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Bennet tells Congress to do its job to prevent gun violence

Author: Joey Bunch - October 5, 2017 - Updated: October 6, 2017

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Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet asked Congress to do its job on gun violence Thursday morning in a sometimes-somber, sometimes-impassioned speech on the Senate floor.

He cited the massacre in Las Vegas Sunday night and how sadly familiar mass shootings have become on the American landscape. Bennet said it’s a shame that some, referring indirectly to conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly, call such devastating gun violence “the price of freedom.”

“I’m not sure if it was two mass shootings ago, or three, when we started to accept this as a normal condition of American life,” Bennet said. “When we lost our belief that it was within our power to protect our fellow Americans at a country music concert, or a night club, a movie theater, or at a school.

“I know there are strong beliefs about guns in America – principled beliefs — but there are also steps that the overwhelming majority of Americans want us to take.”

Colorado, of course, is the tragic home of the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, where 12 people were killed and at least 70 were wounded by James Holmes. The Columbine High School shooting in 1999 when 12 students and a teacher were killed and 20 were wounded before gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed themselves.

Bennet cited the laws Democrats in the Colorado legislature passed in 2013 and 2000 in response.

“Unlike Washington, in Colorado our legislators rose to the occasion after we suffered two of the worst mass shootings in our nation’s history,” Bennet said. “After the massacre in Columbine, we closed the gun show loophole. After the tragedy in Aurora, we strengthened our background checks in a Western state.”

Bennet is co-sponsoring a bill to outlaw “bump stock” modifications to rifles that make them fully automatic, capable of firing multiple bullets in rapid succession. The Las Vegas gunman, Stephen Paddock, used bump stocks on his weapons to rain down bullets from a hotel window onto a crowd of thousands of concertgoers at the country music festival in Las Vegas.

Unlike Washington, in Colorado our legislators rose to the occasion after we suffered two of the worst mass shootings in our nation’s history. After the massacre in Columbine, we closed the gun show loophole. After the tragedy in Aurora, we strengthened our background checks in a Western state.

This is not about taking guns away from people who have them. It is about keeping guns out of the hands of people who nearly everyone agrees shouldn’t have them,” Bennet said. “It is about stopping people like the Las Vegas killer from modifying his rifles to become almost fully automatic and far more deadly.”

Here is a full transcript of Bennet’s speech provided by his office:

Last weekend a man camped out on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. He stockpiled 23 weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. He set up bipods and scopes. He brought a hammer to knock out the window.

Then on Sunday, he opened fire. And he kept firing for 15 minutes, stopping only to reload and switch weapons. And over fifteen minutes, he murdered 58 Americans and injured more than 500.

The day after the shooting, I was in Washington. I had seven or eight meetings, and not a single person brought up the worst shooting in modern American history. Not one.

I’m not sure if it was two mass shootings ago, or three, when we started to accept this as a normal condition of American life. When we lost our belief that it was within our power to protect our fellow Americans at a country music concert, or a night club, or a movie theater, or a school.

I know there are strong beliefs about guns in America – principled beliefs — but there are also steps that the overwhelming majority of Americans want us to take.

Ninety percent of Americans think we need background checks for every gun sale – including 74 percent of NRA members. Eighty nine percent of Americans think we should prevent the mentally ill from purchasing guns. Eighty two percent of Republicans want us to bar gun purchases for people on the no-fly or terrorist watch lists.

Yet Congress has done nothing to respond to the American people. We did nothing after Aurora. After Newtown. After Orlando. Nothing.

Unlike Washington, in Colorado our legislators rose to the occasion and made tough choices after we suffered two of the worst mass shootings in our nation’s history. After the massacre in Columbine, we closed the gun show loophole. After the tragedy in Aurora, we strengthened our background checks.

Last year, those background checks blocked 8,704 people from buying guns. That may sound like a lot, but 380,000 people applied for guns in Colorado last year. That means just two percent of those folks who applied were blocked, and 98 percent were able to buy a gun without a problem.

Who were in that two percent that Colorado blocked but that this Congress fails to block? Murderers, rapists, kidnappers, domestic abusers.

No one can come down here and tell me Colorado is worse off because we kept guns out of the hands of those people. And the average wait time for those background checks was 12 minutes. That strikes me as a fair trade-off to keep guns out of the hands of murderers and kidnappers and rapists.

But here in Washington, despite tragedy after tragedy, Congress has done nothing. We haven’t even done simple things, like close the gun show loophole or stop people on the terrorist watch list from buying weapons.

This is not about taking guns away from people who have them. It is about keeping guns out of the hands of people who nearly everyone agrees shouldn’t have them. It is about stopping people like the Las Vegas killer from modifying his rifles to become almost fully automatic and far more deadly.

I’ve co-sponsored a bill to ban those modifications, and I’m encouraged that some of my Republican colleagues seem to be open to that idea.

I know we can’t stop every madman or random act of violence in this country. Just as we can’t stop every murder from happening. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make them less likely or take steps to limit their harm – steps that are backed by the overwhelming majority of Americans and that are fully consistent with the Constitution.

I remember the shooting at the Pulse nightclub. I was supposed to take my daughter to camp that day; she was going to be away with us for a month. I can remember I did everything that I could to keep her from hearing the news, as the number of fatalities continued to rise, because I didn’t want to leave her with a sense of fear, the fear that I felt and the country felt.

And I am so sorry that my children – and America’s children – have to grow up in a country where mass shootings are common. Where we’re beginning to see them just as part of our life.

I heard somebody the other day on the television say, “that’s the price of freedom.” What a shame somebody would say that. What a surrender that represents to our children and to the victims of these crimes.

I didn’t grow up in that America. But conditions have changed. And the result is that we now have an entire generation of Americans, of our sons and daughters, growing up with a reasonable fear that they could be a victim of a mass shooting, or that their mom or their dad might not come home one day.

I think our kids have enough to worry about, and they have every right to go see a movie with their parents, to go dancing with their friends, to see a concert on their one night off, without the fear of being shot down by people who have no business carrying such powerful weapons.

And they have every right to expect that Congress will finally do something about gun violence in our country. Violence far greater than anywhere else in the industrialized world.

In the wake of these horrific acts, as always, Americans spring into action. First responders secure the area and care for the wounded. Neighbors hold vigils to honor the victims and support grieving families. Journalists shed light on what happened and why. Citizens speak out to demand action from their elected officials.

They are doing their jobs.

It’s time for Congress to do ours.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.


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