Chuck Schumer took to the floor of the Senate last night to call on Congress to pass a bill that would create restrictions on the kind of high capacity magazines that were used to in the shooting last week in Aurora, Colorado.
And in great Schumeresque fashion, the senior senator traced the history of gun control in America, saying that gun control advocates had lost some of their energy after crime dropped in the 1980’s and 1990’s. There were still those on the left however who argued that there was no constitutional right to bear arms, a belief that fed extremism on the other side, and led to gun advocates attacking those (like Mr. Schumer) who have called for reasonable restrictions on guns.
“You look at the ads from the N.R.A. and the groups even further over, the Gun Owners of America, their basic complaint is that the Chuck Schumers of the world want to take away your gun, even if it’s the hunting rifle your Uncle Willie gave you when you were 14,” he said.
Mr. Schumer went on to say that if liberals could concede that there is a right to bear arms in the Constitution, then perhaps conservatives could concede that reasonable restrictions on guns would be appropriate.
It is worth noting here however that Mr. Schumer’s stance puts him beyond President Barack Obama’s stance on guns.
The full speech is below:
Mr. President — I like everyone else in America follow the terrible tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, just awful. I was particularly moved when I read in one of our local papers, the bios of the 12 who had died. So many of them were young, in the prime of life, in their late teens and early 20’s. So many of them were brave, protecting others, a child, a girlfriend, a friend. And you feel the — just I was so upset on reading this, seeing these people’s lives snuffed out just as they had great futures ahead of them. For nothing.
I had the same kind of feeling I had after the world trade center, of course magnified by much more because so many more people died and I actually knew some of the people who died. But the same senseless killing of innocent people occurred. And, of course, in the days after the tragedy and as the dust settled, it will never settle for the families whom my heart goes out to, we began our usual discussion about guns in America.
And there were many voices on all different sides, and somebody who has been very, very involved in these issues, I gave it some thought and just wanted to share with my colleagues and with my constituents and my country some thoughts about this. And the question that comes up is can we do anything about guns in society?
Of course, many would ask should we do anything about guns in society. Even the very thoughtful and erudite member of my own party, the Governor of Colorado said that a ban on weapons would not have stopped this tragedy from occurring in all likelihood. So I’d like to just share some of my thoughts briefly. The bottom line is, maybe we can come together once and for all on the issue of guns if each side gave some. And I’ve thought about this for a while.
As, you know, Mr. President, I was the House author, the leader, of course, was my colleague from California, of the assault weapons ban. I’m even prouder of the Brady law where I was probably the leader and that has saved so many lives. And so the question is why when we were able to pass those kinds of groundbreaking laws, why are we so paralyzed now? Now, part of the reason — and this hasn’t been mentioned — is that crime has actually decreased dramatically in America for a whole lot of reasons.
And I probably don’t share the views of some of my colleagues on this side of the aisle as to why it happened. I’m pretty tough on crime guy. But when crime went down, the broad middle that wanted to do whatever it took to stop crime — I remember how ravaged ravaged — it ravaged my city — stopped caring as much because they were safer. That’s logical. So they sort of exited the field, law enforcement, which had been some of our best allies in supporting the assault weapons ban and the Brady law, sort of left the debate.
And the debate was simply left to those who cared the most and a very small number on the side of more active laws against gun control and a much larger number on the side of those who were opposed. And I know you read in the newspapers the power of money in the N.R.A. I have to say this as somebody who has opposed the N.R.A. and been written up regularly in their magazines in not the most flattering way. The N.R.A.’s main strength is because they have two, three, four million people who care passionately about this issue, who may not care about other issues, and who are mobilized at the drop of a hat. And so when there’s a bill on the floor of the Senate, which a majority of Americans may support, a majority of Americans support the ban on assault weapons.
Even people in my state like New York hear about — hear much more from the people who are opposed to the assault weapons ban than the people who are for it. 20 years ago that wouldn’t have happened, again, I because more than any other reason because crime — crime was so ravaging our communities that people didn’t — people who, average folks would call and complain and worry about too many guns in society, which I think there still are now. So in any case, how can that balance now, given that situation which exists, that the activists, the people who care about this issue the most, not the majority of people, are on the side of no limitations or few limitations on guns, how can we address that balance?
And I think there can be a balance. And those on my side who believe strongly in some controls on guns have to acknowledge that there’s a right to bear arms. It perplexed many in the pro-gun movement how liberals would read the first third, fourth, fifth, sixth amendments as broadly as 0 possible but when it came to the second amendment they saw it through a pinhole. It only related to militias. Which frankly is a narrow, narrow, narrow reading of the second amendment. And there were many back then in the 1980’s and 1990’s in the pro-gun control movement month who basically felt there was no right to bear arms.
And I think in part because of that, those on the other side of the issue became kind of extreme themselves. Their worry was that the real goal of the left was not simply to have rational, if you will, laws that might limit the use of guns, what guns could be had, how many clips, who could have them, the mentally infirm, that was a smoke screen to get rid of them and there was enough evidence in the 1980’s and 1990’s that people wanted to do that. You look at the ads from the N.R.A. and the groups even further over, the Gun Owners of America, their basic complaint is that the Chuck Schumers of the world want to take away your gun, even if it’s the hunting rifle your Uncle Willie gave you when you were 14.
And I think it would be very important for us who are for gun control, some rational laws on guns, to make it clear once and for all that is not our goal. To make it clear that the belief is that the second amendment does matter, that there is a right to bear arms just like there’s a right to free speech and others, and if you’re an average, normal American citizen, you have the right to bear arms.
