurance plans to cover mental health and addiction services and to do 
so to the same extent they cover medical and surgical services. Five 
years after that bill was signed into law, at long last the 
administration has promised to implement it, and to do so by the end of 
the year. I expect the administration to follow through on that 
commitment.
  I have also introduced the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration 
Act to help law enforcement officers respond to mental health crises in 
their communities and improve access to mental health treatment for 
people who end up in the criminal justice system. This is a bipartisan, 
bicameral bill that I have been working on since last year, well before 
the tragedy in Newtown.
  In January I introduced the Mental Health in Schools Act which will 
improve children's access to mental health services. Catching these 
issues at an early age is very important. I met with some mothers from 
the Mounds View School District in Minnesota about this matter. Their 
children's lives, their own lives, and their families' lives were 
changed for the better because the kids got access to the mental health 
care they needed at an early age.
  My bill has 17 cosponsors and key provisions have been included in a 
package which was recently reported out of the HELP Committee. I look 
forward to considering that legislation on the Senate floor soon. I 
urge my colleagues to support this legislation.
  These are important measures, but let me be absolutely clear: The 
last thing we need to do is stigmatize mental illness. I said this many 
times before, and I will say it again because it bears repeating, and 
it is very important to me: The vast majority of people with mental 
illness are no more violent than the general population. In fact, they 
are more frequently the victims of violence than others are.
  There is a very small subset of those with serious mental illnesses 
who may become more violent if they are not diagnosed and treated, and 
that is the one place where this issue of mental health intersects with 
the issue of violence. Improving access to mental health care is all 
about improving people's lives. It is about helping people with mental 
illness and their families by making them happier and more productive 
people. However, today we are talking about gun violence prevention 
legislation.
  People have strongly held views on both sides--or all sides--of this 
issue. Not only is that true in Minnesota, it is true throughout the 
country. Minnesota has a proud tradition, like Indiana, of responsible 
gun ownership.
  We are home to many sportsmen and sportswomen. Generations of 
Minnesotans have learned to hunt pheasants, deer, and ducks from their 
parents, their grandparents, their aunts and uncles, friends and 
neighbors. We cherish our traditions and our Second Amendment right to 
bear arms for collection, protection, and sport.
  Minnesota has both urban and rural areas. It is home to moms, dads, 
teachers, law enforcement officers, and health care providers too. We 
have members of the National Rifle Association and members of the Brady 
Campaign Against Gun Violence.
  After the shooting at Sandy Hook, I reached out to my constituents. I 
got on the phone, I traveled across the State, I convened roundtables, 
I talked to hunters, school officials, law enforcement officers, and 
mental health experts. I wanted to hear Minnesotans' ideas, their 
hopes, their concerns, and their thoughts because it was and is 
important to me to approach this in a deliberative way.
  Here is what I took away from these conversations: Minnesotans want 
us to take action to reduce gun violence and make our communities 
safer, but they want us to do it in a way that honors the Second 
Amendment and respects Minnesota's culture of responsible gun 
ownership. There is a balance to be struck there.
  The overwhelming majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens who 
responsibly use their guns for recreation and self-protection. Their 
concern should not be dismissed or trivialized. Their rights should not 
be undermined because of the horrible acts of just a few. So I suggest 
that our goal should be to take whatever steps we can to reduce 
gun violence and improve public safety without unduly burdening law-
abiding, responsible gun owners. I believe that is what the Safe 
Communities, Safe Schools Act, the Manchin-

[[Page S2677]]

Toomey amendment, and the assault weapons ban do.

