Mar 23, 2021
Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Gun Violence Transcript March 23
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on gun violence on March 23, 2021, the day after the mass shooting in Boulder, CO. Read the transcript of the full hearing below.
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Mr. Durbin: (05:39)
This hearing will come to order. It was a week ago that I announced we would be holding a hearing on gun violence. That same day, there was a horrible string of shootings in Atlanta, Georgia that claimed the lives of eight victims. Last night, I was putting the finishing touches on my statement and questions, and there was another unspeakable mass shooting. This time in a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado. According to the preliminary news reports, at least 10 people were killed in Boulder last night. They included a police officer, Eric Talley. He was reportedly the first officer on the scene, Officer Tally was the father of seven.
Mr. Durbin: (06:35)
It’s devastating. These victims and their loved ones are worthy of our thoughts and our prayers, but there’s more that’s required. We face a pandemic, a coronavirus. We have another epidemic in America called guns. I could ask for a moment of silence for the mass shooting in Boulder last night. And after that is completed, I could ask for a moment of silence for the shooting in Atlanta six days ago. And after a minute, I could ask for a moment of silence for the 29 mass shootings that occurred this month in the United States.
Mr. Durbin: (07:19)
But in addition to a moment of silence, I would like to ask for a moment of action, a moment of real caring, a moment when we don’t allow others to do what we need to do. Pray leaders have their important place in this, but we are Senate leaders. What are we doing? What are we doing other than reflecting and praying? That’s a good starting point, that shouldn’t be our end point. Last weekend in the city of Chicago, which I’m honored to represent, 20 people were shot, 20. Dr. Rogers, you know that well, you know what happens in our hometown. Four of them died. And across the nation, every day we lose on average 109 American lives to gunfire, 109. Suicides, domestic violence shootings, accidental shootings, homicides, and another 200 Americans are injured by guns.
Mr. Durbin: (08:26)
The numbers are sobering and each number is an individual person, a loved one, a neighbor, a friend, a husband, a father, a son or a daughter. We’ve seen too many desperate trips to the emergency room, too many funerals, too many families and communities have been scarred forever by gun violence. We’ve come to accept it as part of American life. Disproportionately, this affects people of color, but nobody’s immune. Let me show you a video that highlights this crisis. I warn those who are watching that it contains scenes of gunfire that are disturbing.
Speaker 1: (09:13)
There’s multiple shots fired, possibly people down.
Speaker 2: (09:15)
The whole country is in shock this morning. Matt, it’s just almost too much bear.
Speaker 3: (09:19)
Southern California, the scene of this countries latest, horrific mass shooting.
Speaker 4: (09:22)
[crosstalk 00:09:22] play out in our streets.
Speaker 5: (09:23)
An unthinkable attack on young children.
Speaker 6: (09:25)
The number of Americans who died from firearms surpassed the number who died in car accidents for the first time in 2017.
Speaker 7: (09:33)
Forty-thousand people in the United States died by guns last year. That’s 10,000, more than just a decade ago.
Speaker 8: (09:41)
It’s a deep rooted and complex problem.
Speaker 9: (09:43)
And that’s not just limited to mass shootings. That is a reality of violence in America every day.
Speaker 10: (09:48)
And pointed it and pulled the trigger.
Speaker 11: (09:52)
It was a horrible, horrible accident.
Speaker 12: (09:53)
This is like an epidemic, it’s everywhere.
Speaker 13: (10:00)
The American Medical Association has declared gun violence a public health crisis.
Speaker 14: (10:04)
There have been more mass shootings in the US than days this year.
Speaker 15: (10:07)
Scared students sending the kind of text, no parent ever wants to get. Like this one saying, “Everyone is saying, there’s a shooter on campus. I don’t know what’s going on, but I love you and dad so much.”
Speaker 16: (10:20)
This Cell phone video captured the gunfire and the screams of the high school students trapped inside their classrooms.
Speaker 17: (10:26)
This violence is happening within a coronavirus pandemic that officials say is affecting nearly every aspect of the public safety ecosystem.
Speaker 18: (10:35)
Deadly shootings at three Atlanta area spas that killed eight people, six of them Asian American women.
Speaker 19: (10:41)
When is enough, enough?
Speaker 20: (10:43)
Maybe someday, some period TV show will depict the terrible nightmare of gun violence and a future generation of children. I don’t want to be able to imagine how terrible it must have been.
Speaker 21: (10:55)
Everybody, get down, get down, get down, get down.
Speaker 22: (10:56)
Speaker 23: (10:56)
Oh, my god.
Mr. Durbin: (11:11)
We can’t keep up with it. I can’t change and amend my opening statement to keep up with it. It just keeps coming at us. We’re numb to the numbers, unless we are personally touched. It’s just another statistic. That has got to stop. This committee, this hearing, I hope will open a conversation about constitutional common sense ways to reduce gun violence in America. We see the problem we’re up against us, a public health crisis. So what should we do about it? We won’t solve this crisis with just prosecutions after funerals. We need prevention before shooting. If there’s one thing which we should have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that we face a public health crisis. When we face one, we can reduce the toll of harm with common sense, science-based solution.
Mr. Durbin: (12:06)
We should set goals to reduce the number of deaths and shootings, collect and study the data, identify the cause and risk factors and apply prevention and intervention strategies that makes the numbers come down. We can do this. The fact that guns are lawful products with legitimate uses must not stop us from taking action to reduce gun deaths. Look at opioids, they have a lawful legitimate use, but Congress recognized the public health catastrophe that resulted from the misuse of opioids and we did something. While more has to be done, we’ve stepped up to change laws and pass reforms to prevent abuse and to reduce death.
Mr. Durbin: (12:49)
Today’s hearings, we’ll discuss some common sense steps we can take. Dr. Selwyn Rogers is here, he is a trauma surgeon and a public health expert from the University of Chicago Medicine. He’ll discuss efforts underway in Chicago to apply public health solutions to this challenge. I’ve been proud to work with him to help expand trauma informed care in health education, and other community settings. And on the HEAL Initiative, which has brought 10 major Chicago hospitals together on a collaborative effort to address root causes of violence in the surrounding neighborhoods. Kids aren’t born with a gun in their hands and they aren’t born as members of gangs, something happens. Dr. Rogers will tell us what he’s seen.
Mr. Durbin: (13:39)
There’s also important legislation pending in this committee to reform gun laws. For example, there are well-known gaps in the federal gun background check system. The gun show loophole, the internet loophole, and more. These gaps make it too easy for felons, abusers and mentally unstable people to get their hands on guns and harm others. The House passed bipartisan background checks bill, HR8 would close these gaps. So would the Senate companion bill, which I’m proud to co-sponsor. Polls show that around 90% of Americans support closing the gaps in the background check system, 90%. We’re debating this, 90% of the Americans agree on it. So to a majority of gun owners, it’s a common sense step that is consistent with the Second Amendment that would save lives.
Mr. Durbin: (14:31)
There are other important reform proposals that would, reduce the use of guns in domestic violence incidents. Promote better information sharing between law enforcement, when a background check is denied. Support extreme risk protection orders that are in place in 19 States and the District of Columbia and more. SUNO, re-introduced the SECURE Firearm Storage Act. My bill with Congressman Brad Schneider of Illinois. This bill would help prevent smash and grab burglaries of gun dealers by ensuring that dealers store their guns safely during off business hours. Today’s hearing is just a first step.
Mr. Durbin: (15:07)
When I was chair of the subcommittee on Constitution, civil rights in 2013, I chaired several hearings. This year, that subcommittee is under the leadership of Senator Blumenthal, who has promised to hold further hearings on specific ideas and proposals to deal with gun violence. Thanks, Senator Blumenthal for your leadership. I want to acknowledge as well, Senator Feinstein. Senator Feinstein, over the years, you’ve been a real leader on these issues. We thank you for being here. Your personal life experience, which you’ve recounted to us, is something no one would ever want to face. And I’m sure it has changed you forever, but you have come through with the resolve to make this a better world and a safer world as a result of it. Thank you for that.
Mr. Durbin: (15:49)
I hope we can all agree that the numbers of shooting deaths and injuries are too high and let’s agree that we should take action to bring those numbers down. We’re not going to agree on every proposal, but if we share a commitment to reduce gun deaths, some proposals will help. One final word, I want to speak to those watching who’ve lost loved ones to gun violence, whether it was last night or last week or last year, or even longer. Many of them are working tirelessly to help spare other families what they’ve gone through. I mourn your loss, but I praise and thank you for your advocacy to help others. I hear you. I’m with you and we will keep working to get this done. Now I’d like to turn to ranking member Senator Grassley.
Mr. Grassley: (16:36)
Well thank you, Senator Durbin. I appreciate. The violence that this country has seen over the past years has been appalling. We all saw an unprecedented spike of murders along with periods of prolonged civil unrest. Americans killed one another destroyed their neighbors, businesses, attacked law enforcement officers and burned city blocks to the ground. Just yesterday, as we saw on the news last night, police officer made the ultimate sacrifice, his life during an attack on a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado that killed 10. Obviously, as Senator Durbin said, our condolences go to the families of those lost in this terrible crime. The same goes to the murder victims senselessly killed in Atlanta last week.
Mr. Grassley: (17:36)
However, I’ve taken a few lessons from these terrible events. The first is, that we can’t reduce violence in our communities without a professional, well-trained and fully funded police force. This includes gun violence. The rallying cry during the riots last summer was defund the police. Cities that followed that advice saw a rapid spike in violent crime. Many were forced to refund the police. This happened in Minneapolis and Portland, maybe other cities as well. Statistics show that the murder rate in 2020 increased most significantly in June, when the rioters were on the March and policymakers forced police into retreat. Evidence strongly suggests that June 2020 spike in homicides and other gun-related crimes is related to less policing or de policing.
Mr. Grassley: (18:42)
This progressive goal may have translated to 1,268 additional deaths in 2020. On the other hand efforts to combat violent crime like Bill Barr’s Operation Legend resulted in an additional 6,000 arrests nationwide, including nearly 500 for homicide and hundreds of illegal firearms seized. Sadly, it does not appear that the Department of Justice now intends to continue this successful initiative. I hope that violent crime will be a top priority for our Attorney General Garland and for President Biden, but I’ve already heard about cuts in funding for the US Attorney’s Office.
Mr. Grassley: (19:34)
In the Senate, we have previously acted in a bipartisan way to add legal measures to curb gun violence. We passed the Fix NICS Act and the STOP School Violence Act just a few short years ago. Together, these laws penalize federal agencies who fail to comply with the current law, requiring them to properly report dangerous individuals and violent criminals to NICS. They also provide incentives to the states to improve their overall criminal history reporting and also provide funding to schools to strengthen their infrastructure, which will make it harder for shooters to enter schools.
Mr. Grassley: (20:21)
I believe that there’s more that we can do. I’ve led the re-introduction of the EAGLES Act. A bill which would reauthorize the National Threat Assessment Center of the US Secret Service, so that they can train law enforcement officers and schools about recognizing the signs of a person in crisis. Early intervention is the best way to stop tragic mass shooting. For example, the shooter of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, and that’s the home of the Eagles. Exhibited 42 different warning signs before killing his former classmates. A comprehensive review by the secret service found that all school shooters exhibit such signs before attack. Recognizing the signs and addressing them with crisis intervention could prevent future school attacks.
Mr. Grassley: (21:20)
So I asked my fellow members of this committee to consider joining me and co-sponsoring this bill and seeing it to reality. With my colleagues, Senator Coons and Cornyn, I’m also a co-sponsor of the NICS Denial Act. This bill would require state and local law enforcement be alerted when someone tries to buy a gun who doesn’t qualify under the law. Law enforcement can then intervene. With my colleague, Senator Cruz, I plan to re-introduce the protecting communities and preserve the Second Amendment Act, which improves the NICs system of incentivizing and ensuring that relevant records are uploaded to the database in a timely and consistent manner. This legislation also defines and clarifies what it means to be prohibited from possession of a firearm due to mental incompetence or commission to a mental health institution and commissions a study on the causes of mass shooting.
Mr. Grassley: (22:32)
Finally, the bill includes a provision that requires that law enforcement be notified, if an individual has been investigated as to a possible terrorist threat or attempts to acquire firearms. I think that we can make bipartisan common sense and constitutional progress on the issue of gun violence, if we work together. And I hope that we’re serious about working together. The two background check bills recently passed by the House, passed on votes that were virtually party line. That is not a good sign that all voices and all perspectives are being considered. Like many Americans, I cherish my right to bear arms. In the dialogue about gun control, we rarely consider how many Americans are United in their advocacy and enjoyment of this right.
Mr. Grassley: (23:31)
I’m pleased to see women gun owners and gun owners of color make their voices heard in a time when law enforcement response might be uncertain, the need for vulnerable populations to feel safe and be able to protect themselves is more important than ever. The witnesses appearing for the minority, bring those perspectives into this dialogue and do it this very day. I hope those who don’t know this, will learn something new about the diversity of gun owners. I hope that we can have a constructive conversation today, one that focuses is on the preservation of the Second Amendment right that we all share and the safety of all Americans. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman: (24:17)
Thanks, Senator Grassley. I’d like to give the chair and ranking member of the Constitution Subcommittee a chance to make brief remarks, Senator Blumenthal.
Mr. Blumenthal: (24:24)
Thanks, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for holding this hearing and thanks to all of the witnesses for being here today, particularly to Mr. Brulay and Chief Spagnolo of Waterbury. America awoke today to another nightmare, stunning, shocking, savage, but unsurprising. Inaction has made this horror completely predictable, inaction by this Congress makes us complicit. Now is the time for action to honor these victims with action, real action, not the fig leaves or the shadows that have been offered on the other side. Along with hopes and thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers cannot say the eight victims in Atlanta or the 10 last night, including a brave police officer. Thoughts and prayers can’t save the 24,000 people killed every year or the 26 blacks killed every day. The eight children killed as a result of unsecured weapons every day.
Mr. Blumenthal: (25:49)
Thoughts and prayers are not enough and yet thoughts and prayers is all we have heard from my colleagues on the other side. Thoughts and prayers must lead to action. There may be some question about what the motives were for the killer in Boulder, but there’s no mystery about what needs to be done. Connecticut has shown by some of the strongest gun laws in the country that they work, but Connecticut, with those strong gun laws is at the mercy of states with the weakest laws, because guns do not respect state boundaries.
Mr. Blumenthal: (26:33)
This time feels different. The dawn of a new era with a president completely committed to gun violence prevention. And I know from having heard him privately and publicly that he shares this passion. So do majorities now in the House and the Senate. And we have a majority leader in the United States Senate who has promised a vote on constitutional common sense, gun violence prevention measures. Our opponents are on their heels, the NRA declaring financial and really moral bankruptcy. And we have maybe most important, a powerful grassroots movement that has produced results at the polls, wins for members of Congress. And that grassroots movement is led by a new generation of groups and individuals.
Mr. Blumenthal: (27:37)
In the midst of the most serious disease outbreak in our lifetime, gun violence is an epidemic in its own right. Guns in the wrong hands, make the most serious problems, potentially fatal and irreversible. The hate motivated shootings that tore through Atlanta last week are just the latest example, they won’t be the last. Without access to a weapon, the Atlanta shooter is just a racist and a misogynist but armed with a firearm, purchased that very day, he is a monster, a mass murderer. A disturbed man going into a grocery store yesterday, armed with a weapon of war, can kill with the brutal efficiency and speed meant for combat. A domestic abuser, exploiting intimate relationship in violent and horrific ways. When a gun is involved, death becomes five times more likely and a person with suicidal thoughts who doesn’t have access to a firearm can seek help, but with a gun that life can be over in an instant.
Mr. Blumenthal: (29:05)
We need to end this epidemic with a comprehensive nationwide approach, expanded background checks, extreme risk laws to prevent suicides, mass shootings and hate crimes. Protecting domestic violence, victims and safe storage standards. These kinds of measures are within our reach. When I asked a mom after Sandy Hook, literally at a ceremony for her child, whether she would talk to me when she was ready about action, we could take together. She said through her tears, “I’m ready, now.” America is ready now, Congress must act. Congress must be ready now. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman: (30:05)
Mr. Cruz: (30:08)
We’ve had far too many tragedies in our country. Once again, we wake up to a horrific act of mass murder. All of us lift up in prayer the families in Boulder, Colorado. The families in Atlanta that lost their lives, including the police officer in Boulder, Colorado. I can tell you in Texas, we’ve seen far too many of these. I was in Santa Fe, the morning of that shooting. Santa Fe High School is less than an hour from my house. I was in El Paso at the Walmart for yet another senseless mass murder. I was in Dallas, where five police officers were murdered by a radicle. I was in Sutherland Springs in that beautiful sanctuary where a monster murdered innocent people. I’ve been to too damn many of these.
Mr. Cruz: (31:02)
The senator from Connecticut just said, it’s time for us to do something, I agree. It is time for us to do something. And every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater, where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders. The senator from Connecticut just said, “The folks on the other side of the aisle have no solutions.” Well, the Senator from Connecticut knows that is false. And he knows that’s false because Senator Grassley and I together introduced legislation. Grassley-Cruz, targeted at violent criminals, targeted at felons, targeted at fugitives, targeted at those with serious mental disease, to stop them from getting firearms. To put them in prison, when they try to illegally buy guns.
Mr. Cruz: (31:59)
What happens in this committee after every mass shooting is, Democrats propose taking away guns from law abiding citizens because that’s their political objective. But what they propose, not only does it not reduce crime, it makes it worse. The jurisdictions in this country with the strictest gun control have among the highest rates of crime and murder. When you disarm law abiding citizens, you make them more likely to be victims. If you want to stop these murders, go after the murderers. Grassley-Cruz came to a vote on the floor of the Senate in 2013, it got a majority vote on the floor of the Senate, 52 senators voted for Grassley-Cruz in the Harry Reid democratic Senate.
