May 12, 2021

Grassley: The Eagles Act Can Prevent Senseless Violence

Prepared Floor Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee
The Eagles Act Can Prevent Senseless Violence
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
 
Today I’d like to address the national plague of targeted violence. Whether it’s in our schools, houses of worship, restaurants, businesses or even city streets, these senseless killings are impacting us all.
 
I woke up Friday morning, April 16th, to learn of another tragedy, this time in Indianapolis, where a 19 year old walked into a private business and proceeded to kill eight innocent workers, including four members of the Sikh community. My heart breaks for another set of families and friends, newly devastated at the “unthinkable” happening to them. While it’s still early in the investigation and an exact motive remains unclear, all signs indicate the young killer suffered from mental illness. The killer’s own mother contacted authorities just last May, for fear he was going to commit “suicide by cop.”
 
The date of April 16th is unfortunately significant as it’s the solemn anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre. Thirty-two students and educators lost their lives at the hands of a 23 year old who had a well-documented record of mental illness. Despite clear homicidal warning signs, school authorities and counseling providers failed to intervene and help the troubled young man.
 
Earlier this April, tragedy struck when a 25 year old man rammed his vehicle into a security barricade, just steps from this chamber. Fortunately for those of us inside, U.S. Capitol Police officers courageously intervened when the man brandished a large knife and lunged in their direction. As we all know, this attacker tragically took the life of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Billy Evans. Officer Evans was a hero and we mourn his loss.
 
While the Capitol attacker’s exact motive is unknown, social media profiles indicate the man was a devout follower of a group that reportedly holds racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ beliefs. It’s too early to tell if these beliefs motivated this man to commit an act of terrorism, but what is clear is the man’s struggle with depression, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. If someone had properly identified these symptoms as warning signs, perhaps this tragedy could have been avoided.
 
I could go on and highlight tragedies from just the past several years, from all over the country. Post incident investigations show these violent actors often suffered from variations of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, delusions, paranoia, bi-polar disorder, suicidal and homicidal thoughts and adherence to bizarre conspiracy theories. Many of those closest to these attackers were aware of their condition and some even expressed concern about their propensity for violence ahead of time.
 
The EAGLES Act of 2021 is a bipartisan, commonsense piece of legislation. This bill carries the namesake of the Parkland, Florida Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mascot – The EAGLES. And it’s a tribute to the 17 Eagles who tragically lost their lives three years ago at the hands of a former student struggling with severe behavior problems and mental illness. This legislation helps proactively mitigate threats of violence by reauthorizing and expanding the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center, or NTAC.
 
NTAC’s approach is squarely focused on research. After every instance of mass violence, their team of social science experts canvases the circumstances and the attacker’s behavior to determine the facts.
 
NTAC’s 2019 “Mass Attacks in Public Spaces” report found that during the previous year, 93 percent of attackers engaged in threatening or concerning communications prior to carrying out violent actions. Another 2019 NTAC study, entitled “Protecting America’s Schools,” made an even more definitive finding related to violence in our education system: This study concluded that all school attackers exhibited concerning behaviors prior to engaging in an act of violence.
 
A family member, teacher, coach, fellow employee or neighbor’s ability to observe someone’s behavior, home-life circumstances, work-life factors and other potential stressors, coupled with NTAC’s threat assessment training, can prevent harmful outcomes from occurring. But in order for this to be effective, we need to increase NTAC’s ability to continue their research and get much-needed training to our communities. The result will be increased opportunity for early-intervention and referrals to mental health services for those in need.
 
Just recently, the EAGLES Act got a resounding endorsement from the National Association of Attorneys General. Forty attorneys general from all over the U.S. believe NTAC’s proactive approach is critical to violence prevention and its training programs are urgently needed. These attorneys general are responsible for ensuring safe communities, and are urging our quick action to pass this legislation. We cannot afford to ignore or delay their explicit plea for assistance.
 

I ask all my Senate colleagues to consider the commonsense, practical solutions provided in the EAGLES Act. The more research and threat assessment training we can provide, the more violence we can prevent.