  First, we need to improve the Nation's background check system, and 
we need to strengthen our laws to combat straw purchases and gun 
trafficking. This was one of the key recommendations I have taken away 
from my meeting with law enforcement leaders in Minnesota. I think 
background checks are the single most important thing we can do to save 
lives.
  Today background checks are required only when a gun is sold by a 
federally licensed dealer. Background checks are used to determine 
whether a perspective buyer has a felony conviction, is a fugitive from 
the law, has a restraining order against him, or has a serious mental 
illness. The problem is that people who cannot pass a background check 
simply go to a gun show or go on the Internet or to the classified ads 
to get a gun instead, and that is exactly what they do.
  By some estimates about 40 percent of all gun transactions are 
processed without a background check. This is like having two lines at 
the airport: one where people go through the security screening and one 
where they don't, and those passengers are the ones who choose which 
line they stand in. Would anyone feel comfortable on a plane if they 
knew that 40 percent of the passengers didn't go through the security 
check and they were the ones who chose not to go through the security 
check?
  The Manchin-Toomey amendment will expand background checks to gun 
shows and other congressional transactions. These checks are not an 
undue burden. They can typically be conducted in a matter of minutes 
through NICS, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. 
The amendment excludes certain exchanges, such as when a Minnesotan 
hands his gun down to his son or to her daughter.
  The Manchin-Toomey amendment fixes another problem. We all know 
background checks are only as good as the database they use. The 
problem is that a lot of States are not submitting court documents and 
other records to NICS. The amendment will provide new incentives and 
penalties to make sure the States do a better job.
  This law will work. Since we started administering instant background 
checks more than 1.7 million felons, fugitives, domestic abusers, and 
people with serious mental illnesses have been denied access to 
firearms--and that is under the system that exists today with all of 
its loopholes and flaws.
  We have seen that women are less likely to be killed by an intimate 
partner in States that have expanded their own background check 
systems. And, look, about 90 percent of Americans want us to pass this 
measure--90 percent. This is not a Republican idea, it is not a 
Democratic idea, it is just a good idea.
  I think it would be a remarkable failure of our democracy if we 
cannot get this done. If we cannot get this done, I am afraid it is 
because we have relied on fears and falsehoods instead of on facts.
  For instance, some have argued that an expanded background check 
system will result in a Federal gun registry, but Federal gun 
registries are banned under existing law and the legislation we are 
considering would not repeal or weaken that. In fact, the Manchin-
Toomey amendment would strengthen the current prohibition on Federal 
gun registries.
  The other argument we have heard is that we should not bother 
improving the background check system until we do a better job 
prosecuting those who cheat the background check system under current 
law. There is really no reason we cannot do both, enforce and improve 
the law. In fact, that is exactly what the legislation does.
  This legislation expands the background check system and strengthens 
the penalties for straw purchasers and gun traffickers. So I strongly 
support these proposed improvements to the background check system and 
to our gun trafficking laws.
  The Judiciary Committee also reported Senator Feinstein's assault 
weapons ban to the Senate floor. The bill would ban the future 
manufacture of large-capacity magazines and certain weapons with 
military-style characteristics. This bill will not require anyone to 
forfeit a gun he or she already has.

  We saw the damage assault weapons or large-capacity magazines can do 
at Newtown, Tucson, Aurora, and elsewhere. Here is what Milwaukee 
Police Chief Edward Flynn said about assault weapons at a recent 
Judiciary Committee hearing:

       Assault weapons are built to inflict violence against 
     humans. Their military characteristics are not merely 
     cosmetic in nature. These weapons are designed for combat. 
     They are designed to quickly, easily, and efficiently cause 
     lethal wounds to humans.

  We are not talking about just mass shootings. For instance, studies 
suggest that large-capacity magazines may be used in up to a quarter of 
all gun crimes and 41 percent of police murders.
  I believe the assault weapons ban will make our communities safer 
without unduly interfering with the rights of responsible gun owners. I 
think the bill strikes an appropriate balance. Others disagree, and I 
respect their views, but there are a few arguments that have been 
advanced against the assault weapons ban that I wish to address.
  The first argument we have heard against Senator Feinstein's bill is 
that Justice Department studies have proved the assault weapons ban was 
ineffective. During our first hearing, a witness said: ``Independent 
studies, including a study from the Clinton Justice Department, proved 
that ban had no impact on lowering crime.'' And others, including my 
colleagues, repeated this claim.
  Well, I went back and looked at the studies. What they actually say--
and they say it over and over--is that it was premature to draw 
definitive conclusions about the ban's effectiveness. Here is what they 
said:

       It is premature to make definitive assessments on the ban's 
     impact on gun violence.
       The effects of the [assault weapon and large-capacity 
     magazine] ban have yet to be fully realized; therefore, we 
     recommend continued study.
       The ban's reauthorization or expiration could affect 
     gunshot victimizations, but predictions are tenuous.