Mr. Cruz: (32:44)
Nine democratic senators voted for Grassley-Cruz, the most bipartisan support of any of the comprehensive legislation. So why didn’t it pass into law? Because democratic senators, including many of the senators in this room, including the senator from Connecticut, who just said, “Republicans have no answers.” Filibustered the law and prevented …
Mr. Cruz: (33:03)
… Connecticut, who just said Republicans have no answers filibustered the law and prevented it from passing, demanded 60 votes. If Grassley-Cruz had passed into law, Sutherland Springs very likely would not have happened. Why is that? Because the shooter there, the murderer there had a conviction in the Air Force at the Obama Air Force failed to report to the background check system and Grassley-Cruz mandated an audit of all of the convictions to make sure the background check database has those felonies in it. Not only that, Grassley-Cruz mandated that when a felon tries to illegally buy a firearm, that the Department of Justice prosecute them.
Mr. Cruz: (33:40)
The Department of Justice has a long and I think indefensible practice of not prosecuting felons and fugitives who try to illegally buy guns. If Grassley-Cruz had passed, the gun crimes task force that it had created would have charged prosecutors with going after gun criminals, locking them up and putting them in prison. That’s how we prevent these. Now we will learn in the coming days and weeks the exact motivation of the murderers in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado. We’ll learn what happened there. But we already know this pattern is predictable over and over and over again. There are steps we can take to stop these crimes and you know what the steps aren’t? The steps aren’t disarming law-abiding citizens. Every year firearms are used in a defensive capacity to defend women, children, families, roughly a million times a year in the United States. And the Democrats who want to take away the guns from those potential victims would create more victims of crimes not less. I agree it’s a time for action and by the way I apologize for thoughts or prayers. I will lift up in prayer people who are hurting and I believe in the power of prayer and the contempt of Democrats for prayers is an odd sociological thing.
Mr. Cruz: (35:01)
But I also agree thoughts and prayers alone are not enough. We need action. Today Chairman Grassley and I are introducing again Grassley-Cruz and I would ask Senate Democrats, including some of our newer colleagues who just got here not to participate again in the shameful filibuster that this body engaged in in 2013. Let’s target the bad guys, the felons, the fugitives, those with mental disease. Let’s put them in jail, let’s stop them from getting guns. Let’s not scapegoat innocent law-abiding citizens and let’s not target their constitutional rights.
Mr. Durbin: (35:38)
Senator Feinstein has asked to be recognized and I, of course, will honor a request from the other side of the aisle if there is one. Senator Feinstein.
Senator Dianne Feinstein: (35:46)
Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman. I really feel compelled and as I think as I complete my remarks you’ll see why to say something. Yesterday, our country was forced to endure yet another mass shooting. 10 people dead including a police officer. All our hearts go out to all the families who lost a loved one yesterday and to law enforcement who risked their lives in the line of duty, but that doesn’t cure the problem. There are reports that the shooter used an AR-15 style rifle. Sadly, I’ve watched as assault weapons have become the weapon of choice in mass shootings. We’ve seen them used in Las Vegas, in Dayton, in Orlando, in San Bernardino, in Parkland and in Sandy Hook.
Senator Dianne Feinstein: (36:42)
Boulder, Colorado banned assault weapons in 2018, but 10 days ago, a court blocked the ban. In 1994, I entered used a federal assault weapons ban, which President Clinton signed into law. A 2016 study showed that compared with the 10-year period before the ban was enacted, the number of gun massacres between ’94 and 2004 fell by 37%. And the number of people dying from gun massacres fell by 43%. Unfortunately, the ban expired in 2004 and in the 10 years after there was a 183% increase in massacres and a 239% increase in massacre deaths.
Senator Dianne Feinstein: (37:43)
During the campaign, President Biden pledged his support for legislation to ban the manufacturer and sale of assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Why do you believe we so often see assault weapons used in may shootings? What do you think we should do about it? There’s been a spike in gun sales during the pandemic. The New York Times reports that approximately two million guns, two million were purchased in March of 2020, the second highest month ever, ever.
Senator Dianne Feinstein: (38:23)
Similarly, Politico has reported and I quote, “In March 2019 and February 2020, the NICS system blocked about 9,500 and 9,700 respectively. But in March 2020, it blocked more than double that amount, a whopping 23,692 gun sales.” I am so concerned that the rise in gun sales and the increased pressure being put on the background check system. I’m also concerned about the number of people who have guns, but would not have passed a complete FBI investigation. So the question is what are we going to do about it?
Senator Dianne Feinstein: (39:15)
These things are not going to stop, members. They’re just not. I sat here for a quarter of a century listening. They don’t stop. And if you give people the ability to easily purchase a weapon that can be devastating to large numbers of people, some of them will use that under stress or for whatever reason, I don’t know, but this doesn’t make sense. Mr. Chairman, I really hope we can do something about it. I have 35 co-sponsors on a renewed assault weapons ban that’s in this committee and I would hope we could hold a hearing and perhaps consider that legislation. Thank you very much.
Mr. Durbin: (40:04)
Thank you, Senator Feinstein. The Senator from Louisiana is recognized.
Speaker 24: (40:09)
I’ll be brief, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for the opportunity. I’ve listened to my colleagues comments with interest and I joined with Senator Feinstein and hoping that we can do something about this, but I do think we ought to keep this in perspective. What has happened in the last few days, what’s happened in the last years is of course tragic. And I’m not trying to perfectly equate these two, but we have a lot of drunk drivers in America that kill a lot of people. We ought to try to combat that too. But I think what many folks on my side of the aisle are saying is that the answer is not to get rid of all sober drivers.
Speaker 24: (41:22)
The answer is to concentrate on the problem. We have had a problem in this world for some time with both domestic and international terrorists. Many terrorists happened to be Muslims. When a Muslim Jihadist blows up a school full of schoolchildren, we are often told not to condemn all of the actions of those of the Muslim faith because of the actions of a few. And I agree with that. So why doesn’t the same rule apply to the 100 million plus gun owners in America who are exercising their constitutional right? And I think we ought to keep that in mind, ladies and gentlemen, as we talk about this issue.
Mr. Durbin: (42:25)
Thank you, Senator. Let me introduce the witnesses. We have a very interesting panel of witnesses. Robin Brule of Albuquerque, New Mexico is a community sector leader who works to improve the lives of children and families in New Mexico. She currently serves as a fellow at the center for community investment at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and as an Annie Casey Foundation children and family fellow. She was named New Mexico Mother of the Year in 2000 by American Mothers. She has also worked to honor the legacy of her own mother who was tragically murdered in 2016, Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr is a Professor of Surgery and Chief of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery at the University of Chicago Medicine, Founding Director of the University of Chicago Medicine Trauma Center, Executive Vice President of Community Health Engagement at the university. Geneva Solomon, wife, mother of three, firearms educator and community mentor, co-owner of Redstone Firearms and Redstone Creative Shop in Burbank, California. She also serves as the Director of Internal Communications at the National African-American Gun Association. She is the co-state director for the associations chapters in California.
Mr. Durbin: (43:40)
Chris Cheng is an American sports shooter and an NRA certified pistol, rifle and shotgun instructor. In 2012, he won the History Channel’s Top Shot Season 4 competition and is author of the book Shoot to Win. He works in corporate security, volunteers his time as an advocate on LGBT, Asian American, Second Amendment issues. Fernando Spagnolo is the Chief of Police of the Waterbury Police Department in Waterbury, Connecticut. He served in the Waterbury Police Department since 1992 and he became chief in 2018. Among his many credentials, he’s a graduate of FBI’s Law Enforcement Executive Development School, member of the Connecticut Police Chief’s Association and serves as the president of the Waterbury Police Activity League.
Mr. Durbin: (44:28)
Amy Swear is a legal fellow in the Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies where her scholarship focuses on the Second Amendment. Prior to joining Heritage, she served at the Lancaster County Public Defender’s Office in Lincoln, Nebraska. Dr. Suzanna Gratia Hupp, I hope I pronounce that correct is a former member of the Texas House of Representatives. She served for 12 years and retired in 2007. She also served as the Director of Veteran Services at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission until 2020 and currently works for the attorney general of Texas. In 1991, she witnessed the fatal shooting of 23 people at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, the victims of which included her parents.
Mr. Durbin: (45:18)
Robyn Thomas, Executive Director of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence since 2006. She’s an attorney, serves as spokesperson for the organization. The law center of course is named after former Congresswoman, Gabby Giffords who has inspired millions to fight for a safer America after she was shot in 2011 while meeting with constituents. Would our witnesses please stand to be sworn. Please raise your right hand. Do you affirm that the testimony you’re about to give before the committee will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God? Thank you.
Mr. Durbin: (45:58)
Let the record reflect that the witnesses answered in the affirmative. Now we’re giving the witnesses five minutes each, which is not nearly enough time. We just proved that, but we will follow-up with questions so we invite you to make your presentation. Your official written remarks will be included in the record in their entirety. Ms. Brule you may proceed.
Robin Brule: (46:23)
Good morning, Chairman Durbin, ranking member Grassley and distinguished members. My name is Robin Brule-
Mr. Durbin: (46:30)
Could you just hold for a second? We don’t have your audio. Are you sure you’re off mute? Want to try again?
Robin Brule: (46:41)
Can you hear me now?
Mr. Durbin: (46:43)
Sorry, the volume is not adequate.
Robin Brule: (46:48)
Can you hear me now?
Mr. Durbin: (46:50)
Barely. Whoever’s in charge of the audio wherever they may be, please help if you can. You want to try one more time?
Robin Brule: (47:02)
Sure. Can you hear me?
Mr. Durbin: (47:04)
Why don’t you go ahead. We’ll listen carefully.
Robin Brule: (47:07)
Thank you. Good morning, Chairman Durbin, ranking member Grassley, and distinguished members of the committee. My name is Robin Brule. It is an honor to appear before you today and I appreciate you holding this important hearing. Last week my heart ached for those suffering from the tragic shootings in Atlanta, in which eight people were shot and killed. Last night my heart ached for those suffering from the heartbreaking shooting in Boulder. As a survivor of gun violence, I know that the grief, shock and horror of these senseless killings will never go away. The moment you learn of the painful loss is frozen in time.
Robin Brule: (47:51)
I still remember that moment for me. I picked up the phone, heard the police on the other end of the line and knew right away that something had gone horribly wrong. The police told me that day that my mother, Ruth Schwed and her friend Barbara were shot and killed while eating breakfast in a sleepy Arizona retirement community. Nothing can prepare a person for that. Since I was a little girl, my mom was always the person that I turned to when I needed comfort. Yet in her final moments I couldn’t be there for her.
Robin Brule: (48:33)
But before I tell you about her death, let me tell you about her life. My mother was married to my dad for over 50 years, raised three kids and was adored by all of her eight grandchildren. She spent over 30 years as a teacher and to this day, we get letters from children who want to share the impact she had on them. She had many close friends calling everybody doll babes or dear, and finishing every call by telling me to have a goodie. Most of all, she always put others above herself. That’s what she was doing in Arizona on that February morning. She was at the house that day because her close friend, Barb had become a widow. My dad had died long before so my mom knew what Barb was going through. And as always wanting to help.
Robin Brule: (49:29)
But on the morning of February 8th, 2016, two people broke into the home where they were staying, then shot my mother and Barb while they were having breakfast and reading the newspaper. Two elderly woman shot point blank all because some criminals wanted their credit cards and cash. This is the photo of my mom and as you can see, she’s 75-years-old, five foot nothing and weighed less than 100 pounds. We always hear the saying about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But if a retirement community at 8:00 AM is the wrong place at the wrong time, where in America is the right place at the right time?
Robin Brule: (50:28)
I tell you this story not only to honor my mother, but because tragedies like this can be prevented. My mother’s death began with an internet search for a gun. Because of loopholes in our law it was perfectly legal to sell them the gun that they used to kill my mother. No background check and no questions asked. If a strong background check law was in place, I could be having breakfast with my mother instead of appearing before your committee. But today anyone with an internet connection can exploit the same loophole that killed her and browse more than one million ads for guns in states that do not require background checks.
Robin Brule: (51:20)
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, nearly one in nine people who respond to those ads can’t pass a background check. I’m a gun owner. And I believe fully in the Second Amendment. But I also know that it’s time for Congress to listen to the 90% of Americans who understand that requiring a background check is common sense. Because no family should have to get that call that I got from police five years ago, the worst call in the world.
Robin Brule: (51:54)
When my mom was brought back to Albuquerque after the autopsy, she was covered in a sheet to spare me, but I have not been spared. I live with pain, stress and fear. I often imagine my mom’s final moments. I would get photos of her and say her name so that her memory is not lost in the aftermath of this heartbreak. Ruth Schwed, please honor her memory with action. Please pass legislation that will save lives and prevent other families from experiencing the trauma of gun violence. Please do something. Thank you.
Mr. Durbin: (52:43)
Thank you, Ms. Brule. Next up is Dr. Rogers. The floor is yours.
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (52:56)
Good morning. I want to thank the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senator Durbin for the opportunity to testify today. I appreciate the time you’re spending to understand the devastating toll gun violence has taking on Americans as the steps that Senate can take to help protect our children, our communities and our country.
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (53:14)
My name is Dr. Selwyn Rogers, Jr and I serve as the Chief of Trauma at the University of Chicago Medicine. Our dedicated staff care for people traumatically injured in the South Side of Chicago, the epicenter of Metro Chicago’s gun violence. Horrific mass shootings, like the Chicago, Park Manor shooting that killed 15 or in Metro Atlanta that kill eight people last week or the tragic shootings last yesterday that killed 10 people in Boulder, Colorado dominate the national news cycle for a few days, but no substantial actions follow.
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (53:50)
Every day in this country, there are over 100 gun-related homicides or suicides that are no less devastating. My hospital will work to save people every day. Far too often, the bullets lead to death. We have a moment of silence to mourn the loss, knowing too well that we will soon hear screams of anguish. The loved ones, please tell them that their son or their loved one, their parent is not dead. They ask, “How could this happen?” We do not have all the answers. I’d like to propose today that the committee approach gun violence as a public health crisis.
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (54:25)
Public health is a science of protecting the safety and improving the health of communities through education, policymaking, and research for disease and injury prevention. As a former surgeon general, Dr. David Satcher said, “If it’s not a public health issue, why are so many people dying?” Gun violence killed over 43,500 Americans in 2020 according to the independent collection of research group Gun Violence Archive. There were over 19,000 gun-related homicides and 24,000 gun-related suicides. Disproportionately the victims of gun violence, intentional gun violence are Black and Brown people in communities of color.
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (55:06)
57% of gun homicide victims are Black. Gun suicide is a growing national problem. A recent breakdown of suicide in the congressional district shows that the hardest hit districts are the Southern and Western United States. Males comprise 86% of all gun suicides. In the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic and America’s reckoning in racism and equity, cities like Dallas, Los Angeles and New York City saw significant increases in gun violence. At our trauma center, we have seen a 50% increase this past year.
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (55:39)
We must understand this violence is a public health crisis and address it with the same urgency as COVID-19. When we look at gun violence through a public health lens, we collect data, understand causes and develop strategies for prevention and targeted interventions. If we make meaningful investments. We can address the issues that created this epidemic. On the South Side, for example, the unemployment rate is more than five times the national average and 43% of children live in poverty. In this unhealthy environment, is it any wonder that we see high rates of intentional gun violence?
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (56:11)
We need to develop evidence-based solutions that address the root causes. Solutions will include reframing gun violence as a public health crisis, allocation of significant dollars to fund research to prevent gun violence commensurate with a burden on society, develop and fund primary prevention strategies, such as investment in economically high-risk communities of color that have a disproportionate burden of intentional gun violence, and education and counseling people on safe firearm storage.
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (56:39)
We also know that victims of violence are known to be at very high-risk being involved in repeated episodes of violence. We should target this high-risk population and fund secondary prevention programs that work. The number of prompts and programs that we can invest in now, violence intervention programs, such as Cure Violence or Institute for Nonviolence Chicago use community outreach workers to help prevent retaliatory violence. Heartland Alliance [inaudible 00:57:03] or Chicago CRED are evidence-based programs that use transitional employment on cognitive behavioral therapy for at-risk individuals to decrease recidivism.
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (57:13)
As part of Senator Durbin’s HEAL Initiative, our hospital has worked with other partners and developed a program that employs community residents who work with victims of gun violence. Just as a COVID-19 pandemic did not resolve spontaneously but required interventions to control its spread, epidemic of gun violence requires active targeted interventions. I strongly urge the Senate to allocate funds to attack codified interventions that work the best. Gun violence seems like an intractable problem. However, we can look at many examples such as childhood vaccinations, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and motor vehicle collisions where applying a public health approach has led to significant number of saved lives.
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (57:53)
At hospitals across the country, we have seen the pain of gun violence. We are cleaning the blood from our gloved hands. We can wash away the blood, but the pain stays with us. I cannot grasp the tragic impact of the lives lost. But I’m still hopeful if we take concrete actions now, then we will create the big changes later. These changes will stem the tide of gun violence that has become such a devastating problem in our nation. Thank you and I look forward to the opportunity to take any questions.
Mr. Durbin: (58:22)
Thank you, Dr. Rogers. We will now hear from Ms. Solomon. Please proceed.
Genova Solomon: (58:27)
I want to thank everyone here today for allowing me to speak and share my experiences and points of view regarding upcoming gun control measures. I’d like to start by introducing myself and explain more about my history as a responsible gun owner. As a survivor of domestic violence I found myself 13 years ago realizing that I am my own first responder, and took the necessary steps to become what I would call a responsible gun owner because I had to protect myself and my child. While there are alternative methods of protecting oneself, my decision was to purchase a hand gun to make sure I felt secure within my own home.
Genova Solomon: (59:05)
However, I didn’t just purchase a handgun. I also spent a great deal of time understanding how to train with that firearm and learning the local laws. Unfortunately, the 10 days I had to wait to pick up my first firearm was a terrifying experience as that is the required waiting period here in the state of California. Fast forward to present day, I am now a firearms educator, firearms store co-owner, as well as a member and advocate of the National African-American Gun Association. As a firearm store owner in California, I’ve seen firsthand how difficult and challenging navigating firearm laws here have scared and prevented many residents from practicing their right responsibly.
Genova Solomon: (59:43)
Additionally, California’s constant new gun control measures continue to increase the costs to protect oneself, which I compare to the United States poll tax, essentially pricing out those within the minority communities from being able to practice their right responsibly. When laws are hard to navigate and understand this often leads to incorrect and bad behaviors, thus increasing firearm accidents. Furthermore, the laws consistently change, oftentimes without the knowledge of California citizens and/or gun dealers. Those familiar with laws here in California know that Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law effective 7/1/2021, a California resident can only purchase one firearm every 30 days.
Genova Solomon: (01:00:24)
From an operational standpoint as a small business this will be detrimental. This newly introduced law will basically be the first step to putting firearm dealers in California out of business, while those who do not practice safe and responsible gun ownership can obtain a firearm within a matter of a day. It astonishes me that every time a piece of gun legislation is proposed its intent is to make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to obtain firearms responsibly. We know the vast majority of gun violence is rooted in illegal obtainment, yet bill after bill proposed demonizes the responsible gun owner further infringing on their Second Amendment right.
Genova Solomon: (01:01:02)
Law-abiding citizens should not have to continue to pay for the horrible illegal actions of those who will continue such behavior no matter what piece of legislation is passed. Respectfully, sometimes lawmakers have no idea what it means to be a responsible gun owner and to continue to pass laws that either infringe on our rights or make the firearms we are allowed to operate moral and safe. For example, in the state of California, we have a hand gun roster in our current AR-15 laws.
Genova Solomon: (01:01:29)
Currently, AR-15 laws and the modifications that are required actually make these style of rifles that we are legally able to possess more prone to firearm accidents. Additionally, with the California approved handgun roster, you can only purchase older, outdated firearms with older and outdated safety features. What sense does that make when firearm safety housemates are made and improved by gun manufacturers often? Yet, Californians are only prohibited from purchasing the latest and safest firearms. The firearms industry has unfairly been under assault. As a result, my husband and I have dedicated our lives to ensuring our communities have the resources and knowledge they need to be successful in the firearm space. Part of being a responsible gun owner is ensuring that there are resources available for one to be consulted, educated, and trained in a welcoming environment.
Genova Solomon: (01:02:19)
Being a leader of the national African-American Gun Association has allowed me the ability to extend my educational reach from my firearm store to the 40,000 members that are a part of the organization. The Second Amendment is by far one of the most misunderstood and controversial amendments of our constitution. While many would like to see laws created that would further impede on our to bear arms, I look forward to using my time today and beyond to continue to educate on what it means to be a responsible firearm owner. How many of us successfully use our responsibilities on a daily basis and how common sense gun knowledge can aid in the retainment of our rights? Thank you.
Mr. Durbin: (01:03:00)
Thanks very much, Ms. Solomon. I apologize to the committee members and others that the audio quality is so poor. We’re going to look into this. Somebody’s being paid to them to communicate with us and it’s not working very well. And we owe the respect to the witnesses who’ve made a sacrifice to testify before the committee to provide them with a means of communication we can all hear. Our next witness is Chris Cheng. Mr. Cheng.
Chris Cheng: (01:03:27)
Chairman Durbin, ranking member Grassley, and distinguished members of the committee. My name is Chris Chang and I’m honored to join you today representing myself and only myself. As a gay Asian American professional sport shooter, this hearing is very timely and essential to our national conversation on civil rights and our future as a peaceful nation, I’m here today to share my quintessential American story. In 2012, I earned the title of History Channel’s Top Shot Season 4 champion. Now only in America could a self-taught amateur shooter train and win a $100,000 and a professional shooting contract. After this, I quit my job at Google and switched careers and focused on firearms, culture and their role in American history.
Chris Cheng: (01:04:18)
I earned a master’s degree in policy studies from Middlebury College in 2006. Following my Top Shot win, I naturally wanted to research gun policy and history, but I was appalled to discover how gun control can be used as a tool of discrimination. While our Black brothers and sisters have arguably experienced the most negative impacts of gun control through structural racism at the hands of the government, Asian Americans have also been negatively impacted.
Chris Cheng: (01:04:48)
I will share two examples. First, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first federal law to explicitly prohibit the immigration of people of a particular nationality and set an extremely dangerous precedent for future xenophobic mandates. Second, in response to mounting pressures during World War II, Executive Order 9066 mandated that more than 110,000 innocent Japanese Americans were to be forcibly relocated to internment camps. This order stripped my Japanese ancestors of their rights and their civil liberties. The goal was to keep us unarmed, invisible and silent.
Chris Cheng: (01:05:35)
Neither the Chinese Exclusion Act nor the executive order was genuinely successful in increasing domestic safety. Neither will the gun control legislation under consideration. Why are these historic moments important for our conversation today? I’ll explain. With the 149% increase in anti-Asian American violence over the past year, Asian Americans are flocking in droves to buy guns-
Chris Cheng: (01:06:03)
Asian Americans are flocking in droves to buy guns, many seeking to purchase their first firearm. There is a real need and imminent threat. We need to defend ourselves, not 3 days or 20 days from now, but right now. I encourage people to be their own first responder because there is no guarantee that help will arrive in time. Universal background checks will not help. I live in San Francisco, and if I want to give or sell a personal firearm to a friend or family member, they must wait 10 days. There should not be a timer delaying when an American wants to exercise their Second Amendment right or any other individual right. Every year, millions of Americans legally purchase firearms. In comparison, only a few thousand criminals are mentally ill individuals, acquire guns, and commit homicide. Will you let the criminal minority take away the rights of the law-abiding majority, rights which are supposed to be guaranteed to us by our constitution?
Chris Cheng: (01:07:13)
I’m against H.R. 8 and H.R. 1446 because they represent a threat to the safety of Asian Americans and all Americans who have an imminent need to defend themselves. Earlier, I spoke about the racist roots of gun control. But what’s worse than systemic racist gun control policies? Poorly thought out gun control policies that will negatively impact Americans of all walks of life, all races, genders, and sexual orientations in America. I’ll expand. I’m a gay American and have been happily married to my husband of five and a half years. Today, we see a rise in attacks against Asian Americans. But tomorrow, I might be back here talking about the persistent, ongoing violence against LGBTQ Americans. I’ve lived through how the phrase, “Gay virus,” to describe AIDS, stokes the same fears and dehumanization elicited by the words, “Chinese virus.” This derogatory language contributes to a less safe, less empathetic society.
Chris Cheng: (01:08:20)
I’ll continue speaking out against hate and violence in all forms, and I encourage all Americans to participate in what should be a simple universal condemnation of hate and violence. We should not be afraid of saying that we will not tolerate it, that it is unacceptable, and that it must stop. At the root of our country’s violence, is not firearms. The root causes of human violence and hate are many: low self-esteem, lack of mental health resources, community, education, job opportunities, and a lack of humanity. Congress must focus on these actual causes of violence that will make America safer. Thank you for allowing me to address this committee on the importance of gun safety and education and condemn the brutality ravaging our communities today.
Mr. Durbin: (01:09:12)
Thank you, Mr. [Chang 01:09:13]. Our next witness is the Waterbury Connecticut Chief of Police, Fernando Spagnolo.
Fernando Spagnolo: (01:09:19)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Before I start my testimony, I would like to express my deepest sympathies to the families of all that were lost in the Boulder Colorado shooting yesterday, especially the family and coworkers or fellow officer Eric Talley, who died bravely trying to protect his community.
Mr. Durbin: (01:09:34)
Chief, if you could be a little closer, perhaps, so we could hear you a little bit. Thank you, sir.
Fernando Spagnolo: (01:09:44)
Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Grassley, and distinguished members of the Judicial Committee. Thank you for inviting me to testify today. My name is Fernando Spagnolo, and I am the chief of police for the city of Waterbury, Connecticut. I have dedicated most of my adult life to public service, sworn to protect the people and uphold the Constitution. I am honored to testify before you today on common sense solutions to prevent gun violence. When the national press talks about gun violence in Connecticut, it usually discusses the brutal and unspeakable murders at Sandy Hook high school in Newtown nearly 10 years ago. The events of that day, and the loss of those young children and their teachers, shook this nation to its very core. As chief administrator of one of the largest police departments in the state of Connecticut, the gun violence that I am most familiar with rarely makes national headlines, but it is just as consequential to the people that it affects. The toll of daily gun violence that disproportionately affects Black and brown communities in cities like mine across this country is a serious problem. And it requires serious solutions.
Fernando Spagnolo: (01:10:44)
Following Sandy Hook, the people of Connecticut worked together to improve the state’s existing laws and develop comprehensive strategies to reduce gun violence, including instituting universal background checks, a common sense policy supported by almost every American. As someone who is responsible for the safety of men and women in uniform, ensuring that all individuals getting a background check before a firearm can be transferred, and ensuring enough time is provided for that background check, is a top priority of mine. We also expanded the state’s assault weapon ban and outlawed sales of new high capacity ammunition magazines. Likewise, we’ve heightened protections for victims of domestic violence in Connecticut. After Lori Jackson was murdered by her estranged husband with a gun he was able to purchase, even though he was under a temporary protective order. A woman is shot and killed every 16 hours in America by a current or former romantic partner. And this is something that needs to be addressed.
Fernando Spagnolo: (01:11:38)
Most recently, we passed Ethan’s Law, a common sense measure that requires guns to be safely stored if children might have access to them. This is a law named in honor of Ethan Song, a 15 year old boy from Guilford, Connecticut, who died on unintentionally when shot with an unsecured gun. Nationwide, nearly 4.6 million children live in homes with access to unsecured and loaded guns. And eight children are unintentionally shot with an unsecured firearm daily. These policies have been built off Connecticut’s existing gun laws, including the nation’s first extreme risk law, known in our state as a risk warrant. This allows law enforcement officers to petition a court to temporarily separate an individual from firearms if they pose a risk of imminent harm to themselves or others. According to recent studies, for every 10 to 20 risk warrants that are issued in Connecticut, one suicide is prevented.
Fernando Spagnolo: (01:12:32)
In addition to these common sense laws, in Waterbury, we have invested in community solutions to prevent gun violence. We partner with local leaders, institutions, and nonprofits to help remove the root causes of violence in our community. This includes youth violence prevention programs, one-on-one mentoring programs for high risk youth, and providing mental health and substance abuse recovery services to members of our community. It also includes an annual gun buyback program, which gets about 100 firearms off the street each year. Additionally, to break the cycle of violence and reduce recidivism, we have post-incarceration violence prevention programs and facilitate services such as housing, health care, harm reduction, workforce training, education, and faith-based outreach. This is especially important as the majority of weapons offenses in Waterbury are being committed by individuals with prior weapons convictions. As recently released individuals are being reintegrated into society, often with their support networks and disarray, we must find ways to give them stake in their future and their communities to reduce recidivism and prevent further violence. The efforts to prevent gun violence in Connecticut have worked. In 2019, Waterbury experienced some of its lowest levels of gun violence in years.
Fernando Spagnolo: (01:13:44)
Statewide, since 2014, we have seen a 41% reduction in gun homicides and a 15% reduction in gun suicides. In the midst of COVID-19 and the huge surge in gun purchases nationwide, incidents of gun violence have skyrocketed in cities all over the country. And Waterbury is no exception to that. Despite the recent setbacks, Connecticut still has one of the lowest gun death rates in the nation, but Connecticut is not an island. And without federal action, we remain at the mercy of states with weak gun laws. Over two thirds of the crime guns traced by law enforcement in Connecticut come from other states. And gun traffickers will continue to exploit weaknesses in the federal law. Unless we can stop the unchecked flow of guns into cities like mine, preventing cycles of violence will be almost impossible. Gun violence is not inevitable. And for the members of this body, you are in a position to enact solutions that are in line with the Second Amendment. Preventing gun violence requires a comprehensive approach and a strong investment in our communities. I’m grateful for this opportunity, and I look forward to your questions.
Mr. Durbin: (01:14:46)
Thanks very much. Our next witness is Amy Swearer. Amy, thank you for being with us. Please proceed.
Amy Swearer: (01:14:57)
Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Grassley, and distinguished senators. My name is Amy Swearer, and I’m a legal fellow in the Heritage Foundation’s Ed Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies. Imagine with me for a moment, a man who walks into his primary care doctor with a whole host of complex, underlying, overlapping health issues. He suffers from a heart defect. He’s overweight. He’s prone to migraines. He probably needs a hip replacement, and he also happens to have a very serious high ankle sprain. Now is that man’s injured ankle, a true physical ailment that negatively impacts his overall health? Of course. Should the doctor treat it? Absolutely. Would any sane doctor look at that patient and decide the most prudent course of action is emergency surgery to amputate his leg. Absolutely not. Far too many of the gun control bills pending before Congress are nothing more than the public policy version of this scenario.
Amy Swearer: (01:15:56)
In short, they would cut off the patient’s leg to fix a comparatively minor part of his overall health problems, and then claim that this complete overkill of a treatment somehow left the patient better off in the long run. We cannot do public policy this way. H.R. 8 On universal background checks is just one example of this, but it is a profound example. H.R. 8 identifies, at its core, a legitimate concern, publicly advertised interstate gun sales by private parties. Now we know that these sales don’t play a major role in gun crime. Most would-be criminals don’t bother to get their guns through any legitimate or formal source. They primarily use black market gun sales, straw purchases, or informal transfers from friends or family members who already know that they are prohibited persons and that the guns are likely to be used to perpetrate crimes. These are already illegal gun transfers.
Amy Swearer: (01:16:55)
Still, it might make sense to address publicly advertised private sales. But only with the understanding that this is at best a low reward endeavor, and it should be obvious that the law ought to similarly avoid imposing heavy burdens on law-abiding gun owners, making other common low-risk gun transfers. H.R. 8 almost goes out of its way to do the opposite. As I explained in my written submission, there are a number of irrational components to H.R. 8. But without a doubt, what is most concerning is the way in which H.R. 8 places significant mental, emotional, and practical barriers between responsible gun owners and low-risk informal gun transfers that save countless lives every year. The bill limits temporary emergency transfers to only when they’re necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. And the transfers can last only as long as immediately necessary. Now Senators, I have no doubt that the language for this carve out is well-intentioned, but it’s so limited as to serve no real purpose.
Amy Swearer: (01:18:03)
Nearly two thirds of all gun deaths every year are suicides. 24,000 Americans killed themselves with firearms in 2019. There’s every reason to believe that number is higher for 2020. Mental health awareness and suicide prevention are vital, but often difficult, conversations for gun owners. There’s a very real, and frankly, a very legitimate fear that if we are open and honest about our mental health difficulties, politicians and gun control activists will use it to impose crushing long-term consequences on our Second Amendment rights. So one very common solution is to seek informal help and to leave firearms with trusted friends or family members the moment we realized that we’re not okay, and for as long as we realize we are not okay. I can’t stress enough how important this mechanism is for suicide prevention and how often it occurs precisely because it is informal.
Amy Swearer: (01:19:03)
Many gun owners who might otherwise agree to temporarily hand over their firearms will balk at that same suggestion if it means they have to publicly traipse down to a gun store, wait around for a background check, and legally relinquish title and ownership of their guns to someone else. This is a deeply, personal issue for me. Like everyone else, I’ve had ups and downs in this life. And as a responsible gun owner, I have made that very prudent decision to ask friends to temporarily take my guns when I’ve been down. The last thing, the last thing I would have needed was the government getting in the way of me doing the right thing. And I speak on behalf of countless other gun owners who have made this same responsible decision under similar circumstances, but who would be terrified of admitting that to anyone, much less to the federal government. Now, Mrs. [Brulay 01:20:01] testified about a very real problem with existing law, that to her is not small in scope, because it shook the foundations of her entire world.
Amy Swearer: (01:20:10)
And there are certainly appropriate ways of addressing and narrowly tailoring legislation to address that problem. But this is not it. H.R. 8, as written, will get gun owners killed, because it will discourage them from taking reasonable and common sense steps the moment they realize they may not in fact be okay. There are many other similar problems with so many other gun control bills. And I genuinely look forward to talking about how to fix those problems and find alternate solutions. But with respect to H.R. 8, in particular, please do not encourage gun owners to wait until they’re in eminent danger to take life-saving actions. This is not a choice between thoughts and prayers and doing something, regardless of how impractical that something is and how poorly it works in real world scenarios. This is the world’s greatest deliberative body. Surely we can do better than making criminals of people who do the right things. Thank you, and I look forward to answering your questions.
Mr. Durbin: (01:21:19)
Thank you, Ms. Swearer. Next witness is Dr. Suzanna Hupp. Dr. Hupp?
Dr. Suzanna Hupp: (01:21:33)
There we go. Good morning. My name is Suzanna Hupp, and this is my own testimony. I’m representing only myself this morning. And I need to apologize to some of you in advance that have heard my testimony before. It really doesn’t change. Several years ago, I was with my parents at a local cafeteria, and somebody drove his truck through a floor to ceiling window, knocked over a number of tables on his way in. And we, of course, thought it was an accident. My parents and I actually got up to try to help the people that he had knocked over. And then we heard gunshots. And I will tell you, it took a good 45 seconds, which is an eternity, to realize that the guy was simply going to walk around and shoot people. Back then, these mass shootings weren’t happening, and it just wasn’t something that came to my mind immediately.
Dr. Suzanna Hupp: (01:22:29)
When I did realize what was happening, my father and I both got down on the floor. We put the table up in front of us. My mother was down behind us and I reached for my purse, because I used to carry a gun in my purse. And at that time, in the state of Texas, that was illegal. A few months prior to this event, I had began to leave my gun out in my car, because I was concerned about losing my license to practice chiropractic. So I watched, completely helplessly, as this man walked around the room and shot people. He executed people like they were fish in a barrel. When my father thought he had an opportunity, he rose up, and he ran at the man. But the guy had complete control over the situation, and he just simply turned and shot my father in the chest.
Dr. Suzanna Hupp: (01:23:25)
When I saw what I thought was a chance, I was able to run out a back window that somebody had broken out. I thought my mother followed me, but I later found out from the police officers, who by the way, were one building away, that she had crawled out into the open where my dad lay. She cradled him until the gunman got back around to her. He put a gun to her head. They said, she looked up at him, put her head down, and the man pulled the trigger. That’s how the cops knew who the gunman was. My parents had just had their 47th wedding anniversary, and Mom wasn’t going anywhere without Dad. I was very angry. And of course, when I talk about it, even now, I get very angry. Believe it or not, I’m not mad at the guy that did it, because in my opinion, that’s somebody who is sick.
Dr. Suzanna Hupp: (01:24:20)
The cops said all they had to do was fire a shot into the ceiling, and he rabbeted to a back bathroom alcove area, exchanged some gunfire with them, and then put a bullet in his own head. I was mad as hell at my legislators, because they had legislated me and others in that restaurant out of the right to be able to defend ourselves. I had a perfect place to prop my hand. I had a clear shot at the guy, but I was worried about losing my license instead of worrying about my life. Since then, of course we’ve changed those laws in Texas and all across the nation. Now, people can defend themselves in most places. Most of the mass shootings that have occurred to this date have been in places where people have been told they can’t carry a gun. That’s what these guys want.
Dr. Suzanna Hupp: (01:25:14)
They want to rack up a high body bag count. They don’t want any place where somebody can fire back at them. A gun isn’t a guarantee, of course. It changes the odds. That’s all. And I would say, if guns are the problem, then why don’t we see these mass shootings at the dreaded gun show or NRA conventions, places where there are thousands of guns in the hands of at least as many law-abiding citizens. You talk about universal background checks, and I am frankly, completely against them. And here’s why. Eventually, universal background checks become a de facto registration. And even if no one on the dais today is interested in confiscating guns, it certainly makes it fertile ground for some future despite. There are things that can be done. A number of them, I put in my written testimony. And I won’t bore you with it now, but they’re there. There are things that can be done. Let me just finish by saying, 350 million guns in America last year didn’t hurt anyone. And I think that is a staggering statistic. Thank you.
Mr. Durbin: (01:26:37)
Thanks, Dr. Hupp. Our last witness is Robyn Thomas. Ms. Thomas?
Robyn Thomas: (01:26:46)
Thank you, Chairman Durbin, members of the Committee, for the opportunity to testify here today. My name is Robyn Thomas, and I’m the executive director of the Giffords Law Center to prevent gun violence. Giffords Law Center was formed more than 25 years ago after a mass shooting at a San Francisco law firm, and renamed for former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords after joining forces with the organization that she leads. I’ve been the executive director at the Law Center since 2006. This past week, we saw a horrible string of shootings, 10 people, including a law enforcement officer in Boulder, Colorado, yesterday. Last Tuesday, nine people were shot and eight killed at three spas in the Atlanta area, a shocking example of the disturbing increase in violence against the Asian American community. Over the last year, communities have suffered, not only from COVID-19, but also from gun violence, a public health crisis that has surged in all of its forms.
Robyn Thomas: (01:27:46)
Suicides have increased dramatically in communities from Philadelphia to Chicago. Domestic violence has also intensified, with many localities reporting more calls to hotlines and police in response to incidents of abuse. Many metropolitan areas have experienced spikes in community violence, with over a dozen cities reporting increases in homicides of 50% or more. We cannot allow this violence to continue for the next generation. Proposed gun law reforms, many of which have been introduced in this Congress, and which enjoy widespread public support, would make a difference. These include policies such as universal background checks, extreme risk protection laws, and prohibitions on firearm access to those who commit domestic abuse or hate crimes. They also include proposals to increase funding for critical community violence intervention work, public health research, and for law enforcement. These proposals are a crucial part of an appropriate public health approach focused on prevention, proportional to the seriousness of this issue and based on the data and research we have for these solutions.
Robyn Thomas: (01:28:59)
Despite what the gun lobby may argue, there is no constitutional impediment to passing life-saving gun laws. Courts across the country have ruled repeatedly that the Second Amendment does not stand in the way of passing stronger gun laws. And the US Supreme Court, itself, made clear that the rights secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited and has never protected a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever, in any manner whatsoever, and for whatever purpose. I know some are eager to make the case that we are only interested in taking away firearms from law-abiding Americans, or making it difficult for law enforcement to do their jobs. I want to be clear that we are not advocating for either. But our existing gun laws are irrationally limited, loophole-ridden, and inadequate. And these deficiencies hamper law enforcement’s ability to effectively prevent acts of gun violence in our American communities.
Robyn Thomas: (01:29:55)
Everyone should be troubled by the levels of gun violence that we experience. And it’s impossible to ignore the reality that when we have more guns, we have more gun violence. We can meaningfully address this by updating our gun laws to ensure both law-abiding Americans have a right to gun ownership, and we can prevent these horrific acts of gun violence that are occurring on a daily basis. Since the founding of our country, gun rights have always co-existed with gun regulations. And the need to protect public safety has always gone hand-in-hand with Americans’ right to own guns. Heller’s explicit recognition that a broad range of gun laws are fully consistent with the Second Amendment, is in keeping with more than 200 years of American history. And thus all of the proposals that I mentioned in my written testimony stand on from constitutional ground. Gun deaths in the United States reached their highest level in almost 40 years, with 40,000 Americans dying from gun violence in 2019.
Robyn Thomas: (01:30:57)
Unfortunately, it’s a problem unique to our country. Americans are 25 times more likely to be killed by a gun than people in other developed nations. But it’s a problem that has solutions. While one single law will never stop all gun violence, we know that strong gun laws will save lives. The only thing standing in the way of laws that prevent needless injuries and death, and enjoy the support of an overwhelming majority of Americans, is the absence of political will to act. So today, I ask all members of this committee, and Congress as a whole, to recommit themselves to making progress and taking action to reduce gun violence in this country. Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, and I look forward to taking your questions.
Mr. Durbin: (01:31:42)
Thank you very much for your testimony. Let me start with Dr. Rogers. We face two realities, certainly from a Chicago perspective, that a lot of the gun violence has been spawned by young people, gangs, and communities that are awash in guns. You know what I’m speaking of, the south side and west side of Chicago and many other places. We also know that many of the shooters have a history, at least a history of adverse childhood experiences. Could you explain to us that issue of trauma and the likelihood that it will lead to shooters and victims?
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (01:32:20)
Thank you, Dr. Durbin. many people know the phrase, or have heard the phrase, “Hurt people, hurt people.” And work from John Rich and Ted Corbin, in Philadelphia, has shown repeatedly that people who have been experiencing trauma from adverse childhood experiences of trauma, be it related to homelessness, food insecurity, and other social challenges are more likely to be at risk of experiencing trauma in all of its forms, be it child abuse, domestic violence, or other forms of trauma. Unfortunately, those who have been victims of gun violence, we also know have a higher risk of having repeated episodes of gun violence. And in many ways, those are the highest risk individuals. And we need to find ways of addressing those high risk individuals in economically depressed communities that are the highest risk for being victims of violence, but also perpetrators of violence.
Mr. Durbin: (01:33:28)
Now, Doctor, I hate to interrupt you, but 18 months ago, that would have been an answer that would have been really spot on. Now, I want you to add COVID-19 into the equation.
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (01:33:38)
Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic, for a whole host of reasons related to social isolation, higher rates of unemployment, and other challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, has put incredible pressure on distressed communities. Higher rates of unemployment, higher rates of mental unwellness, if you will, has perpetuated more gun violence. We’ve seen in the city of Chicago and many cities across the country, including LA and Philadelphia, 50% increase in the rate of gun violence. And we need more targeted interventions to try to address this problem. The problem, unfortunately, every day is not going away. We knew that over 100 people have died today of gun-related homicides and suicides.
Mr. Durbin: (01:34:24)
So let me ask you this question. A child who has gone through these adverse childhood experiences and a childhood that none of us wish on anyone, is that child a lost soul? Is there any possible redemption, in terms of medical treatment or mental health treatment?
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (01:34:43)
Every child is an opportunity, and we need to invest in our children, because those children are the ones who become adults and productive members of our society. Unfortunately, oftentimes, those trauma is not recognized and the impact of that trauma and intergenerational trauma, such as poverty and racism, is not addressed. By finding ways of actually providing trauma informed care to individuals, be it in schools and in communities, we can have an impact and prevent needless intentional gun violence and other forms of trauma.
Mr. Durbin: (01:35:22)
Thank you. Chief Spagnolo, so far this year, 16 Chicago police officers have been either shot or shot at in the line of duty. Last week alone, three officers were shot and injured. We know what happened last night in Boulder. The policemen who responded to the scene, Eric Talley, father of seven, lost his life. Can you talk about the risks that law enforcement officers face while America is seeing record numbers of guns that are being sold? And also should a gun be sold to an unknown person without that person passing a criminal background check?
Fernando Spagnolo: (01:36:01)
Mr. Chairman, I believe strongly in the background check process. It’s something that works quite well here in Connecticut. It gives us an opportunity to make sure that the person that’s actually purchasing the gun has gone through a pretty strict background check. And all the databases have been checked to make sure that they are not a prohibited person. One of my greatest concerns for the men and women that service the community here in Waterbury, is the amount of guns that they face on the street on a daily basis. Our police officers are taking on an average of one to two guns a day, illegal guns, a day off the streets of Waterbury. Now we’re a community of about 115,000 people here in Connecticut. So I can only imagine what my colleagues face in larger urban areas across the country.
Fernando Spagnolo: (01:36:40)
This is a significant issue for us, and a great concern for our officers to be faced with these amount of weapons that are on the street. We’ve seen a huge increase and spike in the amount of concealed weapons permits that have been applied for. Over a 300% increase in weapons permits applied for here in the city over the course of 2020. And we’ve also seen a tremendous uptick in the amount of guns that have been sold. The issue that we have is that many guns are purchased here, and they are straw purchases. They end up in the hands of prohibited persons, and then they’re used in crimes of violence in our community.
Mr. Durbin: (01:37:14)
Thanks, Chief. Thanks, Chief. Senator Grassley?
Mr. Grassley: (01:37:17)
Yeah. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’m going to ask my questions in this order: Chang, [Solomon 01:37:22], Swearer, and Hupp, if I get to all of you. Mr. Chang, thank you for your testimony about the needs to vulnerable communities to protect themselves. Can you think of any instance where Asian Americans have needed to use firearms to protect themselves?
Chris Cheng: (01:37:42)
Absolutely. We don’t have to look any farther back than the 1992 LA riots. And in Korea town, when LA was burning and Korea town was under attack, and they called the LAPD for help. And the LAPD was under-resourced and unavailable to come to the aid of Korean Americans in Korea town. So what did they do? Korean Americans utilized their Second Amendment rights and took their own personal firearms and protected their businesses, their lives, and their community.
Mr. Grassley: (01:38:19)
When police departments are defunded, it is often communities of color that are most impacted. So Mr. Chang, how does this impact the need for self-defense with firearms?
Chris Cheng: (01:38:33)
If we look back at the past year and a half or so with COVID-19, it’s been a pressure cooker for all of us to see the civil unrest, the violence that has enraptured our country. And when you couple that with calls for defunding the police and taking law enforcement officers off the street, demoralizing them, dehumanizing them, it makes citizens like me feel less safe. And if I…
Chris Cheng: (01:39:03)
Citizens like me feel less safe and if I can’t have law enforcement there to keep the peace in my community, then it is a rational conclusion that individual citizens like myself would opt to utilize my second amendment right to purchase a firearm and use that firearm in lawful and legal self defense.
Mr. Grassley: (01:39:23)
Okay. Ms. Solomon, you’re a leader in the national African American Gun Association. So from your position, California is known to be a restrictive State in terms of gun control. Can you tell us about California’s approach to gun control, which many are trying to reproduce on the federal level and whether you think that approach is effective?
Genova Solomon: (01:39:47)
Here in California, there are a lot of measures that we do seem being paired from the federal perspective. Some that can work, that works here, the private party transfer process where all gun sales do have to go through a dealer. That works well. But there’s other things that essentially price people in my community out of being able to protect themselves. We don’t have a blanket, a concealed carry weapons permit system here. Those who live in affluent areas like Orange County or Ventura County can protect themselves better than someone who lives in Los Angeles County or Black and Brown people mostly live. So unfortunately, the gun control measures that have happened here in California essentially affects people of my community more so than people of other communities where there are [inaudible 01:40:34] relationships with people in my community and law enforcement.
Mr. Grassley: (01:40:37)
I’m going to have a second question for you if I have time, otherwise I’ll submit in writing because I want to go to Ms. Swearer. We’ve heard a little about the universal background checks, HR aid and the extended background investigation bill HR 1446. Would these bills be effective at reducing gun violence?
Ms. Swearer: (01:41:00)
Senator, thank you for your question. So when we’re talking about gun violence, generally, as I mentioned in my oral testimony, there’s a real balance between how HR in particular addresses a very small part of the problem in publicly advertised private sales and how it would detrimentally impact a larger part of the problem, which is gun suicides. Normally when people bring up background checks and private gun sales in particular, they’re referencing impacts on mass public shootings. And I think it’s important to recognize that with perhaps only one exception, these would not have played any meaningful role in preventing any mass public shooting in recent history.
Ms. Swearer: (01:41:42)
Perhaps though, I think it’s questionable, the exception being the Odessa Midland shooting a couple of years ago. The real problem is that most of these mass shooters actually pass background checks to begin with, that there isn’t this sort of intermediate option for when they’re exhibiting very serious signs of being unstable and violent towards themselves or others. So that’s actually more so than background checks for prohibited persons. When we’re talking about mass public shootings, the real issue is that many of these people, far too many passed those background checks in the first place.
Mr. Grassley: (01:42:16)
Okay, I’ve just got five seconds left, so let me ask Dr. Hough, thank you for sharing your personal story with us. What measures do you believe would be best help others to avoid becoming victims of gun violence?
Dr. Suzanna Hupp: (01:42:31)
Well, quite honestly, I think the old boy scout motto, always be prepared. I teach my sons when we walk into a restaurant, I used to have them close their eyes and would ask them, “Where are the exits?” You need to be able to act fast. I think people should be able to protect themselves to the best of their ability. I think communities of color and communities that are of minority religious entities should be very wary of universal background checks for the same reason that I mentioned earlier, it does create a de facto gun registration. And then at any point in the future, and Lord knows history has shown us that bad things happen. We talked earlier about the folks of Japanese descent during World War II. We’ve certainly seen it with the Jewish communities and with African American communities. So I think those folks in particular should be very weary of universal background checks.
Dr. Suzanna Hupp: (01:43:34)
Anytime we have a term like common sense gun laws, I think most of us find it humorous because it’s tagged common sense so that you don’t want to vote against it, right? But it’s anything but common sense quite frankly. There are certainly things we can do again, in my written testimony, my husband is a criminal psychologist and he talks about threat assessments and how task forces can be formed that would have prevented a number of these things like in Aurora and in Sutherland Springs where people knew, people knew that these people were messed up before they ever got hold of a gun. They could have been prevented.
Mr. Durbin: (01:44:18)
Thanks Senator Grassley. I’d like to explain to the witnesses and others that we have a role call beginning in just a minute or two. I’m going to leave to go to the floor to vote. Senator Blumenthal is going to preside, and in the meantime, I’m going to recognize Senator Leahy.
Mr. Leahy: (01:44:32)
Thank you Mr. Chairman. And I’m going to go back to Chief Spagnolo, if I might. I should note that I’m a gun owner. I go through background checks, whether I’m buying a pistol or a rifle, and Vermont is usually somebody whose known me [inaudible 01:44:55] my whole life, but I have no problem with a background check. And I worry about the straw purchases. I know when I was a prosecutor and I’ve seen it since. So many guns are bought in straw purchases and end up in criminal hands. There’s no federal law that adequately addresses this type of firearm trafficking. There’s more we can do to stop these purchases. Yesterday I introduced a bill to do just that with Senator Collins of Maine and Chairman Durbin. The last time we had that bill up before the Senate it got 58 votes and bipartisan votes that’s supported by a broad range of law enforcement organizations. So Chief do you agree that legislation explicitly targeting straw purchases will help law enforcement keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous criminals?
Fernando Spagnolo: (01:46:01)
Yes, I do. I think that would be one step, Senator, in the process. We work closely with the United States attorney’s office here in the district of Connecticut looking at straw purchases and having local and State investigations adopted by the U.S. attorney for federal prosecution under the project safe neighborhood doctrine and it works quite well. The thing is in Connecticut here, we have a background process and there’s plenty of guns that are sold. And then as I said, forensically, we’re able to link these guns into shootings that are happening in our community and it’s really devastating.
Mr. Leahy: (01:46:41)
When I was chief law enforcement officer of my County, I heard from so many, the police who say they feel safer when fewer guns end up in the hands of criminals. It’s an easy question. I assume you thought the same way the police officers who were under my jurisdiction felt.
Fernando Spagnolo: (01:47:02)
Mr. Leahy: (01:47:04)
Thank you. And Mr. Chairman, I’d like to introduce in the record, letters supporting our legislation from four law enforcement agencies and National Fraternal Order [inaudible 01:47:17] the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the National Sheriff’s Association and the National District Attorneys Association.
Speaker 25: (01:47:24)
Mr. Leahy: (01:47:26)
And if I could ask Robin Thomas, since 1996 Congress explicitly prohibited federal agencies from research in the gun violence epidemic. The ban was driven by the bogus conspiracy theory that federal research into gun violence would lead to a federal assault and second amendment rights. When I was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I helped end the funding drought in 2019. We appropriate 25 million to the CDC and NIH to study gun violence from a public health perspective. We’d treat any other epidemic killing tens of thousands of Americans each year as a public health epidemic. Ms. Thomas, why is it so important for the federal government to treat and research gun violence as a public health epidemic? Why is it vital for Congress to fund that?
Robyn Thomas: (01:48:24)
Thank you for your question Senator, and thank you for your leadership on this issue. We are so appreciative of the new funding, $25 million, which is going to look at this issue more carefully. We know from early studies in the early ’90s initially on this issue that when we study and look at rates of gun violence and the types of measures that can be put in place to reduce it that we get really interesting and important information about gun storage, about gun sales, about limitations on guns that are appropriate to reducing violence. That’s why the Dickey Amendment was put in place to ensure that we don’t have the research in order to be able to speak knowledgeably about the ways we can reduce it.
Robyn Thomas: (01:49:03)
So we really look forward to seeing the outcome of this research, which we know because we do have private research that’s been coming out of really high end universities across the country showing the positive impact that gun laws make in reducing gun violence. Whether it’s limitations, including background checks or permit to purchase laws, safe storage laws, and so many more. So this is essential, because without this research to show the impact, it makes it a difficult argument. And we know when research is done, it shows the impact of these laws and helps us to have an educated, informed conversation as a country about what actually works.
