Schumer Joins Colleagues On Senate Floor To Call On Republicans To Join Democrats In Working To Pass Meaningful Legislation To Address The Gun Violence Epidemic

September 18, 2019

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer spoke last night on the Senate floor joining more than twenty Senate Democrats to call on Republicans to pass meaningful gun safety legislation including universal background checks supported by 93% of Americans. Below are his remarks, which can also be found here.

I rise tonight to join the chorus of Democratic senators in this chamber demanding action to address the American gun violence epidemic. We stand here tonight on behalf of the tens of millions of Americans all across the country who are crying out for change.  

Every few months it seems, our nation is rocked by another horrifying mass shooting. El Paso and Dayton are only the latest entries in our national register of tragedy, a list that stretches from Parkland to Pittsburgh, Charleston to Columbine, Aurora to Orlando, Blacksburg to Binghamton, San Bernardino to Sandy Hook, and to Las Vegas. Because that ever-growing list can sometimes seem abstract, let’s not forget about the specific places where these awful shootings occurred: movie theaters and nightclubs, shopping malls and office parks, music festivals and traffic stops, churches and synagogues and mosques, colleges, high schools, and an elementary school.

Our hearts remain with the families of the victims and the survivors of these mass shootings, whose lives were turned upside-down in an instant by madmen who never should have had access to a gun.  

The touching letter that Senator Murphy read from one of his constituents who’s child died at Sandy Hook is just one of many testaments to that turning upside down instantly, ruining your life forever by one of these horrible, awful incidents.

And at the same time that our hearts are with the tens of thousands more whose lives were ended or forever altered by everyday gun violence that doesn’t make the headlines, but we remember them too, no less tragic. No less pain from the parents who lost children, the brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who lost mothers and fathers. Whether it’s in a mass shooting  or an individual shooting, people who shouldn’t have guns are killing our fellow American citizens, and Congress sits on its hands, the Senate does anyway, and does nothing.

Now let me mention the stories of a few New Yorkers whose lives were cut short by gun violence this year, and the list goes on and on, I assure you.

  • Norzell Aldridge, of Cheektowaga in Western New York, was a youth football coach he was shot in the chest and killed a few weeks ago while trying to break up a fight at a park in Buffalo’s East Side. Coach Aldridge’s team had just finished playing the first game of their season.
  • Rhyan Williams-Cannon, a 21-year-old from Syracuse, was shot and killed in March as he was leaving the corner store. He was the youngest of seven siblings and had just earned his GED in October. Rhyan’s family said he was like a father to his nephew, sneaking candies to him behind his mother’s back. 
  • Shakeel Khan, of Johnson City, was murdered by a masked gunman in April while he was closing up his restaurant. He, Shakeel, was the sole provider for his wife and three children, 14, 12, and 8. 

May God rest their souls. 

I could stand here for hours and tell a hundred more stories, each one as heartbreaking as the next. Each one a story of senseless violence that might not have occurred if we had adequate laws on the books. Each one leaving all the people around them, their families, their friends, their communities, devastated. By the recklessness, senselessness of this gun violence.

It is our solemn duty to the victims of these terrible tragedies — they cannot speak for themselves, but their memory calls down to us for justice — to cure this terrible plague of gun violence that claims tens of thousands of lives every single year, lives every single day.

I have been fighting this fight for a long time. 

Back in 1993, I was in my sixth term representing Brooklyn and Queens in the House of Representatives. I knew the terrible toll of gun violence first-hand because the streets of my community was testimony to it. East New York and Cypress Hills were known as the “Killing Grounds” back then because someone was murdered an average of once every 63 hours.

So I was more than eager to help write, introduce, and pass the legislation establishing our background check system that later came to be known as the “Brady Bill.” 

As we take stock of the legacy of that bill, twenty-five years later, there’s no question that it has saved countless lives. There are literally thousands and thousands and thousands of people walking the streets of their communities who are alive today and would have been dead had the Brady Law not passed. We don’t know who they are, they don’t know who they are. But we know they’re alive and we’re thankful for it.

