July 26, 2022

Durbin Delivers Opening Statement at Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on the Threat America's Gun Violence Epidemic Poses to Law Enforement

Durbin announces new bill to honor Chicago Police Officer Ella French, who was killed with a straw-purchased gun

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today delivered an opening statement during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Law Enforcement Officer Safety: Protecting Those Who Protect and Serve.”  The hearing focuses on the threat that our nation’s gun violence epidemic poses to law enforcement officers.  Firearm-related fatalities were the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths in 2021 after COVID-19, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).  The hearing will include discussion of how gaps in gun laws, rolling back of existing gun safety laws, and the proliferation of assault weapons pose direct threats to officer safety. Durbin began his testimony by remembering Chicago Police Officer Ella French, who was shot and killed from a gun that had been straw-purchased from Indiana.  

Key Quotes:

“Officer French joined the Chicago Police Department in 2018.  By all accounts, she was a person who embodied selflessness.  She loved people, loved her family, and loved animals—particularly stray dogs.  She was known for picking them up in her squad car and ferrying them to safety. Last year, sadly Officer French made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.  She was shot and killed while making a traffic stop with her partners, Officer Carlos Yanez Jr. and Officer Joshua Blas.  She was 29 years old.  The gun that was used to kill her, and to seriously injure Officer Yanez, had been straw-purchased from Indiana… Officer French, and her family, remind us all of the sacrifice law enforcement officers make every time they put on their uniforms.”

“And we should honor the service and sacrifice of law enforcement not just with words, but with action. In May, this Committee reported five bipartisan bills to increase federal support for officer hiring and retention, and support for officers who suffer job-related trauma. Congress also significantly increased federal funding for state and local law enforcement in the March omnibus spending bill.  And more than $10 billion from last year’s American Rescue Plan has been dedicated to community policing in over 300 communities.  President Biden has called for further funding in his new Safer America Plan. There are some on the other side of the aisle who continue to falsely claim that Democrats want to defund the police.  The record is clear: Democrats are funding the police.”

“From 2012 through 2021, 456 law enforcement officers across America were killed in gun attacks. During the same period, 12 police officers were fatally shot in Canada, four were fatally shot in the United Kingdom, and three were fatally shot in Australia. Guns are the second leading cause of officer line-of-duty deaths in America after COVID-19.”

“And today, I’m announcing a new bill, which would provide funding to multi-jurisdictional taskforces that investigate and disrupt straw purchasing and illegal firearms trafficking. With the gracious permission of her family, the bill will be named after Officer French.”

“We have to do more to protect our law enforcement officers from the threats they face.”

Studies indicate that police officers in the United States are more likely to be fatally shot in states with higher levels of gun ownership and weaker gun laws.  Of the firearms officers encounter in the line of duty, assault rifles represent a unique threat to law enforcement, in part because bullets fired from an AR-15 are powerful enough to pierce soft body armor—the most commonly worn form of body armor by police.  Gun violence and associated trauma also cause officers to face a myriad of challenges to their wellness and mental health, and data indicate that suicide rates are currently at crisis levels among public safety officers.  The hearing will focus on ways to help ensure that law enforcement officers, who all too often are called upon to run toward the sound of gunfire, are able to return home safe at the end of each shift.

Video of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s opening statement is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s opening statement is available here for TV Stations.

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