Mr. Leahy: (01:49:39)
And Ms. Thomas, I’m going to spend another question to you for the record, if I can, because I also wanted to ask Chief Spagnolo, the Congress prohibits ATF for making gun records [inaudible 01:49:55] possession digitally searchable. That means they’re going to millions of paper records that are stored in cardboard boxes by hand, it’s absolutely ridiculous. Do you agree that empowering the ATF to utilize 21st century tools like digital searches would assist law enforcement agencies trying to trace guns used in crimes?
Fernando Spagnolo: (01:50:21)
Yes, Senator, gun tracing is an important part of investigations that we participate in with gun crime and anything to progress that and bring it up to today’s technology would be beneficial to law enforcement.
Mr. Leahy: (01:50:37)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Durbin: (01:50:37)
Thanks Senator Leahy. Senator Lee.
Senator Lee: (01:50:40)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Cheng, I’d like to start with you. In your testimony you talk a little bit about the racist roots of gun control. I wanted to know if you could elaborate a little bit further on this and talk to us a little bit the disproportionate harms that you think can be inflicted on minority groups of various stripes, including LGBTQ communities by aggressive gun control policies of the sort that are often pushed these days, including things like universal background checks and increased waiting periods.
Chris Cheng: (01:51:17)
Thank you Senator for the question. So I think a lot of gun control laws under consideration that are passed are always well intentioned, right? Well meaning and I think we are all United in the fact that we want to reduce the violence that we see in our country. Like I mentioned with executive order 9066 as one of many examples, that executive order was ordered under the guise of public safety and national security, yet it took a marginalized community, our Japanese American citizens and unconstitutionally put them in interment camps. I think the main point is we have this tendency to create the other, right?
Chris Cheng: (01:52:04)
And when we otherize people, we stop treating them like human beings and then we stop saying that they have the rights bestowed upon them by the U.S. constitution. And so, whether it’s with Japanese Americans or any other Asian Americans or LGBTQ Americans, it’s us today but it’s going to be someone else tomorrow. So this isn’t just a problem for the Asian American community or the LGBT community. But when there are gun control bills under consideration, it threatens every single American’s rights to defend themselves from real imminent threats and that’s what frightens me about the gun control legislation in front of this body today.
Senator Lee: (01:52:54)
Very often, not only in American history, but even prior to American history, we’ve seen that it’s rarely the empowered very rarely the wealthy or those with political connections to the government who have their rights interfered with. This goes back many centuries. Charles the second in England in something called the Game Act enacted in 1671 took away gun rights of commoners. 17 years later in 1688, William Emory brought into the English bill of rights, legislation that protected gun ownership rights for commoners, but made clear that it applied only to Protestants. In other words, those who aren’t disenfranchised, those who are not among the wealthy elite or the most well connected are usually those in any society, certainly going back hundreds years in our legal traditions. Those are very often not the people whose rights are most seriously restricted, the wealthy and the well connected end up doing okay.
Senator Lee: (01:54:03)
Now, Dr. Hupp, I appreciate you joining us today and it’s good to hear your voice again and to hear your insights on this. Your story is nothing short of tragic and heartbreaking. Now the right of individual Americans to keep and bear arms was appropriately considered by our founding fathers so fundamental and so associated with the English legal tradition that informed their decision making that they chose to put it in to the constitution in the second amendment. Recently, my home State of Utah became the 17th State to enact constitutional concealed carry legislation, allowing anyone 21 years of age or older who is legally allowed to possess a firearm to concealed carry subject to certain exceptions. Dr. Hupp, can you explain why you think it’s in the public interest setting aside for a moment the constitutional questions, but why is it in the public interest to allow all law abiding Americans to carry firearms?
Dr. Suzanna Hupp: (01:55:13)
Oh, heavens. That becomes so deep. I think you and Mr. Cheng put it very clearly when you’re looking at the broader picture. I know that historically, bad things can happen. And I think it’s a preventive for honestly, for a future or future despotic actions makes it very difficult for someone to come in and do bad things to groups of people when they can fight back. As individuals, I think we see so many people who are in persecuted classes. I think the LB, what is it now? The LBGQ, I forget all the letters now, but I think those persecuted classes are particularly in need of protection, personal protection.
Dr. Suzanna Hupp: (01:56:12)
I think it’s important that the bad guys don’t know where the guns are. I think that the more that we see these mass shootings, we’re seeing them in places where people again, are not allowed to protect themselves. I think when we see them in schools, that’s a perfect example. It’s always bothered me that my sister’s a teacher. She can protect herself at the Walmart across the street from the school where there are mothers pushing strollers and yet, for some reason, society has said, “We don’t trust the minute you cross the street and go into your classroom.” And yet, that’s where the bad guys go to kill people. So I think the more good people that are armed, the better.
Senator Lee: (01:57:02)
In other words, a lot of this has to do with the fact that if we didn’t have these rights, the government would have a certain monopoly on the use of force. Now if you live in a neighborhood that’s well secured, that’s behind a gate, if you can afford your own private security, or if you’re in a neighborhood that for one reason or another, the police monitor regularly, this might have a very different set of implications than it would if you don’t live in one of those communities. Would you agree with that?
Dr. Suzanna Hupp: (01:57:33)
I absolutely would agree with that. And I’ve noticed that many of the people that are supportive of gun control have their own security details. Unfortunately, I don’t have that.
Senator Lee: (01:57:47)
Charles the second and William Emory certainly had their own as well. Thank you.
Mr. Bluementhal: (01:57:55)
Thanks Senator Leahy. Senator Feinstein.
Senator Dianne Feinstein: (01:57:59)
Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman. One proposal to address gun violence is bypassing extreme risk laws, my State, California did just that. These laws allow family members and law enforcement to go to court to get temporary lawful orders to prevent people from purchasing or possessing firearms if they are a danger to themselves or others. Before each of the tragedies in Tucson, Aurora, Navy Yard and Santa Barbara, family members and law enforcement saw warning signs, but they were powerless to stop the shooter from getting a firearm. Sadly, this is really all too common. A recent analysis of mass shootings in the United States between 2009 and ’19 found that in 54% of those shootings, the shooter had shown warning signs. So here’s the question and I’d like to have each of you briefly address it. Do you believe that extreme risk laws would help reduce gun violence on a national level? Please?
Robyn Thomas: (01:59:24)
Okay, I’ll start on the side. Absolutely, yes. Extreme risk protective orders fully comply with due process. They are an incredibly effective tool for family members and law enforcement, both in preventing suicide, which is the thing that takes the most American lives from gun violence. And also, from preventing mass shootings. A recent study in California identified at least 21 instances in which mass shootings had been prevented by the use of extreme risk protective orders. And the Chief pointed to data coming out of Connecticut about the reduction in suicide directly attributable to extreme risk protective orders. So when these measures are approached in a way that utilizes full due process, judicial officer’s testimony under oath and a full and fair hearing within a short amount of time, there’s absolutely no reason we shouldn’t have this applying across the entire country to help prevent suicides, mass shootings and other violence.
Senator Dianne Feinstein: (02:00:19)
Thank you. Anybody else on that question? Please go ahead.
Genova Solomon: (02:00:23)
If I may, Geneva Solomon here. I do agree with what she said with the Gifford Saw office. However, we have to be careful with how we implement those laws. Oftentimes, extreme risks and red flag laws affect people more within minority communities because there is still a stigma attached to those who are within minority communities practicing responsible gun ownership as being irresponsible. So although the family member may call and bring in law enforcement that law enforcement officer may not stress or implement equally when it’s someone from a minority group and then someone from a more affluent area. So oftentimes, those within the Black and Brown community are affected more by those red flag laws, and sometimes guns are taken away from them and they won’t be able to protect themselves.
Senator Dianne Feinstein: (02:01:19)
Anybody else? Yes, please.
Ms. Swearer: (02:01:21)
Senator, I would like to address that as well. This is, I think one of those areas where there is at least room for significant bipartisan support on this. Precisely because when you look at the general idea of targeted interventions of people who are showing these risk factors, we’re dealing with things that, again, are targeted and not broadly impacting people who are not likely to be a danger to themselves or others. And when you look specifically at mass public shootings, as I mentioned to Senator Grassley earlier, the biggest problem is that most of these individuals, despite these warning signs were able to pass background checks and obtain their firearms.
Senator Dianne Feinstein: (02:02:00)
I’m sorry, we’re able to?
Ms. Swearer: (02:02:02)
We’re able to pass background checks. They were not prohibited persons because they hadn’t yet reached what I’d consider either a mental health crisis, or yet committed a felony under federal law. So this idea of targeted interventions directed at people who haven’t yet reached that crisis point, I think is a very important aspect of addressing very important parts of the problem. Now, again, with that, there needs to be adequate due process. I think one of the biggest problems with so many of the red flag laws on the books is that they don’t adequately address due process concerns, that there are very low standards, very low bars for essentially, taking away people’s guns on the basis of perhaps aggrieved former lovers or people who are just upset. And it can be a very expensive time consuming process for innocent persons to go through, so that needs to be balanced with that same targeted intervention approach.
Senator Dianne Feinstein: (02:03:02)
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (02:03:03)
And I would add that- …
Dr. Suzanna Hupp: (02:03:03)
This is Suzanna Hupp. Senator Feinstein. I am thrilled to say this is an area that you and I can actually agree upon, and I could certainly work with you on this. I’m not familiar with the piece of legislation that you’re actually talking about. I agree with the last speaker that obviously we always are concerned that laws like that can be misused. Again, in my written testimony, I talked about the difference between threat assessment versus risk assessment and task forces at a State wide level could be put in place that could implement some very good rules on this and I think would prevent a number of future events.
Senator Dianne Feinstein: (02:03:46)
Robin Brule: (02:03:47)
Senator Fienstein, this is Robin Brule. Thank you for the question. Yes, we think they will. Extreme risk protection order laws allow family members and law enforcement to have tools to take action with due process before warning signs escalate to tragedies.
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (02:04:07)
And I would find that extreme risk protection orders will indeed, decrease the amount of both suicides and homicides. We disproportionately talk about mass shootings, but every day, 100 people die from gun related suicide or homicide. And oftentimes, unfortunately, that involves a domestic violence situation where an estranged boyfriend or husband will try to take the life of their partner. And intimate partner violence is an unfortunate reality every day in America. Last time I was on call, a boyfriend at 5 o’clock in the morning came to his girlfriend’s house and shot through the door, trying to take her life and extreme risk protection orders will help prevent those events.
Senator Dianne Feinstein: (02:04:55)
Ms. Swearer: (02:04:55)
Senator, I know we’re running out of time here, but if I may just very quickly add one more point. So I think it’s important to also recognize an aspect of these targeted interventions that has to deal with, I think, that the lack of trust right now between the second amendment and gun owning community, and a lot of politicians and gun control advocates. There’s this feeling that people are simply just out to take our guns through whatever means necessary. And I think one of the ways of addressing that, especially in building that trust back, especially within the concept of red flag laws, is to ensure that these laws focus on not just taking away people’s guns when they are showing these warning signs, but that they’re hooked up with existing mental health treatment, addiction, court system infrastructure.
Ms. Swearer: (02:05:44)
So that we’re not just taking away guns, but then directing people toward help and toward treatment, because ultimately they’re the goal of these should be getting people back to a point where they aren’t dangerous, where they can have their rights fully restored to them because in the long run, that’s going to benefit society much more. It’s going to benefit that individual, and that helps restore that broken trust between the gun owning community and a lot of politicians and gun control activists.
Senator Dianne Feinstein: (02:06:10)
Thank you. Thank you. Thanks Mr. Chairman. I will be introducing a bill.
Mr. Bluementhal: (02:06:14)
Thank you, Senator Feinstein. I would just note that to the last point that was made that the risk warrant law in Connecticut provides for that access to help in the course of the due process that’s afforded whoever is separated from a firearm. And Senator Lindsey Graham and myself have actually offered a bipartisan version of this risk warrant law in past congresses. I hope that I will have a Republican partner in this effort again, during this session because risk warrant laws have been shown, as Chief Spagnolo testified very powerfully, to save lives, not only suicides, but in mass shootings and other problems. And I’m very hopeful that Connecticut’s Model Law, which was passed the first in the nation before Sandy Hook could actually be an example for others to follow. There are 19 States that have it now, including Florida in the wake of Parkland and I think it’s one of the most promising areas of progress on a bipartisan basis. Senator Cruz.
Ted Cruz: (02:07:28)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Ms. Hupp, thank you very much for telling your story. Your story is powerful. You and I have known each other a long time. Your story is one that I believe anyone assessing the horror of gun violence needs to hear and needs to confront. And Ms. Hupp, what I would ask you is many members of this committee believe that the right policy decision is to enact strict federal laws to make it harder for law abiding citizens to own firearms. Do you believe in your experience and your judgment that disarming law abiding citizens makes our communities any safer?
Dr. Suzanna Hupp: (02:08:19)
I absolutely believe that disarming the average citizen makes for a much more unsafe society. Now, your wheelchair ground bound grandmother cannot protect herself from the thugs who want to take her social security check. If she has a weapon, now she’s on equal footing.
Ted Cruz: (02:08:47)
Mr. Cheng, gun sales in the United States skyrocketed in 2020, including among minority groups, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, firearm sales during the first half of 2020 increased year over year by 51.9% for Whites, 58.2% for African Americans, 49.4% for Hispanics and 42.9% for Asian Americans. Why do you think that is?
Chris Cheng: (02:09:20)
Thank you, Senator, for the question. The fear in the Asian American community is palpable and it’s real, and Asian Americans are waking up to the fact that we are Americans and we have the right to exercise our right to self defense. And if we want to use a firearm, that should be our choice. And it shouldn’t be up to the government to decide or determine how and when we decided to defend ourselves. And so, I want to send a very clear message to Asian Americans that we are Americans too, and we should be exercising every single one of our rights as American citizens. And I want everyone to speak up and contribute to this critical debate and discussion that we’re having today about keeping our country safe and happy and let everybody live the American dream that we all want and we aspire to attain.
Ted Cruz: (02:10:21)
Thank you, Mr. Cheng, I think that was a powerful and important message. Do you believe that the right to keep and bear arms is a civil right and to what extent do you think the additional firearms purchases last year were motivated in part by the riots we saw across the country, as city after city in our country burned as stores were looted, as police officers were murdered? To what extent do you think individual citizens wanted to be able to protect their own homes and their own businesses and their own families in the wake of the violence they were seeing unfold across our country?
Chris Cheng: (02:11:02)
Yeah, putting the pieces together, a constant stream of civil unrest of buildings and homes being burned, of people of all races being attacked, the stress of being quarantined during COVID, talk about defunding the police, demoralizing law enforcement, encouraging them to retire early, or just quit altogether, because why would a law enforcement officer want to put their life on the line for a public that doesn’t want them? I can empathize that. And so, put on top of that, the 149% increase in anti-Asian American violence. You betcha. Asian Americans are putting all these pieces together, just like all Americans are saying, “This is a more dangerous society that we’ve experienced over the past year, and that we’re experiencing now.” And unfortunately, it’s only- …
Chris Cheng: (02:12:03)
… the past year, and that’s what we’re experiencing now. And unfortunately it’s only getting worse and I don’t want that and nobody else wants that. But there is a logical conclusion that if you’re going to defund the police and if there’s going to be increased violence, and if I need to be my own first responder, that I need to have a firearm to defend myself and my family.
Ted Cruz: (02:12:22)
Okay. Thank you. Final question, Ms. Hupp. A couple of weeks ago, I introduced an amendment along with Bill Cassidy that would have provided that the $1,400 stimulus checks going out from the government not go to criminals, not go to criminals who are currently incarcerated, not go to mass murderers and rapists and child molesters who are currently in prison. We voted on it on the Senate floor. Every Senate Democrat voted no, and it’s failed by a single vote, which means that if even a single Democrat had supported that amendment we would not be currently sending U.S. taxpayer checks to violent criminals, including mass murderers, including presumably the shooter in Atlanta, the shooter in Boulder, including the shooter in the Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina, including potentially the shooter in Santa Fe, and other mass shooters who are currently incarcerated. Ms. Hupp, what do you think of the federal government sending $1,400 checks to mass murderers who are carried out acts of gun violence.
Dr. Suzanna Hupp: (02:13:21)
So let me get this straight, I don’t get a stimulus check, one of my sons doesn’t get a stimulus check, but the murder does I’m. I’m shocked. I’m horrified. I cannot understand what possible reason anyone would have to vote against that, Senator Cruz. I don’t get it.
Ted Cruz: (02:13:49)
Mr. Durbin: (02:13:52)
Because we’re on a roll call, several members are in transit, and so we’re going to give Senator Tillis an opportunity now, and we’ll catch up on the Democratic side as Senators appear.
Senator Tillis: (02:14:06)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thanks to all the witnesses who are with us today. And Senator Cruz, I want to thank you. I want to fully associate myself with your opening comments and with Cruz-Grassley being re-introduced, it is something that I would like to get on, if you are working to get co-sponsors. So I would like to do that as part of its introduction. Mr. Chairman, since I’ve been here for six years now, six and a half years, the events of Boulder, Colorado are not the first one that we’ve had in those six years. They’re a very sad situation. The thing that I worry about is that this is a time when you think that we would all come together on something that’s common sense and makes progress, but it tends to be the time to where we go into our corners and we make no progress.
Senator Tillis: (02:14:58)
And I think that Grassley- Cruz is a step in the right direction and I hope that it is something that we can try and work on. We don’t know much about the shooter in Boulder. My guess is it’s going to follow many of the same patterns that we’ve seen with other mass shootings. There were probably signs that if we only had better resources for law enforcement we may have been able to identify if the parents or friends or associates of the shooter had spoken up there could have been interventions to prevent it. I for one do not think that a discussion around increasing gun control alone is too simplistic for us to think we’re going to make any real progress on a matter that we hopefully in this Congress will make progress on. So I guess the challenge that I have with those who think we should just have indiscriminate red flag laws without any due process to be initiated by persons outside of law enforcement, they don’t make sense to me. Do they make sense to you, Mr. Cheng?