  I could go on and on. The reports repeat this point time and time 
again. If anything, the Justice Department report suggests a ban would 
be effective. For example, they said: ``It could conceivably prevent 
hundreds of gunshot victimizations annually and produce notable cost 
savings in medical care.''
  It is simply not possible to read those studies and honestly say they 
prove an assault weapons ban is ineffective.
  Another argument we have heard against Senator Feinstein's bill is it 
will undermine one's ability to defend oneself. But here is the thing: 
The record contains no evidence of a real case in which someone 
actually needed a large-capacity magazine or assault weapon for self-
defense.
  During our first hearing, a witness submitted many examples where 
guns were used in self-defense, but I have not seen any evidence that 
any one of those cases actually involved a weapon that would be banned 
under Senator Feinstein's bill. At our last markup, one of my 
colleagues submitted some additional cases for the record, but, again, 
after reviewing that list, I am not persuaded an assault weapon or 
large-capacity magazine was needed for self-defense in any of those 
instances.
  Rather than presenting real cases in which someone actually needed an 
assault weapon or a large-capacity magazine to defend oneself, 
opponents of Senator Feinstein's bill instead asked us repeatedly to 
imagine hypothetical situations where these weapons were needed for 
self-defense.
  Sure, I can imagine hypothetical cases, but I am not sure what value 
that holds, because I can also imagine someone using a large-capacity 
magazine or an assault weapon to massacre people at an elementary 
school or a movie theater or a supermarket parking lot. I can imagine 
these things because they really happened. That is the reality. And it 
is reality we should be talking about.
  I asked Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, the president of the U.S. 
Conference of Mayors, about this and he said: ``This idea that these 
weapons are for self-defense is, based on our experience, completely 
absurd.''
  The final argument I wish to address is one of the most important. 
Some have argued a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines 
is unconstitutional. The problem with the argument is it typically 
rests on the premise that the Second Amendment is absolute or 
unlimited.

[[Page S2678]]

  For example, during our committee markup, one of my colleagues asked 
Senator Feinstein whether she would ``consider it constitutional for 
Congress to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the 
following books and shall not apply to the books that Congress has 
deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights?''
  The point my colleague was trying to make, I think, is that banning 
certain guns is like banning certain speech, and that this ban would 
violate the Constitution. This line of argument assumes the Second 
Amendment is absolute and unlimited--that any new gun law necessarily 
is unconstitutional.
  But one doesn't have to be a constitutional scholar to know that 
rights are not unlimited. In fact, my colleague's question actually 
makes that very point. There are books that are not protected by the 
First Amendment. The Bill of Rights does not protect libel. The Bill of 
Rights does not protect child pornography. One cannot yell ``fire'' in 
a crowded movie theater where there is no fire.
  And, likewise, the Second Amendment does not protect the rights of 
everyone to carry whatever weapon he likes in anyplace he wishes for 
whatever purpose he desires. The Second Amendment does not entitle 
felons or fugitives or domestic abusers or people with serious mental 
illnesses to carry guns. It does not entitle Americans to own a fully 
automatic machine gun or a bazooka or to bear nuclear arms.
  Here is what Justice Antonin Scalia said in the Heller decision:

       Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment 
     is not unlimited. . . . The right is not a right to keep and 
     carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for 
     whatever purpose.

