“We have a responsibility to do everything in our power to keep guns out of the hands of those who suffer from severe mental illnesses – illnesses that make them a danger to themselves and others. We also have a responsibility to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons.”
Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding the importance of anti-gun violence legislation. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Life can change in a moment. At 8:56 on September 6, 2011, a deeply disturbed man with an automatic weapon stepped out of his car outside a Carson City, Nevada restaurant. In the moment that followed, he fired nearly 80 rounds – spraying bullets across a parking lot and into an IHOP packed with breakfast customers – killing four people and wounding 7 others before taking his own life.
It took him 85 seconds. In just 85 seconds, five lives ended and countless more were altered forever.
Three Nevada Army National Guardsmen were killed that morning: 31-year-old Sgt. 1st Class Miranda McElhiney, 38-year-old Sgt. 1st Class Christian Riege and 35-year-old Major Heath Kelly. Florence Donovan-Gunderson, who was eating breakfast with her husband, was also killed.
In 85 seconds, Carson City joined the likes of Tucson, Arizona and Fort Hood, Texas and Blacksburg, Virginia and Columbine, Colorado and scores of other cities and towns in America rocked by mass shootings in recent decades. And like those other cities and towns, Carson City was left asking, why? We’ll probably never know.
The gunman had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia more than a decade earlier. He had once been involuntarily committed by law enforcement officials. And he had recently confided in a priest that the voices in his head told him to do bad things.
What is not clear is how the shooter obtained the two assault rifles, two handguns and almost 600 rounds of ammunition he took to IHOP that awful day. But this much is clear: we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to keep guns out of the hands of those who suffer from severe mental illnesses – illnesses that make them a danger to themselves and others. We also have a responsibility to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons.
The measure before the Senate today would institute universal background checks that would prevent those people from buying firearms. This legislation would also crack down on anyone who buys a gun to funnel it to criminals. And it would give schools the resources to improve security and keep children safe.
This bill won’t stop every madmen determined to take innocent lives. Nor is this bill the only suggestion to prevent gun violence.
In the coming days, we will debate other proposals to make Americans safer – an assault weapons ban, improvements to our mental health system and a ban on high-capacity clips like the ones used to kill four people in that Carson City IHOP.
There are powerful feelings about each of these proposals – both strong support and strong opposition. But whichever side you are on, we ought to be able to agree to engage in a thoughtful debate about these measures. We ought to be able to agree to a careful examination of the culture of violence that has grown in this nation. I am pleased that a number of reasonable Republicans have joined Democrats in welcoming this debate.
I have promised as open an amendment process as possible on this bill. As always, the ease of that process will depend upon the good will of all Senators.
Once we are on the underlying bill, the first amendment vote will be on a substitute, compromise background check proposal offered by Senators Manchin, Toomey, Kirk and Schumer. I thank the Senators for their diligent work on this issue.
I am hopeful we will then be able to debate and vote on a reasonable number of amendments offered by Senators who feel passionately about reducing gun violence while respecting Americans’ Second Amendment rights.
Miranda, Christian, Heath, Florence and the seven other people injured that terrible day in Caron City deserve a thoughtful debate. They deserve a vote.