Chris Cheng: (02:16:11)
My concern about extreme risk protective orders is that right now it’s a patchwork of different approaches by states and it’s just inconsistent depending on what state you live in. The other concern I have, to touch upon your point, Senator, is that who should be trusted to make a final adjudication and determination whether someone is truly at risk? Is that a judge? Is that a law enforcement officer? Should that be a family member or a friend? But who actually knows this person well? Who might have a negative ulterior motive to say, “I’m a disgruntled lover,” or, “I’m upset at you for whatever reason and therefore I’m going to leverage an extreme risk protective order to take away your Second Amendment rights.” Som at a high level, I agree that there’s an opportunity here.
Senator Tillis: (02:17:09)
What would that look like?
Chris Cheng: (02:17:12)
I think it is probably up to this body to help resolve these differences in the patchwork that we’re seeing across different states. And that is a tall order, but if we take best practices that we’re seeing from different states, that’s I think where we should first look. But it is a balance of the individual right versus the right of the government to take away someone’s rights on behalf of public safety. And that’s always the difficult challenge.
Senator Tillis: (02:17:44)
Ms. Swearer: (02:17:46)
Thank you, Senator. I agree that there are indeed, especially as they’re written in a lot of states, significant due process concerns. I think one thing we can do is look at similar types of frameworks that we already have in place that protect due process in a more civil, not criminal context. And one of those is, in fact, the mental health civil commitment procedures. So in most states, these require robust forms of due process. There’s right to an attorney. There’s a right to cross examination. There’s right to testify on her own behalf. They use standards of clear and convincing evidence, which are fairly robust. And I think using that framework rather than a lower, less robust framework is at least a starting point, because there is a longstanding, both judicial review of these procedures against the Constitution but it’s also something that we’re familiar with, that we know how to run at least in terms of the framework of due process.
Senator Tillis: (02:18:49)
Ms. [Alma 02:18:50].
Genova Solomon: (02:18:53)
Thank you for including me. One of the things that I haven’t heard mentioned when we talk about red flag laws is the amount of money that it would cost to defend yourself when that happens. As a federal licensed dealer here in California, we have seen people who have relinquished their farms over to us, and we’ve heard their stories about how costly it has been due to a disgruntled relationship, due to an encounter that they had with law enforcement, and they spend countless amounts of money and a lot of time in court just to get their farms back two, three years later. So we have to address that, yes, there should be due process, but when we start to put a cost to that then we get more into what I have been continually saying is, we began to price people out of being able to protect themselves.
Senator Tillis: (02:19:43)
Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Durbin: (02:19:46)
Thank you, Senator Tillis. Again, we have no Democratic members currently in the room, and I’d like to turn to Senator Cotton and recognize him.
Senator Tom Cotton: (02:19:57)
First, I want to begin by saying that we’re all saddened by the terrible shooting in Boulder, Colorado yesterday. Like so many Americans, I’m praying for the victims of this crime, especially for the family of officer Eric Talley. I gather Mr. Talley left his work as an information technology professor at the age of 40 after a friend died in a DUI crash because he wanted to serve the public. He leaves behind a wife and seven children. So we offer the deepest condolences to them and their entire family and community. He adds his name to the list of too many officers who have given their life on the line of duty, especially over the last few years. This is a hearing on gun violence, and it’s true that gun violence has increased, especially over this past year. In fact, all types violence have gone up. Murders are up more than 20% in the last year alone, a single year increase not seen in modern history. And murders have reached totals nationwide not seen since the 1990s.
Senator Tom Cotton: (02:21:15)
Now, our friends on the left always want to go straight to gun control as the solution for reducing this problem of violence. Before we start looking at controlling the rights of law abiding citizens and regulating their guns and even setting the grounds to confiscate their guns, why don’t we look at why this violence has increased to begin with? Notably, there has been extended systematic attacks on our police and law enforcement professionals for years, calling them racist and bigoted and prejudiced, demanding that they be defunded and replaced with social workers. When you condemn the police, when you make it harder to do their job, you shouldn’t be surprised that criminals take advantage of the opportunities that follow and that crime rises and in particular, violent crime rises. Likewise, some on the left, like to complain about mass incarceration as if there are too many people locked up in our prisons when more than half of all violent crimes don’t even result in an arrest, much less a prosecution or a conviction.
Senator Tom Cotton: (02:22:43)
Let me tell you a story about Hassan Elliott in Philadelphia. He was a member of the 1700 Gang that’s responsible for many mass murders. In June of 2017, he was arrested on a firearms charge after threatening a neighbor with a gun. Despite the criminal record, he only received seven months in jail. He then violated his parole. He failed drug tests. He was arrested with cocaine. Yet he was not sent back to jail, and a few months later, he allegedly murdered someone with a gun when he should have been in jail. Later, he also murdered a police officer. All of this was preventable if prosecutors had simply followed the law and supported their local police and locked up Mr. Elliott, as they should lock up so many other violent felons across the country. So what should we do to reduce gun violence? The solution is simple. We should support our police, we should enforce our laws and we should, yes, lock up criminals.
Senator Tom Cotton: (02:23:44)
What we should never do is create new, vague laws to restrict the constitutional rights of law abiding gun owners. All of these new restrictions fail to stop criminals from breaking the law, but they do result in liability for our Kansans and Americans who responsibly own guns to protect themselves from the same criminals that are getting away without real jail time to commit crimes against innocent civilians when they should be locked away. Mr. Cheng, it is well-known that minority communities are disproportionately the victims of these violent crimes, including gun homicides. If bills like these two House gun control measures were to pass, which group would suffer more? Criminals, who are trying to get guns, often through illegal means, with which to commit crimes, or law abiding citizens, especially minorities who would like to purchase guns for self-defense?
Chris Cheng: (02:24:44)
Thank you, Senator, for the question you. The group that would surely suffer the most at the hands of gun control bills would be minorities who need to defend themselves and the ones that want to purchase a firearm for self-defense. And I’d like to share a story about what’s been happening in my hometown of San Francisco, where we’ve had multiple attacks on not just Asian Americans, but some of the most vile, disgusting attacks that have been happening have been happening to the elderly Asian Americans. And they have been kicked and pushed and hit from behind. And some have succumbed to their injuries. And to your point, we have a District Attorney who is somehow trying to rationalize a murder by saying things like the criminal had a temper tantrum. I don’t understand how our District Attorney and the Oakland Police Chief right across the Bay, who says that we shouldn’t defend ourselves, that we should just be good witnesses.
Chris Cheng: (02:25:48)
You can’t be a good witness when you’re dead, and if the public does not have the confidence in the law enforcement machine that has the power to arrest, convict, and jail, criminals for their actions, then that causes even more distress and more of a problem in our society.
Senator Tom Cotton: (02:26:10)
Thank you, Mr. Cheng, and thank you for raising the problem of your George Soros funded Prosecuting Attorney, one of many across the country who refuses to enforce the law and lock away violent criminals. It’s a problem about which I’ll be speaking more at length in the future.
Mr. Durbin: (02:26:25)
Thank you, Senator Cotton. Senator Padilla.
Senator Padilla: (02:26:31)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just want to raise a topic in a frame that I don’t believe has been raised thus far in this hearing. For most states, the age required to legally purchase a rifle and the age required cast a ballot are both 18. However, there’s some shocking disparities in legal state requirements for obtaining a weapon versus casting a ballot. In 25 states, voters must be registered and have specific forms of ID in order to cast a ballot. But those same states allow people to buy rifles without permits and require no background checks for some sales. Additionally, in a majority of states, new voters are able to obtain a rifle quicker than they’re able to cast their first ballot. It seems to me that we have our priorities entirely backwards when it comes to this, when we make it easier to buy a gun than we do to cast a ballot.
Senator Padilla: (02:27:45)
Two questions for Mr. Rogers. Broadly, what does it say to you that would make it so much easier in so many states in this country to buy a gun than we do to let people vote, eligible citizens? And second, maybe more specific to your experience, given your efforts to address the trauma and racial disparities at the community level, could you discuss your approach to gun violence as a systemic trauma, physical, mental, and otherwise?
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (02:28:21)
Thank you, Mr. Padilla, for that question. Undoubtedly, the challenge of gun violence is related to the fact that we have guns. Without guns, there will not be gun violence. I want to start out by saying, Black Lives Matter. 57% of all gun-related homicides are among Black men. My three sons, three African American sons, are 25, 22, and 18. They’re at highest risk in this country of being killed by a gun. The fact that when my 18 year old voted for the first time this year, he had to go through a number of steps in order to do that and exercise has right as a citizen to vote is representative of the fact that we have certain steps in order to be legally eligible to vote. It seems backwards that those steps would be so much less for doing something that could be harmful to another citizen or to themselves than the purchase of a firearm.
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (02:29:26)
Broadly speaking, it’s not an either or with respect to gun control versus addressing violence as a public health problem. I think we need to do both. With respect to the fact that chronic disinvestment in minority communities, especially communities of color, Hispanic and African American communities place young Black men at a high risk of being injured. The adverse experiences of trauma over the course of their life cycle and intergenerational poverty disproportionately affects and places Black men at a higher risk of dying from gun violence than graduating from college in this country. And in many ways, we need to find ways of addressing the upstream factors that lead to those risk factors for Black men and change this approach to our national crisis.
Senator Padilla: (02:30:22)
Thank you. I think it’s a subject area that deserves a deeper dive. But I want to take my final minute here to raise one more I think critical and urgent issue. On March 17th, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security released an unclassified summary of assessment on domestic violent extremism. That assessment found that domestic violent extremists motivated by biases against minority communities would pose an elevated threat to our nation throughout the rest of the year. We’re talking right now. However, violent attacks against minorities, specifically Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been on the rise since early last year. In fact, the day before the summary was released a domestic terrorist entered a firearms dealership in Georgia purchased a nine millimeter handgun and received it almost immediately due to George’s No Wait Gun Laws.
Senator Padilla: (02:31:26)
This terrorist would have gone on to murder eight innocent people later that day, including six Asian women. Now, a 2017 study published by the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the waiting period laws reduce gun homicides by roughly 17%. Stats, folks. Hard data. However, only 17 states, including the District of Columbia, currently require waiting periods and there’s no federal law requiring waiting periods. If waiting periods were expanded to all states, the country could see roughly 1700 less homicides per year while imposing no new restrictions on who can own a gun. Ms. Thomas, could you speak briefly to the constitutionality of longer waiting periods and the possible benefits that they represent?
Robyn Thomas: (02:32:26)
Well, I appreciated your citing two peer reviewed research driven statistics that show how waiting periods effectively reduce rates of homicide and suicide. Particularly when it comes to suicide, we know that waiting periods are an effective tool for ensuring that those that are in a time of crisis have some space to get the help they need. As far as the constitutionality goes, there’s absolutely nothing in the Second Amendment itself, and Second Amendment jurisprudence, or in any court’s decision that would inhibit us from passing things like waiting periods. It’s simply a good public policy decision. There’s no constitutional impediment and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be taking that kind of step to ensure that we save lives and protect people in our country.
Senator Padilla: (02:33:10)
Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Durbin: (02:33:11)
Thanks, Senator Padilla. I might just say for those who came in late, we recognize Senator Cruz, Senator Tillis, and Senator Cotton, and there were no Democrats present. I’m trying to catch up now. We’ve had Senator Padilla, and I believe we have Senator Coons, and Senator Booker. And then Senator Hawley, I don’t want you to feel you’re being discriminated against. That’s how the sequence followed. Senator Coons.
Senator Coons: (02:33:38)
Thank you, Chairman Durbin. I just want to start by offering my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims of two horrible tragedies we’ve just seen this week in Atlanta and Boulder, and to thank first responders and in particular to mourn the loss of officer Eric Talley, who by all accounts, acted with the courage we expect of law enforcement, a father of seven, killed in the line of duty. We have to do everything we can to prevent further senseless tragedies and not simply accept the frequency of mass shootings in our nation. So if I could, Ms. Thomas, one of the things that Senator Cornyn and I have done to try and make progress in keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t be able to get them is we just reintroduced the NICS Denial Notification Act.
Senator Coons: (02:34:24)
It’s a common sense bill that would require federal authorities to notify state and local law enforcement when a person prohibited lies on a background check to allow them to intervene. It’s a bill that’s co-sponsored by Senators Grassley, Graham, Leahy, and Klobuchar, endorsed by Giffords and the FOP. I appreciate that you highlighted that bill as well as Senators Durbin and Grassley earlier. Can you help explain why it’s a critical warning sign when a person prohibited tries to buy a gun, fails their background check, and why timely notification to law enforcement might help save lives?
Robyn Thomas: (02:34:59)
Absolutely. Thank you for that question and thank you so much, Senator, for your leadership on this issue. It is so important that we understand that when someone fails a background check that is because they either have a felony conviction or an appropriate domestic violence misdemeanor conviction, or a mental health prohibition. These are situations where an individual presents a risk to themselves or others and we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep guns away from those individuals. So when someone goes to buy a gun and they fail that background check, often it means that they might be intending to do violence, particularly in the case of domestic violence, guns, present an incredibly high risk to individuals involved in those relationships. So by notifying law enforcement, giving law enforcement an opportunity to follow up and ensure that, that individual isn’t acquiring guns through other means, we can prevent harm.
Robyn Thomas: (02:35:51)
And I just must say that closing the background check loophole, ensuring that we have background checks on all gun sales so that it wouldn’t be easy then for those individuals to simply go to an unlicensed seller to acquire a gun that they aren’t able to get from a licensed gun dealer would be an excellent addition to this kind of law, because it ensures that we’re closing those opportunities for individuals who shouldn’t have guns.
Senator Coons: (02:36:14)
Chief Spagnolo in Connecticut, as in 13 states, you perform the reference in and out of the national NICS check system so you know immediately. There are 37 states that don’t. One of the other states like Connecticut that follows your practice, in 2016, there were 700 investigations, 350 convictions. Roughly 100,000 people every year fail a background check for the reasons Ms. Thomas just cited. How does making sure that state and local law enforcement have prompt access to information about those who fail background checks help keep your community safe and would help keep our nation safe if that became the law of the land as this bipartisan bill proposes?
Fernando Spagnolo: (02:36:59)
Thank you, Senator. I think that having that information for law enforcement will be beneficial to investigations. We work closely with our federal law enforcement partners and the FBI and the ATF, and it would be great for us to have a database where we know that criminals that we’re looking at for other activity and violent behavior had attempted to secure a weapons permit to buy a gun. I just think that that’s information that we could expound upon and utilize in our investigations to keep our communities safer.
Senator Coons: (02:37:30)
Thank you, Chief. Dr. Rogers, if I might, my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware has been working hard to address a grave and serious and ongoing gun violence epidemic. You’ve argued for taking a public health approach to tackling the problem in addition to some of the other measures proposed. Beyond gun violence prevention legislation, what kind of further investments should we be making in our communities to address the root causes of gun violence and what federal grants or other resources in your view have been most effective?
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (02:38:01)
Thank you, Mr Coons, for that question. We’ve had decades, if not centuries, in this country of structural racism against people of color and disproportionately intentional gun violence is a manifestation of that structural racism. Chronic disinvestment in communities place vulnerable communities at risk and federal investment in distressed communities would help upstream factors that have unfortunately led to the downstream impact of gun violence disproportionately in communities of color. I think it’s also important to note that we do know that there are some things that work. We’ve heard today that people who are injured by guns are more likely to be injured again in terms of intentional violence recidivism. Targeting high risk populations that are likely to injure others is an important strategy above and beyond just locking them up, as Ms. Cotton described.
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (02:39:03)
There are impacts on mental wellness that could be addressed through cognitive behavioral therapy and other proactive interventions to prevent a person who has shot someone from shooting someone else again. Furthermore, I think there are opportunities on the table to look at secondary violence prevention programs, such as I had mentioned, Chicago Cred or our Heartland Alliance Program that looks at giving ready available jobs to citizens who have been victims of gun violence and providing them with transitional jobs and opportunities and cognitive behavioral therapy to help prevent them from becoming victims of violence once again. So taking a targeted approach to individuals who are at the highest risk of gun violence and finding ways to address their needs in a way that prevents them from injuring others would be a positive way forward above and beyond issues around gun control.
Senator Coons: (02:40:06)
Thank you, Dr. Rogers. Thank you to our panel. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Durbin: (02:40:09)
Thank you, Senator Coons. Proving once again that the good Samaritan never goes on punished, I asked Senator Blumenthal to preside when I went to vote and then I skipped him when it was his turn to ask questions. So begging your pardon, Senator Blumenthal.
Mr. Blumenthal: (02:40:25)
Thank you so much, Senator Durbin. And again, my thanks to you for giving us the opportunity to have this extraordinarily important hearing, which is one of a series that we’re going to have. The subcommittee on the Constitution will explore more of these specific proposals like risk warrants or emergency protection orders and background checks, safe storage. Who can be against safe storage standards? And other measures that are based on common sense and fully constitutional. I want to just clarify the record on the Grassley-Cruz bill. We had a little lecture from Senator Cruz on the virtues of this bill. Actually, it has a number of poison pills. For example, it would only prohibit straw purchases if prosecutors could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the purchaser knew that the recipient was prohibited from buying a gun or knew the person intended to use it for a crime. That is an impossible standard, as opposed to the Leahy-Collins-Durbin bill, which adopts the standard of proof in 18 United States Code 9.22, namely reasonable cause to believe standard.
Mr. Blumenthal: (02:41:59)
That’s just one example of a bill that has some good provisions like grants of resources to states to submit records to NICS and requiring reporting on NICS records submissions and providing additional resources to investigate. We’re in favor of additional resources, but the poison pills in that bill make it unacceptable. And unfortunately it is an example of exactly that phenomenon that I raised, using deceptive and fig leaf measures as a rouse to prevent common sense effective gun violence prevention measures. We know what works from the states that have used these measures, Connecticut and California, and other states that have used risk warrants to prevent suicides as well as other gun violence.
Mr. Blumenthal: (02:43:02)
So I’d like to ask Chief Spagnolo, because he has really seen it firsthand. He has been in the Waterbury Police Department since 1992. He’s been in the patrol division, the motorcycle division, the tactical drug division. He’s really seen it all. If you could tell me, Chief, what these common sense measures mean to your men and women who face these dangers every day, as did officer Talley, who tragically lost his life, and our sympathies and condolences go out to his family and the other loved ones who have lost members of their families and friends. Chief, if you could tell us what these measures mean.