Ever since the National Instant Criminal Background Check System went online in 1998, there have been more than 1.5 million denials to disqualified buyers. The ability to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons has helped lead to steep drops in murder rates experienced by many communities across the country. 

Take my hometown of New York City. In the early 1990s, before the Brady Bill was enacted, an average of 2,500 people were murdered every year in the five boroughs. Last year, that number was just 289. 

But that doesn’t mean our work is done. Far from that. 

What seemed like a minor compromise in 1993 — allowing the sale of firearms without background checks at gun shows — has become a massive loophole. At the time when I wrote the Brady Bill, gun shows were a place for collectors to sell antiques. But gun shows have grown exponentially in popularity because people who don’t want background checks know they can get guns there, people who want to sell guns to people who don’t go through background checks sell their guns there. And of even greater dimension: the Internet exploded to facilitate private sales between strangers, no questions asked. 

And while some cities like New York have thankfully seen an overall decrease in gun deaths, there are still too many pockets in cities across the country where this epidemic persists. At the same time, the frequency and lethality of mass shootings have rapidly increased. 

The internet allows for copy cats — people up to no good, to see someone else has killed many people and maybe they should do the same. We have seen the frequency of these awful mass shootings continue on and on and on.

We finally have an opportunity to finally close that loophole, keep guns from falling into the wrong hands in the first place. We have the opportunity to simply update the Brady Law. Not change it. Not expand it. Just plug the holes that were punctured in it as time moved forward. No gun will be taken away from someone who’s a law abiding citizen by this law. No, only people who shouldn’t have guns will not get them. And who could disagree with that? Certainly not the American people, who are overwhelmingly on our side.

Senate Democrats are here tonight because the House of Representatives has finally passed legislation closing the private-sale loophole, marking the first time that either chamber of Congress has passed an overhaul of our background check system since the Brady Law more than 25 years ago. 

What we’re asking for is simple — and shouldn’t cause us to come here at night, it should be an obvious thing to do. A simple up-or-down vote on legislation, an up-or-down vote on H.R. 8.

Let me say it again: Leader McConnell, put H.R. 8 up for a vote on the floor of the Senate as soon as possible. Let us do what we were sent here to do by our constituents, what our constituents demand we do: to fix the most pressing problems facing our nation. 

If we fail to do so, it’s plain and simple and terrible: more innocent people will die.

Before I yield the floor, I want to thank the survivors and families of victims, who have done so much to remind the American people of just what’s at stake when it comes to gun violence. 

I keep on a desk in my office, pictures of the children who were murdered in Sandy Hook, given to me by their ailing and grieving parents. And those parents and the thousands and thousands of others like them , survivors, who amazingly choose to light a candle to prevent greater darkness, despite the darkness that has overcome their lives, are beautiful people. Saint like people. And we thank them.

A year and a half ago, we watched in horror as tragedy struck the Parkland community in Florida. Once again, safety, sanctuary of school was torn apart by the unthinkable. 

But this time felt different. Almost immediately, the students started speaking out, turning their immeasurable pain into courageous advocacy. 

Just two weeks later, I welcomed these Parkland teens into my office. My god, what courage. What fortitude. What strength. Even in the darkest of nights, some choose not to curse the darkness, but to light a candle.

A few weeks later, I joined millions of New Yorkers, who were inspired to march for change by the Parkland teens. Millions more Americans across the country did the same.

And now, a little more than a year later, the Senate, this Senate, has the opportunity to vote on H.R. 8, universal background checks, among several other pieces of legislation passed by the House that would save lives from gun violence. 

Times have changed! People forget that the Brady Bill was first introduced in 1987, six years after Jim Brady and President Reagan were wounded, and more than six years before it was enacted into law. 

Now, we’re moving from tragedy to action in a year. 

The movement that Jim and Sarah Brady started in the ‘80s has reached a new era. The American people are no longer willing to wait months or years for change. Long gone are the days that Senate Republicans can just bury their heads in the sand and ignore that more than 30,000 people, Americans are killed by a gun every year. 

Politicians offering their “thoughts and prayers” just doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s put up, or shut up.

Leader McConnell, Senate Republicans — what will you do? I yield the floor.