If I think if the people who are pro-gun and from the more rural areas and different than Brooklyn, the city I’m from, were convinced that there was a broad consensus even in the pro-gun control movement that there was a right to bear arms, they might get off their haunches a little bit. And I think that’s important for this part of the compromise. So that the Heller decision which basically said that and now is the law of the land but wasn’t until a few years ago should not be something that is opposed by those who are for rational laws on guns. And I saw that even the Brady organization, who I’ve worked very closely with, Jim and Sarah Brady helped us pass the assault weapons ban and the Brady law, and I’ve worked with them closely and have known them for decades, but even the Brady organization which in the past had not had that position is now beginning to embrace it. And I think that’s good and people should know that.
And once we establish that it’s in the Constitution, its part of the American way of life even though some don’t like that, but once we establish that basic paradigm that no one wants to abolish guns for everybody, or only allow a limited few to have them under the most limited circumstances, this is on a national level, then maybe we can begin the other side of the dialogue. And the other side of the dialogue is once you know no one is going to take away your gun if you’re not a felon and — your shotgun you like to go hunting with or a sidearm if you’re a store owner in a crime-ridden area, we can then say to those on the other side okay, we understand that it’s unfair to read the Second Amendment so narrowly and read all the other amendments so broadly and you’ve seen us as doing that.
But in response, we would say and I would say that no amendment is absolute. And whether it’s in reaction to what happened in the 1980’s or 1990’s or because of fanaticism or maybe fundraising reasons, it seems that too many on the pro-gun side believe the second amendment is as absolute or more absolute than all the other amendments. They’re taking the converse position to what I mentioned before. The left seeing the second amendment as minimum you’ll sexual — minuscule, but the right seeing the second amendment as broader than every other amendment.
Certainly the right believes in anti- pornography laws. That’s a limitation on the first amendment. Certainly most people in America believe what I think it was Oliver Wendell homes or Louis Brandeis said, you can’t falsely scream fire in a crowded theater. That, too, is a limitation on the first amendment.
Every amendment is balancing test. That’s what the constitution has said. No amendment is absolute or our society would be tied in a complete knot. And so we say to our colleagues — and this is not a partisan issue completely, there are some Republicans who are for gun control and some democrats who oppose it completely. It seems to be more of a regional issue and almost an — than almost an ideological issue. But we say to our colleagues from the pro-gun side of things, now look, there’s a right to bear arms and we’re not trying to take guns away from people who don’t have any reason to then admit that you can’t be so rigid, so doctrinaire there should be no limitation on the second amendment.
The Brady law is a reasonable limitation on the second amendment, saying that felons or the mentally infirm or spousal abusers shouldn’t have a gun. The Heller decision acknowledged that those kinds of reasonable limitations did not violate the Second Amendment just as the court has recognized that there are limitations that don’t filed the first amendment. All because it’s a balancing test. Soap by argue — we can find the balance in different ways — that not only is the Brady law a reasonable limitation on the second amendment, it’s not interfering with the average person’s right to bear arms, but neither is the assault weapons ban.
There was an argument between my colleague from California, who I agree with and my colleague from Colorado — from Wisconsin whom I don’t agree with that it is used for hunting but I have heard people say you should be able to buy a bazooka or a tank. My view is, the assault weapons ban that was passed which was a rather modest bill, less important in saving lives than the Brady law by many, many degrees, but I would argue it’s a reasonable thing to do.
A limitation that says you shouldn’t be able to buy a thousand clips. It’s a reasonable — magazines that have a thousand rounds in them, I mean. That’s a reasonable thing to do. Rules that say we should be able to trace where a gun originated so that we can find those who are violating some of these limitations, like the Brady laws, gun shops that don’t check your background even though they’re required to by law is a reasonable thing to do.
Now, again, we can debate where to draw the line of reasonableness but we might, might, might — and I don’t want to be too optimistic here, having years and years of gone through this — but we might be able to come to an agreement in the middle where we say, yes, there’s a right to bear arms and yes, there can be reasonable limitations on the Second Amendment, just as there can be on others. And that is the place I’d suggest we try to go. Maybe, maybe we can break through the hard ideological lines that have been drawn on this issue.
Maybe, maybe, maybe we can tell those who are at the extremes on the far right and the far left that we disagree with you. And maybe, maybe, maybe we could pass some laws that might, might, might stop some of the unnecessary tragedies that have occurred or, at the very least, when you have someone who was mentally infirmed, like the shooter in Aurora, limit the damage that they are able to do. Maybe. But I would suggest that the place to start here is for us to admit there’s a right to bear arms, admit that the Heller decision has a place in the Constitution, just like decisions that supported the other amendments, and at the same time say that doesn’t mean that that right is absolute. So that’s just a suggestion.
I’ve been thinking about this since I read those horrible articles about those young men and women being killed. And I would welcome comments particularly from my colleagues on the other side of this issue, whether they be Democrat or Republican, on that — those thoughts. Just as we have fought over and over and over again on so many issues — and we’ve gotten into our corners — there may be none we’ve gotten into our corners than on gun control. And maybe it’s time, like on these other issues, to come out of the corners, and try, people of goodwill who will disagree and come from different parts of the country with different needs, maybe there’s a way we can come together and try and try. Try and try to break through the logjam and make the country a better place.
With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum