March 23, 2021

Remarks at Hearing on “Constitutional and Common Sense Steps to Reduce Gun Violence”

Opening Remarks by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee
Hearing on “Constitutional and Common Sense Steps to Reduce Gun Violence”
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
The violence that this country has seen over the past year has been appalling. We saw an unprecedented spike of murders along with a period 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, a police officer made the ultimate sacrifice, his life, during an attack on a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, that killed ten. My condolences go to the families of those lost to this terrible crime. The same goes to the murder victims senselessly killed around Atlanta last week.
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 “re-fund” the police. This happened in Minneapolis and Portland. 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 the June 2020 spike in homicides and other gun-related crimes is related to less policing, or de-policing. 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 the Department of Justice under Attorney General Garland intends to continue this successful initiative. I hope violent crime will be a top priority for AG Garland and President Biden, but I have already heard about cuts in funding to U.S. Attorney’s Offices.
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, they penalize federal agencies who fail to comply with current law requiring them to properly report dangerous individuals and violent criminals to NICS. They also provide incentives to states to improve their overall criminal history reporting, and provide funding to schools to strengthen their infrastructure which will make it harder for shooters to enter schools.
I believe there is more we can do. I have led the reintroduction 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 shootings. For example, the shooter of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, 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 exhibited such signs before an attack. Recognizing the signs and addressing them with crisis intervention could prevent future school attacks. I ask my fellow members of the committee, including my friend Chairman Durbin, to consider joining me in cosponsoring this bill and seeing it become a reality.
With my colleagues Senators Coons and Cornyn, I'm also a cosponsor on the NICS Denial Act. This bill would require state and local law enforcement to be alerted when someone tries to buy a gun who can’t under the law. Law enforcement can then intervene.
With my colleague Senator Cruz, I plan to reintroduce the Protecting Communities and Preserving the Second Amendment Act, which improves the NICS system by incentivizing and ensuring that relevant records are uploaded to the database in a timely and consistent manner. The 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 shootings. Finally, the bill includes a provision that requires that law enforcement be notified if an individual has been investigated as a possible terrorist threat or attempts to acquire a firearm.
I think we can make bipartisan, common-sense, and constitutional progress on the issue of gun violence if we work together. And I hope we are 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. 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. I hope those who don’t know this will learn something new about the diversity of American gun owners.
I hope we can have a constructive conversation today, one which focuses on the preservation of the Second Amendment right we all share, and the safety of all Americans.