Fernando Spagnolo: (02:43:56)
Thank you, Senator. So, in Connecticut, we have been pretty progressive regarding gun laws and background checks, and the ability to take guns away from folks or having folks surrender their guns that are under a protective order because of domestic violence. And then the ability for a law enforcement officer to apply for a risk warrant if a person poses harm to themselves or others. However, I get an end of shift report three times a day, every eight hours, and within that report, there isn’t a day that goes by that there’s not a report of shots fired or a person being arrested with a handgun that they should not be in possession of right here in Waterbury.
Fernando Spagnolo: (02:44:37)
So we’ve taken some measures and I shutter to think if we did not have background checks and some of these other opportunities in place in here in Connecticut, how many guns would be out there and how many shootings we would be experiencing in our community. I think that the measures in place have protected our law enforcement officers, and as importantly, they’ve protected members of our community. It’s often that we use the risk warrant process-
Fernando Spagnolo: (02:45:02)
… But it’s often that we use the risk warrant process to take temporarily guns away from people who have displayed that they are in a situation where they pose imminent threat to themselves or others. And there is due process here in Connecticut behind that. I mean, it’s not just that the law enforcement officer goes and seizes these weapons, this paperwork is reviewed by the local district attorney and then in turn brought to a judge for approval on whether these guns can be taken in order to be heard about in a hearing and then potentially returned to this person.
Fernando Spagnolo: (02:45:33)
But I am very satisfied that we have these measures in place here in Connecticut. I think that they are common sense. I think that States surrounding us some of them do have progressive background check laws and other gun laws, but some don’t. And we see guns that flow through our borders and into our community from states where folks can just go to a gun store and with a driver’s license or some form of ID purchase a gun with little to no wait time. I’m proud of the work that’s been done here in Connecticut and I think that it keeps our community and our law enforcement officers much safer.
Senator Blumenthal: (02:46:09)
Thanks for your testimony there, Chief, and thanks for your great work for Waterbury and the State of Connecticut. Thanks, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Durbin: (02:46:16)
Thanks, Senator Blumenthal. We’re going to call on Senator Hawley, Senator Booker, Senator Blackburn online, and Senator Ossoff. Senator Hawley.
Senator Hawley: (02:46:25)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thanks to the witnesses for being here and for those that are online. I want to start by recognizing and thanking the brave officer who gave his life defending innocent civilians in Colorado and also his family and just note that this last year has been a terrible year, a terrible year for assault on police officers, law enforcement of all kinds across our country. We’re seeing in my home State of Missouri assaults on police officers have been at record highs in 2020. We’re seeing it across the country, we’re seeing surges in the crime rate and the murder rate. It’s been an unbelievable trend line that we’re on and the assaults on law enforcement have got to stop.
Senator Hawley: (02:47:04)
Ms. Swearer, let me begin with you if I could. And we’re hearing a lot about universal background checks and how important they are to make sure that private parties don’t exchange weapons, sell weapons among themselves without getting a check. I’m just wondering how does this work in practice? I mean, how do you know if it’s private parties and not registered licensed sellers but two private individuals? How does law enforcement when they go to enforce a universal background check requirement between private persons, how do they know that there’s actually, that the relevant transactions have been recorded? I mean, how do you actually make this work in practice?
Ms. Swearer: (02:47:43)
Senator, thank you for your question. And I think you hit at one of the biggest problems with enforcement of these laws, is that the way that they work is primarily retrospective in nature, that a crime is committed and then law enforcement has access to the gun and they look at it and they say, ” Okay, where did this come from?” And they backtrack and figure out it was done illegally through a private sale or even if you were to pass H.R.8 for example, that that individual did not go through a background check and then you retrospectively punish that individual. It doesn’t do a whole lot prospectively to stop those transactions.
Ms. Swearer: (02:48:22)
So even if you look at again things like private sales through what I would call publicly-advertised private sales, things like Armslist or Craigslist sales, those types of things. The way that the law is written and the way that most of these laws are written is that it doesn’t stop the public advertisement of the sales, there’s no way of actually tracking did this person who advertise this meetup and go through a background check, and frankly the people who are already willing to break current laws are going to continue to break those laws. They’re not going to say, “Oh, well, the government said I have to go through a background check to do this when they were already willing to sell the criminals or to skirt those laws. Just because it’s doubly illegal it’s not going to matter to them.
Senator Hawley: (02:49:05)
I just wonder where this is headed. I mean, where we’re actually going with these proposals. It seems to me that the way that if you really want a universal background check law to be truly effective and enforceable you’ve got to have some kind of a firearm registry. I mean, you’ve got to actually know what firearms are out there, how they’re registered, where they’re changing hands. I mean, otherwise between private parties for the reasons you’ve just articulated, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be terribly effective. Is that where we’re headed towards here in order to make this effective at the end of the day?
Ms. Swearer: (02:49:33)
Senator, that would seem to be the case. And this is not me advocating for a registry but it would seem to be the case that if the concern is private transfers, the best way of even retrospectively enforcing that is through a gun registry. But again, this starts hitting at other problems where the trust is broken down between gun owners and frankly, the government. Where there is this fear when you have politicians going around saying, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15,” that any sort of gun registration system is going to be used in the future as the launching pad for the next step, and then the next step, and then the next step.
Senator Hawley: (02:50:13)
Yeah. And we know that comment about it taking away your AR-15, and we know that that’s not hypothetical in the sense that we’ve had pretty much the entire party that sits on the other side of this dais advocating in their presidential primaries last year, right through the presidential election talking about the need to take away the guns of law-abiding citizens. I mean, many of them advocating a national gun registry. So this isn’t something that’s a hypothetical, this is something I think it’s very, very real and distinct possibility. Dr. Hupp, let me just ask you to comment on this. I mean, do you want to weigh in as someone who has seen this personally? What’s your view here of where this is headed, where these proposals are headed?
Dr. Suzanna Hupp: (02:50:54)
Well, I think it’s interesting that in this country we recognize that thousands of people die in car accidents every year, but at the same time we are cognizant of the fact that people use their vehicles on a daily basis for good purposes millions and millions of times. I think it’s interesting that when we talk about gun usage nobody ever mentions the fact that guns are used defensively, it’s estimated about two and a half million times per year. So it’s very difficult for us to count how many lives have been saved, it’s hard to count on a negative.
Dr. Suzanna Hupp: (02:51:37)
I think it’s just very important that we look at history, and we know that there is a tendency for governments to become overwhelming at times. And so, yes, I think there is a fear amongst many of us that we would create that fertile ground for future confiscation. I think the one witness made it very clear. He said, ” You can’t have,” I believe he said, “You can’t have gun violence if there aren’t any guns.” And I think essentially that’s what many on the other side would go for.
Senator Hawley: (02:52:12)
Thank you for your testimony. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Durbin: (02:52:16)
Speaker 26: (02:52:18)
Mr. Chairman, if I might just interrupt to put in the record two statements by Mark Barden and Kristen Song, if there’s no objection.
Mr. Durbin: (02:52:25)
Speaker 26: (02:52:32)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Booker: (02:52:32)
Thank you, Mr. President. I of course want to express my condolences people have on both sides of the aisle for the grievous loss of life that we’ve seen in the last two weeks, as you said, Mr. President, we see it every day. And I’m listening to the testimony and to the conversations on both sides of the aisle and I just feel like we live in a bizarre world where we forget the very mandate of our government, of our federal government. And so the best mandate is perhaps the Constitution of the United States of America that begins with the purpose of why we’re all here.
Senator Booker: (02:53:10)
And I’ll just read the first four reasons why we’re here. We, the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, and provide for the common defense. And if you look at that in the context of the slaughter of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Americans, I’m roughly 50 years old, in my lifetime there are more people that have died of gun violence than in every single war in our nation’s history from the Revolution to the current wars going on right now.
Senator Booker: (02:53:56)
Why are we here? Why did we establish this government if not to better defend ourselves and yet we see slaughter every day and don’t understand that it’s not just the horrors of that but we are way out of step with every other nation on the planet earth in the number of Americans are being killed and somehow we don’t think we have the power to stop this? And it hurts. I tell you, these are not data, this is not statistics. I’ve stood on too many sidewalks that were stained with blood, I’ve seen too many bodies covered.
Senator Booker: (02:54:38)
More than one occasion, Mr. Chairman, me or one of the people I was with tried desperately to stop someone from bleeding out from gunshot wounds. And it trashes our strength and our economy because every gunshot wound in America costs us hundreds of thousands of dollars, but that’s nothing compared to what doing to our nation’s soul. We must create a more beloved community. And the lies or the fear-mongering about how somehow law-abiding citizens won’t have access to guns is just belied by the evidence and the data.
Senator Booker: (02:55:23)
I am so grateful that we have actually a law enforcement officer because as a person who was a mayor of a city, God bless us, we’ve driven down crime under my leadership as mayor. The current mayor is doing an extraordinary job, but we know who are trying to protect citizens how tragic it is that we can’t even do the things that we know, our arms are tied. And so I want to begin with, Chief, if you could answer these questions and I’ll stop.
Senator Booker: (02:55:58)
Connecticut is a state that has had registry. Nobody in Connecticut… This is not a pretext to take away arms, it dropped, objectively dropped homicides, murders, deaths by guns, by 40% in the state, objectively. But I was a mayor and worked with Connecticut mayors and New York mayors about the iron pipeline where we could stop guns with our gun laws but the guns coming, as Ms. Swearer said, from store purchases up the iron pipeline from gang shows is absolutely outrageous. And what was painful for me is my officers were in danger from these illegal weapons pouring into community.
Senator Booker: (02:56:46)
And so Chief Spagnolo, just two questions and then I yield my time. First of all, I’ve got a bill that is about evidence-based practices break the cycle of violence that would find evidence-based street outreach programs, as well as hospital-based violence intervention programs that we know that if local communities like yours had more of those resources, these are evidence-based programs that we could stop. I’d like for you to talk about that.
Senator Booker: (02:57:19)
And then also, could you just give folks an understanding of how dramatically we lost an officer yesterday? As a leader of men and women who go out every single day into communities in danger, could you just please answer for me what it’s like knowing that these weapons proliferate in America, that we could prevent it, and what it means to officers and their families every day in America?
Fernando Spagnolo: (02:57:48)
Thank you, Senator. In response to your first question, community solutions is paramount to this problem and any evidence-based program that will provide assistance and support for folks in our community, whether they’re just living in our community and suffering from… Living in an area that violence is occurring or they’re reentering in our community is extremely important to us. We work with many, many partners not only in government but many nonprofit organizations, behavioral health organizations in our city to make sure that we provide services to members that need it in our community. And to your statements and your question regarding the devastation of losing a law enforcement officer, it’s terrible. I mean, we’ve had officers here in Waterbury that have been shot and killed in the line of duty during my career and these are are times and moments that I will never forget. I mean, these are human beings that have lost their life just like the folks that were involved in the mass shooting in Boulder just yesterday.
Fernando Spagnolo: (02:59:01)
They have families. I’ve heard time and time again as people have taken the microphone today about the officer and his seven children that he left behind. These are our real concerns and real situations that our police officers have to deal with each and every day, and any law or any solution that could take guns out of the hands of prohibited persons is so beneficial and so important for us to really consider.
Senator Booker: (02:59:34)
Thank you. Mr. Chairman, we are not fulfilling our mandate. We do not have domestic tranquility, we do not have a common defense with death levels that no one country has seen. And dear God, clearly we do not have justice.
Mr. Durbin: (02:59:49)
Thank you, Senator Booker. I understand Senator Blackburn is online. She may join us now if she’s ready.
Senator Blackburn: (02:59:56)
I am indeed, Mr. Chairman. Thank you very much and thank you all for the good discussion today. I think that it’s been so interesting to hear your perspectives. And in Tennessee I will tell you that gun sales are really at record levels. It’s so interesting to talk to gun store owners. In many times they’re out of stock or they’re out of ammo and Americans are turning to their Second Amendment rights as a way to protect themselves and their families.
Senator Blackburn: (03:00:36)
Many people were so disconcerted with the violence that they saw last year on our streets, the rioting that took place during the summer and they’re fearful and they want to make certain that they are prepared to protect their Blackburn’ safety and they worry the police won’t respond fast enough if their communities are victims of an attack. So when talking about gun rights I’m reminded of the wisdom of former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and how she recalled growing up in Birmingham during the civil rights movement.
Senator Blackburn: (03:01:20)
She said back then and I’m quoting from her book. “There was no way the Birmingham police were going to protect you. That is why when White Knight riders came through their neighborhood, her father and his friends would take their guns and they’d go to the head of the neighborhood and they would fire in the air if anybody came through.” It was a matter of necessary self-defense. I’m sure many communities facing senseless attacks can empathize with that story. Sometimes the police can’t get there in time and it can be devastating. And for those moments we have the Constitution, we have the right to have guns in our homes and we have the right to protect our loved ones.
Senator Blackburn: (03:02:21)
Last summer, we saw those images of destruction of businesses that swept through the nation. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Scott family looked on as the furniture store that they owned for 40 years was set on fire by looters. And Du Nord distillery was an African American-owned business that handed out water to protesters in Minneapolis but the business was set ablaze. People from all walks of life saw their sole sources of income destroyed as unrest ravaged our cities and businesses were looted and burned to the ground.
Senator Blackburn: (03:03:05)
Mr. Chang, I’d like to come to you for an answer if I may, sir. Our country faces rising violence against Asian Americans and we mourn the violence that we have seen this week, the shooting in Atlanta, the shooting in Boulder yesterday. I would hope that the shooters are prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And I want to turn back and look at history for a moment, Mr. Chang. During the LA riots in 1992, Korean American businesses were looted, attacked, and burned to the ground when the police didn’t come, who was there to protect those businesses?
Chris Cheng: (03:03:54)
Yeah. Thank you, Senator. The question, yeah, who was there? And I think to underscore your point, who wasn’t there? Law enforcement as much as they wanted to be there they were overwhelmed with violence overtaking Los Angeles. And I remember being 12 years old watching the LA riots on TV. I lived about 50 minutes from where everything was taking place and as a 12-year-old I understood this at a very high level of that bad things were happening. I saw a lot of people getting hurt, I saw a lot of violence, a lot of burning buildings and a lot of fear. And it wasn’t until I became an adult when I realized one of these stories that was I think really not told in the mainstream media about Korean Americans exercising their Second Amendment rights because they were under threat. And this isn’t a hypothetical threat when the government isn’t available or willing to come to the defense of a marginalized community. And so it’s this ultimate individual right that we have in the Second Amendment that is one of those final backstops, one of those final pieces of individual piece in mind that I have control over my own personal safety and security. Thank you, Senator.
Senator Blackburn: (03:05:18)
Thank you. And Ms. Scott, I have a question… Yeah, Ms. Solomon. A question for you that will come to you in writing, and Dr. Hupp, likewise one for you. Ms. Swear, I do have a question for you on school safety and guns that will come to you in writing. And Mr. Chairman, I will send my time back, thank you.
Mr. Durbin: (03:05:49)
Thank you very much, Senator. And I believe Senator Klobuchar is online and then she will be followed by Senator Ossoff. Senator Klobuchar, can you reach us?
Senator Klobuchar: (03:06:00)
Thank you very much. And thank you Mr. Chairman for hearing this moving testimony, I was here for your initial comments in the room and I want to thank all of you for the work that you’re doing and especially those that have been personally affected by gun violence. For years I’ve been working to pass the Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act, which would close a dangerous loop. And actually when Senator Grassley chaired this committee we had a hearing and the Republican witnesses agreed with the piece about closing the boyfriend loophole, which of course abusive dating partners now can buy a gun whereas people who are married cannot. And we’re just simply trying to close that loophole which has been closed in many states but not all States.
Senator Klobuchar: (03:06:50)
What’s really interesting is that this provision actually has passed the House now with 29 Republican votes because it’s part of the Violence Against Women Act. And we are working so hard on background checks and some of the other things that we need to do but this provision is actually in that along with a important provision that’s contained in the bill on stocking. And I remember when we had that hearing and the Republican witnesses agreed with this idea, a very conservative sheriff from Wisconsin actually said this. He said, “Dangerous boyfriends can be just as scary as dangerous husbands. They hit just as hard and they fire their guns with the same deadly force.”
Senator Klobuchar: (03:07:33)
May I ask you Ms. Thomas about this, I know you know this bill well. Many states have taken actions to close this loophole in state law, including mine. How have the rates of gun violence change in those states and how would changing federal law to include dating partners help?
Robyn Thomas: (03:07:53)
I first just want to acknowledge that more than half of intimate partner homicides occur by a former or current dating partner so this is a really important group that we include within the definition of those prohibited from having firearms. We have seen a marked reduction in gun violence in states that have this law and certainly we would expect the same if we expanded the characterization within the current law to include not just the domestic violence misdemeanors that are currently in there, but also to include dating partners and also to include those that are convicted of stalking.
Robyn Thomas: (03:08:28)
In addition to dating partners more than 70% of homicide victims and intimate partner homicides are previously the victims of stalking. So these are two ways that we could very easily expand those definitions, cover more individuals, protect individuals in domestic violence situations and reduce harm and both of those are in the violence reauthorized by violence in view of that.
Senator Klobuchar: (03:08:50)
Thank you. And one other question and I know this has been discussed a little bit, the extreme risk protection orders. Which I remember being at a meeting with former President Trump after the Parkland shooting and actually Vice President Pence supported this, doing something with these extreme risk protection orders in federal law. And sadly we’ve had now a horrible crime in Minnesota, in February a terrible shooting at the Atlanta Health Clinic in Buffalo, Minnesota, where a young medical assistant was killed and four others were injured.
Senator Klobuchar: (03:09:25)
It had been reported that the police were aware that the shooter had actually previously made threats against this clinic. It was a general COPD clinic. And so doing something now and our state is supportive our governor, the chiefs of police, the Minnesota County Attorney’s Association. Can you talk, Ms. Thomas, about how extreme risk protection order can help to prevent shootings like the one that we just had tragically in Minnesota?