  Senator Durbin chaired a hearing on this issue in February. I was 
persuaded by Professor Lawrence Tribe's testimony. He examined the 
legislation and said: ``I'm convinced that nothing under discussion in 
the Senate Judiciary Committee represents a threat to the Constitution 
or even comes close to violating the second amendment.'' Remember, 
Professor Tribe has supported gun rights. He argued for an individual's 
right to bear arms many years before the Heller decision.
  I was also persuaded by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals' analysis in 
Heller II. There, the Court examined the District of Columbia's assault 
weapons ban by asking a series of questions. First, to what extent does 
this law burden an individual's right to bear arms for lawful purposes? 
Second, how does that burden compare with the public's interest in 
implementing the ban? Finally, is the ban sufficiently well tailored to 
that public interest?
  This is the sort of inquiry that is typical in constitutional cases, 
and I think it is appropriate in the Second Amendment context too. It 
is nuanced and principled, not absolutist. The constitutional question 
is not whether a law touches upon Second Amendment interests at all. 
The question is whether the law unduly burdens those interests--whether 
it strikes an appropriate balance between the Second Amendment 
interests at stake and the public's interest in its safety. We don't 
have to choose between the Second Amendment and saving lives. That is a 
false choice.
  The Heller II Court correctly concluded that the District of 
Columbia's law--their assault ban--struck an acceptable balance and 
upheld DC's ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. In 
fact, every court that considered laws banning assault weapons and 
large-capacity magazines has upheld those laws as constitutional. I am 
confident Senator Feinstein's bill will be upheld in the courts as 
well.
  When my colleague began drawing comparisons to the First Amendment, I 
was reminded of what Justice Potter Stewart famously said of obscenity: 
``I know it when I see it.'' The debate on this issue changed the day 
that gunman massacred 20 little children and 6 educators with an 
assault weapon and large-capacity magazines at an elementary school in 
Newtown. That was an obscenity. Americans knew it when they saw it.
  I hope we will continue to debate these issues in the days ahead. 
Debate is important, especially when people feel so strongly on both 
sides of this issue. I respect those who hold different views, and I 
hope they respect mine.
  As we debate this issue, I hope we keep in mind what Gabby Giffords, 
Miya and Sam Rahamin, and Neil Heslin told us during our committee 
hearings. Gabby Giffords was shot in the head during the massacre in 
Tucson in 2011. Six people died that day. The youngest among them was 
Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl who loved to dance and who 
very well may have followed in Gabby's footsteps.
  Christina-Taylor had just been elected to the student council at her 
elementary school and she had taken an interest in public service at a 
young age. That is why she was visiting her Congresswoman. Christina-
Taylor was killed with the 13th bullet fired that day. Christina-Taylor 
Green is not with us anymore, but by some miracle Gabby is, and Gabby 
has used this second lease on life to be a voice for people such as 
Christina. Gabby mustered every bit of energy she could to appear 
before the Judiciary Committee in January. Let's not forget what she 
said, which was this:

       Speaking is difficult, but I must say something important. 
     Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too. 
     Many. Children. We must do something. It will be hard. But 
     the time is now. You. Must. Act. Be bold. Be courageous. 
     Americans are counting on you.

  Miya and Sam Rahamim asked us to take action too. They lost their 
father Reuven when a gunman opened fire at a sign factory in 
Minneapolis in September. Reuven is an immigrant from Israel and lived 
the American dream. He started a company that employed dozens of people 
over the years and exported products to the rest of the world, even to 
China--something Reuven was always eager to tell people. And Reuven was 
especially proud of his patented method for making Braille signs which, 
obviously, helped the blind. That was Reuven's thing--helping people. 
He was active in my synagogue and in his community, and he will always 
be remembered for his generous spirit.
  Miya and Sam gave me a letter in January just a few weeks after Sandy 
Hook and a few months after the mass shooting that took their father's 
life, and others. This is what the letter said:

       While Congress cannot prevent every death from gun 
     violence, it has a moral obligation to attempt to save as 
     many lives as possible. By passing this legislation, Congress 
     can prevent some Americans from receiving the call that is 
     dreaded most--that their father or mother, brother or sister, 
     spouse or child will not be coming home. . . . I want my 
     story told so that other families will not have to go through 
     the devastation that mine has been through.