Robyn Thomas: (03:09:53)
Absolutely. I want to address some comments made earlier about extreme risk protection orders. There’s a lot of discussion around due process when we talk about extreme risk protective orders and that’s because it is a situation where you can have ex parte temporary removal. These laws are modeled on domestic violence hearings, domestic violence ex parte hearings which have withstood decades of challenge and ensure that they now comply with due process and that’s how these laws are modeled. So they ensure that we cover due process, that we protect those individuals’ rights and have a system in place where there’s a full and fair hearing very quickly after the initial removal.
Robyn Thomas: (03:10:32)
Extreme risk protective orders are now in place in 19 states and the District of Columbia they are working in a really impactful way to reduce the incidents of mass shootings. As I mentioned earlier, 21 incidents that we’ve just recently has been reviewed by peer-reviewed research where mass shootings have been prevented by risk protective orders and we know for sure that it’s reduced suicide in states like Connecticut from research that’s come out.
Robyn Thomas: (03:10:59)
So as has been mentioned by other witnesses this is a really smart, effective way to remove guns when people are in a time of crisis to ensure that due process rights are protected and to ensure the safety of communities. There was a question earlier about who gets to decide about these rights and it is always a judicial officer, testimony is always under oath. There was comments made about who gets to testify. These are comments under oath utilizing our fair justice system and we believe that these systems are put in place in a way that protects all the parties involved and enhances public safety.
Senator Klobuchar: (03:11:32)
Oh, thank you so much. And we should note as I brought up those previous meetings, these provisions are in place in a number of what would be considered red states as well and had been supported by many Republicans in the past. So thank you very much and I appreciate again all the witnesses. Thank you.
Mr. Durbin: (03:11:50)
Thanks Senator Klobuchar. Senator Ossoff.
Senator Ossoff: (03:11:55)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to our panel for joining us, I appreciate that you’re here with a diversity of views on this issue. I want to begin, Dr. Rogers, if I might. Two weeks, two massacres. My heart goes out to those who died and those who lost loved ones last night in Boulder. We’re still reeling in Georgia after the attacks on three Asian-owned small businesses that took eight lives last week. And there’s also a broader increase in violence across our society over the last year in particular. Two weekends within the last month, Atlanta, Georgia, saw more than 12 shot each weekend. With your experience, Dr. Rogers, could you reflect please for the benefit of the committee on what is driving this broader increase in violence and what do you assess to be the causes of our nearly uniquely American problem of repeated massacres and spree shootings?
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (03:13:07)
Thank you, Senator Ossoff. In my opinion the almost 50% increase that we’ve seen in Chicago and so many cities across this country of shootings is related to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact that it’s had socially and economically on so many, the stress communities. And in many ways intentional gun violence is a symptom of a larger problem in our society. The ready availability of guns puts people at risk, but unfortunately, disproportionately those communities that are at risk are communities of color. And we aren’t really addressing the upstream factors that lead to this unfortunate as Senator Booker said, slaughter, and the slaughter of Americans of mostly black and brown Americans in this country has gone on for decades.
Dr. Selwyn Rogers Jr: (03:14:06)
Tackling that problem is really what we should be focusing on. I think unfortunately we don’t address the root causes of gun violence and we see this time and time again. We’ll have another hearing in another year or another decade if we don’t do some action now to address the problem fundamentally. What I see every day is the incredibly painful impact on families, on our care staff who share a burden with their families of gun violence. And that does not even include the economic impact of lost productivity, the lost human capital, or even the fact that we’re not realizing the best of all Americans. And so I really implore the Senate Judiciary Committee to look at constructive ways to address the upstream factors that lead to gun violence in the first place, and also address targeted programs and fund targeted programs that can actually impact secondary gun violence related to extremism.
Senator Ossoff: (03:15:09)
Thank you, Dr. Rogers. And Chief Spagnolo, if you are still available via Zoom, a question for you in a similar vein. Has your community, has the State of Connecticut seen a similar increase in violence over the last year? To what do you attribute it? What law enforcement practices have you found effective at reducing incidents of violence? And would you as Dr. Rogers did, please also reflect more broadly on the factors driving again, this uniquely American phenomenon of widespread gun violence as well as repeated spree shootings, two massacres now in two weeks? Thank you.
Fernando Spagnolo: (03:15:51)
Thank you, Senator. 2020 certainly was a very violent year for us here in the State of Connecticut in the City of Waterbury as it’s been throughout the nation. We saw a lot of difference, a lot of changes in law enforcement and a lot of changes in the judicial system once the COVID-19 pandemic struck us. There were executive orders that were handed down rightfully so from our governor and certainly through governors throughout the states that restricted the amount of face-to-face meetings that could be held.
Fernando Spagnolo: (03:16:28)
There were administrative decisions that were made by leaders in different portions of the judicial system here in Connecticut that just changed the operating patterns. And there were also releases, the releases from the custody of the Department of Corrections and the Bureau of Prisons. And I think one of the biggest issues that we faced were these folks that were coming back to our communities were left without services that would have normally been there outside of the pandemic.
Fernando Spagnolo: (03:16:55)
Something that we do here locally in Waterbury is we partner with our U.S. attorney’s office to provide Project Longevity and Project Safe Neighborhoods. These are two significant programs that really target folks that are reentering our community from the care of the Department of Corrections and provide services for them and connect them with services and care and work and educational opportunities that they may not know exist, or they may have been getting into Department of Corrections, or just don’t know where to look for that once they get back into our community. So a culmination of that along with people being quarantined and a lot of other behavioral health issues that were going on I think were the major factors that drove violence in our city.
Senator Ossoff: (03:17:42)
Thank you, Chief. And I’m slightly over my time, I’ll just beg your indulgence, Mr. Chairman, briefly. Ms. Swearer, if I might, just say yes or no question, do you believe it should be permissible to provide a firearm to a violent fellow?
Ms. Swearer: (03:17:55)
If I have to go with a yes or no question, no, clearly-
Senator Ossoff: (03:17:58)
Ms. Swearer: (03:17:58)
… But it is more complicated than that.
Mr. Durbin: (03:18:01)
Thank you, Senator Ossoff. Senator Hirono.
Mr. Durbin: (03:18:02)
Thank you, Senator Ossoff. Senator Hirono.
Senator Hirono: (03:18:13)
[inaudible 03:18:13] and wounded. This is 25% higher than other high-income nations. Gun violence has increased during the pandemic. Early FBI data shows a 25% increase in homicides in 2020. And of course, we’ve had the tragedies in Georgia and more recently, Colorado. We often hear the argument that gun laws don’t work. Criminals don’t follow the law and gun laws just punish law abiding citizens. That is a dangerous and inaccurate oversimplification of the issue. And the fact is the states with the strongest gun laws have less done violence. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence rates Hawaii as having the fourth strongest gun laws in the country.
Senator Hirono: (03:19:04)
At the same time, we have the fourth lowest gun death rate according to 2019 numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2017, we had the lowest gun death rate in the nation. This is for Ms. Thomas, could you talk again about the relationship between a jurisdiction’s strong gun laws and the rate of violence for that area? And then how do you respond to the argument that criminals don’t follow the gun safety laws, and therefore, I guess the argument is we don’t need any of these kinds of proposals that law abiding citizens are impacted by?
Robyn Thomas: (03:19:43)
Thank you for that question. I’ll just start by saying that states with the strongest gun laws have the lowest gun death rates and states with the weakest gun laws have some of the highest gun death rates in the country. And that is in the numbers. There’s nothing that you can say to contradict that if you look at exactly the information you’re talking about, CDC statistics and the laws that are in place. In states where there’s more guns and weaker gun laws, more gun death. So I think we start with that. To your question of responding to this statement that the criminals aren’t going to follow the laws, so why have any laws, it’s a specious argument because it speaks to the fact that we must have laws to address these problems and that does have an impact. As I just mentioned, strong gun laws in states like New York, California and Hawaii have led to far lower gun death rates.
Robyn Thomas: (03:20:34)
I would also point to the fact that 80% of guns used in crime are acquired without a background check. 96% of individuals currently incarcerated for gun crimes acquired those guns without a background check. So we know that those intent on doing harm are going through the system which enables them to buy guns without a background check, and makes it so important that we begin by passing a universal background check law that requires background checks on all gun sales. It levels the playing field. So regardless of where you’re buying your gun, online, at a gun store, from a private seller, that all of those sales go through a background check and enable us to much better monitor the system of gun transfers and keep guns out of the hands of those that would do harm with them.
Robyn Thomas: (03:21:23)
So we fully support many of the measures that are before this chamber and before this body, we believe that there’s a lot of steps that can be taken to reduce gun violence in America. And we know that those measures work because, as you mentioned, the states where we are passing these measures have far lower gun death rates. So we can do this as a country and we can do better, and our country deserves better.
Senator Hirono: (03:21:46)
Thank you. Again for Ms. Thomas, almost 20 years ago, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005 was enacted running the gun industry broad, almost total immunity from civil liability. Can you talk about the effect of making gun manufacturers and sellers immune from civil litigation or civil liability? And do you believe that if the gun industry did not enjoy this immunity, there would be less gun violence victims in our country?
Robyn Thomas: (03:22:21)
No other industry in this country enjoys the protection that the gun industry enjoys, immunity from civil liability, not being subject to the same consumer protection service laws that the rest of our industries are subject to. And this has led to a situation where victims have no justice. They never get their day in court. There’s no motivation for the industry to voluntarily look at safer measures for their products. And it’s created a situation where the normal systems that we use to create better products to create more accountability are simply not in place when it comes to guns.
Robyn Thomas: (03:22:55)
If you look at cars as an analogy, car deaths have reduced by almost 80% in the last 50 years. And part of that has been because there have been voluntary measures and measures pushed through litigation to ensure that cars are as safe as possible, and we’re doing everything we can to prevent car injury and car death. And we need to be doing the same thing with gun violence and that applies to the measures before the Senate and in the country as well as through consumer protection laws. So I do believe that removing that liability, ensuring justice in the court system would ensure that we make progress on gun violence reduction.
Senator Hirono: (03:23:34)
And it’s true that for example, in the private liability litigation that it is because of civil liability that these manufacturers of these products face that leads to improved and safer products. And I think it attests to the strength of the gun lobby that we have not been able to impose this responsibility or liability on the gun industry. So thank you for that.
Mr. Durbin: (03:24:05)
Thank you, Senator Hirono. Senator Whitehouse.
Senator Whitehouse: (03:24:10)
Thanks, chairman. Mine is a question for Ms. Thomas and Chief Spagnolo. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms runs a national tracing center, correct?
Fernando Spagnolo: (03:24:27)
Senator Whitehouse: (03:24:28)
Yeah. And the national tracing center is only allowed to trace crime guns and crime cartridges. It’s not any kind of national firearms registry, correct?
Fernando Spagnolo: (03:24:42)
To the best of my knowledge, that’s correct. Yes.
Robyn Thomas: (03:24:44)
Yes, that’s correct.
Senator Whitehouse: (03:24:44)
Yeah. And when it started back in, I guess, 1988, the first year, it got 48 requests for tests. And now, it’s up to 490,000. So it’s a busy place. It has 800 million records in its database. And if you leave a fingerprint at a crime scene, Chief, as you know, your officers can take that fingerprint and they can take it to NCIS, and they can run a computerized search and they can get a hit to find out what other crime scene might’ve had a similar fingerprint. How quickly?
Fernando Spagnolo: (03:25:35)
Fairly quickly. We can do it, with today’s technology, rather quickly. Yes.
Senator Whitehouse: (03:25:40)
Yeah. Minutes, hours and days is basically the measure, correct?
Fernando Spagnolo: (03:25:44)
Senator Whitehouse: (03:25:45)
So your officer shows up at the same crime scene and right next to the fingerprint, they find a spent cartridge, which carries the mark of the crime gun that fired the cartridge. Compare for me how quickly your officers can get access to the ballistics information related to that crime guns’ cartridge, and how quickly they can get access to the fingerprint information?
Fernando Spagnolo: (03:26:11)
Senator, we here in Waterbury rely heavily on firearms forensics. We collect those cartridges in a manner that provides us to have them forensically examined. And when we retrieve weapons and guns from off the street, they are test fired here at our police headquarters. And the cartridge is actually brought up to the state lab to be entered into the NIBIN system. I am fortunate enough to have a forensic firearms expert that works for me. So in my situation, I can have that gun test fired and have that cartridge available to be entered into the NIBIN system rather quickly. However, once it gets to the state lab-
Senator Whitehouse: (03:26:51)
Exactly. Here’s the problem, once you get there and you have to try to match that against the database, ATF is not allowed to use modern digital technology. They still have to do a hand search in theory through a database of 800 million that’s kept on paper. Is that helpful to you in trying to solve crimes quickly? And when you’ve got a cartridge and presumably a shooter who still hasn’t been apprehended yet, how much is time of the essence in trying to figure out what other crimes that cartridge might link the shooter to?
Fernando Spagnolo: (03:27:33)
Time is very critical. And as we know, criminals don’t have boundaries. So we do work locally, but that doesn’t help us with other urban areas in our state and outside of our state. And NIBIN reports can take anywhere from three weeks to several months is what we normally experience here in Waterbury.
Senator Whitehouse: (03:27:51)
Ms. Thomas, does that make any sense at all?
Robyn Thomas: (03:27:55)
It certainly is in a system designed to reduce the use of guns and crimes and to empower law enforcement as best we can to reduce acts of violence. So it’s not a system that’s designed to support law enforcement, it’s a system that’s put in place to make it far more difficult for them to do their jobs effectively.
Senator Whitehouse: (03:28:15)
Why would a cartridge fired by a criminal at a crime scene be entitled to more protection than that individual’s fingerprint left at a crime scene?
Fernando Spagnolo: (03:28:34)
Well it certainly shouldn’t.
Robyn Thomas: (03:28:36)
Fernando Spagnolo: (03:28:36)
This is evidence that we could use to investigate this crime and bring the person responsible to account for.
Senator Whitehouse: (03:28:44)
Yeah. And if you could actually get this information timely, you might even be able to head off another violent crime because you’d know more quickly who was on the loose with a weapon that had just been used in a crime if you could tie it to the evidence from another crime where you had some good information.
Fernando Spagnolo: (03:29:06)
Senator, in an urban area, there may be a 24 hour period where we may experience several shootings that we believe are connected and through witnesses and through other forensics and surveillance, we can determine they’re connected. But to have that ballistic information available to us in a timely fashion would be extremely beneficial, yes.
Senator Whitehouse: (03:29:26)
Thank you. Mr. Chairman, my time is up, but just for the record, this problem exists because our Republican friends pushed through a requirement that the ATF not use modern computer technology to search for firearms. It makes no sense and I hope we can fix it. Thank you.
Mr. Durbin: (03:29:43)
Thank you for that point, Senator Whitehouse. I couldn’t agree with you more and I’m happy to join you in an effort to change that if we want to take that on. Let me say a couple of things in closing here. First, thanks to the witnesses for your patience. It’s been a long hearing, but it shows the level of interest by the members in participating in this. I would just say that the hearing was kicked off by one Senator on the other side, who called this hearing, “Ridiculous theater. Ridiculous theater.” Those were his words. I don’t think there’s anything ridiculous at all about this hearing. This hearing was about some serious deadly issues that are within the province and jurisdiction of this committee. Theater is the depiction of reality. This committee is reality. We are empowered by the constitution and the American people to make laws. That is not theater, that is reality. And that’s why we held this hearing. And I think what we heard today in testimony is suggestions that we still have serious political differences. The question is whether there’s any middle ground in a 50/50 committee, that’s how we’re composed, 50/50, any middle ground that we can reach. I want to try and I want invite those on the other side of the dais as well to join me in that effort. We won’t agree on everything, I know that. But I certainly hope that we can do something for us to be hamstrung in this committee by our 50/50 breakdown and stopped on the floor by a filibuster is the ultimate frustration. It’s not why we ran for these offices and it’s not why we are serving.
Mr. Durbin: (03:31:26)
In terms of the issue of prayer, which seems to have come up in this conversation as well, when we speak of our thoughts and prayers being with those who’ve paid a heavy price for gun violence, including those victims in the last few days, that same Senator suggested that we, on this side of the dais, have a contempt for prayer. I have no contempt for prayer. I follow it regularly. And secondly, I have no contempt for good works nor reason. I think they all work together in a good, wholesome way if we’re open to that. [inaudible 03:32:01] the notion that since guns are everywhere and the police can’t be, then everybody should carry a gun. Well then we’d sell even more guns not just to the good people, but because we don’t want to inconvenience them, sell more occasionally to the bad people.
Mr. Durbin: (03:32:16)
Well what bad person intent on crime is stupid enough to try to buy a gun in a system that checks his background? Clearly from what Senator Feinstein told us last March, 23,000 people who were disqualified from purchasing a gun through this system tried anyway. So it’s an indication that if the system were not there, the NICS system, they probably would have purchased the firearm. And to what end, I’m not sure. I hope that we can come to an agreement on one other basic thing, and that is there is a constitutional right to bear arms, to own and bear arms, and to use them legally, safely and responsibly. There is no constitutional right to go off and kill innocent people. We’ve got to do everything within our power to keep those two separate and to make them consistent with one another. And I think we can.
Mr. Durbin: (03:33:08)
I’m going to have a hearing, I hope, we’re going to see if this new chairman can actually keep his word, have a hearing with some amendments. Let’s have the 22 members of this committee vote on some of these ideas or trying to refine them into a better place. I think that’s why we’re here. So I’d love to say in closing, I asked consent since there’s no one here to object, I think I’m going to get it, to enter into the record letters of support for proposals to reduce gun violence. Members may submit questions for the record for witnesses. The questions are due by 5:00 PM one week from today on March 30th. Witnesses, thank you. Didn’t all agree on everything, we didn’t expect you to. That was the nature of this hearing. For many of you, I know that this matter is a deeply personal issue. And again, I extend my deepest sympathies to those who have suffered losses because of gun violence.
Mr. Durbin: (03:34:01)
Let me close by saying too many people get shot in America. We saw it last night in Boulder, last week in Atlanta, and who knows where this is coming next. That needs to change. This committee is going to do its part to make it happen. With that, I thank my colleagues and today’s hearing stands adjourned.