  And then there is Neil Heslin. He came to Washington to testify at a 
Judiciary Committee hearing a few weeks ago. Neil told us about the 
morning of the shooting at Sandy Hook when his son Jesse was killed. On 
the way to school that morning, Neil and Jesse stopped at the deli to 
get breakfast. Neil got coffee. Jesse got what he called coffee, which 
was really hot chocolate. That is the part of the story that has really 
stayed with me. It is a small detail but it is a pure detail. It says 
something about how an innocent child looks up to his dad.
  Neil was in a good mood. Christmas was around the corner and he had 
plans to make gingerbread houses with Jesse and Jesse's classmates that 
afternoon. Talking to Neil, you kind of got the sense that he was just 
as excited about this as the kids were--maybe more so. He really 
cherished this time together.

  After they had their ``coffees,'' Neil dropped Jesse off at school. 
It was 9:04 a.m. Neil told us this:

       Jesse gave me a hug and a kiss. And he said, ``Goodbye, I 
     love you.'' Then he stopped, and he said, ``I love mom, 
     too.'' That was the last I saw of Jesse.

  Neil is not a political guy. In fact, he told us:

       Half the time, I think it doesn't matter which group of you 
     guys runs things out there, no offense.

  But he continued:

       Let me tell you, when you're sitting at a firehouse and 
     it's one in the morning and you're hoping against hope that 
     your son is still hiding somewhere in that school, you want 
     any change that makes it one bit more likely that you'll see 
     your boy again.

  For me, that is what this is about, to make any change that will make 
it one bit more likely that the next Jesse will live to make 
gingerbread houses at Christmas. To see so many innocent lives lost on 
that December morning,

[[Page S2679]]

so many hopes and dreams dashed, so many families grieving, the country 
was heartbroken, my wife and I were heartbroken, and we are still. I 
wish we could offer more than our thoughts and our prayers and the 
thoughts and prayers of our fellow Minnesotans.
  We cannot turn back time. We cannot bring back the lives we have 
lost. But if there is something we can do today in this Chamber--this 
week in this Chamber--to save lives in our communities tomorrow, to 
make it more likely that boy will be coming out of the school, then I 
think we should do it.
  Thank you.
  I ask unanimous consent that the time for debate only be extended 
until 8:30 p.m. and that at 8:30 p.m. the majority leader be 
recognized.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
  Mr. FRANKEN. I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. REID. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for 
the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
  Mr. REID. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that it be in order 
for the Manchin-Toomey amendment No. 715 to be set aside and the 
following amendments be in order to be called up: Grassley substitute 
amendment consistent with the summary, which is at the desk; Leahy-
Collins amendment No. 713, trafficking; Cornyn amendment No. 719, 
conceal carry; Feinstein amendment No. 711, assault weapons-clip bans; 
Burr amendment No. 720, veterans-guns; Lautenberg-Blumenthal amendment 
No. 714, high-capacity clip ban; Barrasso amendment No. 717, privacy; 
and Harkin-Alexander amendment relative to mental health, the text of 
which is at the desk; that following leader remarks on Wednesday, April 
17, the time until 4 p.m. be equally divided between the two leaders or 
their designees to debate the amendments concurrently; that at 4 p.m., 
the Senate proceed to vote in relation to the Manchin amendment No. 
715; that upon disposition of the Manchin amendment, the Senate proceed 
to votes in relation to the remaining pending amendments in the order 
listed; that all amendments be subject to a 60-affirmative vote 
threshold; that no other amendments or motions to commit be in order to 
any of these amendments or the bill prior to the votes; that there be 2 
minutes equally divided prior to each vote, and all after the first 
vote be 10-minute votes.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?
  Without objection, it is so ordered.
  Mr. REID. Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. REID. I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call 
be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

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