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Gun Violence

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Student Town Hall on Gun Violence Prevention
Congressman Paul D. Tonko, 20th Congressional District of New York
Shaker High School, Latham, NY
March 18, 2018

On an average day in America, 96 people die from gun violence. Seven of them are children or teens. Gun-related deaths have now become the third leading cause of death for American children. More than 2,700 children and teens are shot and killed every year. Nearly 1,000 of them are by suicide.

America's high school students are speaking out on this issue. They are the first generation to live their entire lives with active shooter drills and reinforced doors at school as a normal part of school life. In April our nation marked the 19th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School that took the lives of 12 students and one teacher and injured 21 others. Many current high school seniors were in elementary school when the shooting at Virginia Tech took the lives of 32 students and faculty members and wounded 17 others. Those same high school seniors were in seventh grade when a 20-year-old killed 26 people and himself, including 20 first graders aged six and seven, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Then, a little more than a month ago, on Valentine’s Day 2018, a 19 year old former student brought a semi-automatic rifle to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and killed 14 students and three adults, and injured 14 others.

Our gun violence epidemic is a uniquely American challenge. Americans are some 25 times more likely to die of a gun homicide than the people of any other developed nation. We have almost twice as many guns for every person as any other country in the world, and more than three times as many per person as Canada. In fact, while we represent less than five percent of the world population, Americans own nearly 50 percent of all civilian-owned guns. For two decades, our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been restricted from even researching this as a public health issue. The gun industry has a powerful hold on many representatives in Congress, and reform has been blocked at every turn. 

A History of Action

H.R.8: Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019

  • Requires a background check for every gun sale or transfer, with exceptions for gifts to family members and certain temporary transfers such as hunting, self-defense, and target shooting

  • Closes the background check loophole to prevent those unable to purchase weapons under federal law from obtaining one through other means

  • Extends the requirement of background checks to unlicensed gun sellers in addition to existing federal law mandating checks for licensed sellers

    • Unlicensed gun sellers would meet buyers at a licensed gun dealer, who would then run a background check

H.R.1112: Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019

  • Revises background check requirements applicable to proposed firearm transfers from a federal firearms licensee (e.g., a licensed gun dealer) to an unlicensed person.

  • modifies statutory references with respect to a particular category of prohibited persons (i.e., persons barred from receiving or possessing a firearm). Specifically, it replaces references to persons "adjudicated as a mental defective" with persons "adjudicated with mental illness, severe developmental disability, or severe emotional instability."

Co-sponsored Bills

  • H.R. 2708: The Disarm Hate Act prohibits individuals convicted of a misdemeanor-level hate crime or who have received an enhanced sentence for a misdemeanor crime after a judicial finding that they acted with hate or bias motivation from buying or possessing guns.

  • H.R. 1454: The COOL OFF Act requires all buyers to wait three business days before receiving a handgun, regardless of how quickly they pass a background check.

  • H.R.1296: The Assault Weapons Ban prohibits the sale, transfer, production and importation of semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and pistols that have military-style features including:.

    • Semi-automatic rifles and pistols with a military-style feature that can accept a detachable magazine;

    • Semi-automatic rifles with a fixed magazine that can hold more than 10 rounds;

    • Semi-automatic shotguns with a military-style feature;

    • Any ammunition feeding device that can hold more than 10 rounds;

    • 205 specifically-named and listed firearms.

  • H.R.3076: Extreme Risk Protection Order Act sets up a grant program to incentivize states to adopt extreme risk (a.k.a. red flag) laws that allow for courts to direct the temporary removal of firearms from a person at risk of harming themselves or others.These laws:

    • Are based on states’ already-established domestic violence protective order processes

    • Allow families or law enforcement to go to court to seek a gun violence prevention order to temporarily prohibit someone who poses a threat to themselves or others from obtaining a firearm.

    • Allow courts to issue a gun violence prevention warrant to let law enforcement take temporary possession of firearms that are in an individual’s possession if the court determines that the individual poses a threat to themselves or others.

    • Ensure that law enforcement makes full use of all existing state and local gun databases when assessing a tip, warning, or request from a concerned family member.

    • Protect the rights of the individual by ensuring due process through the courts.

  • H.R. 569: Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act protects survivors of dating violence & stalking by closing two loopholes in existing law and maintaining due process protections for the accused. This bill amends current law to add individuals convicted of misdemeanor stalking to the federal prohibited purchasers list. This bill also ensures that people who have abused dating partners are prohibited from buying or owning firearms. Current federal law is silent about people who have abused their current or former dating partners, the “boyfriend loophole” still allows abusive dating partners to obtain a gun.

Letter to Students Demanding Action on Gun Violence, March 9, 2018

Gun Violence Prevention Student Town Hall at Shaker High School, March 18, 2018

Recent Videos

Witnessing 7,000 shoes placed in front of the U.S. Capitol representing children lost to gun violence since Sandy Hook:

Video message to students on gun violence:

March 6th speech on House Floor calling for action on gun violence:

Recent letters

Requesting gun violence research hearings (2/16/2018)
Restoring CDC Gun Violence Research
Gun Violence Prevention
Oppose Gun Riders in Appropriations Bills

Opening remarks at Student Town Hall on Gun Violence Prevention, Shaker High School, March 18, 2018

Good afternoon everyone,

Thank you for sharing your time, for sacrificing social time and family time to gather here to have what is an important discussion relevant to quality of life in our communities and certainly speaking to preservation of life because of some of the dynamics we’ve witnessed and that were shared by Asma.

Let me thank both Colleen Williams and Asma Bawla, thank you. And the little guy Ali, thank you for offering the pledge, thank you for your very sensitive comments, your thoughtful comments, your leadership which is so wonderful.

Thank you to both Superintendent Joseph Corr and Principal Rich Murphy for all of the great you helped in providing your institution for this forum.

I will make it very clear for the record that this is not a political statement for the school district. They were kind enough to offer space, they know that student growth and learning curves of all types are important, and when we can teach a lesson in good civic and respectful conversation, that’s a learning curve.

Gentlemen, thank you very much for making yourselves available today and your institution. Thank you so much. And to the entire team that’s been here, either from the school system, I know that teacher Brian is here too. We thank him for his work.

Thank you to the members of the Colonie Police Department who are here today to make certain that they ensure that everything is held in a productive and responsible way.

Thank you to the parents whose love and pride and commitment are a vital, if sometimes hidden, part of this growing student movement.

And a special thank you to students who have come here to raise your voices, share your thoughts, express your solutions, offer your concerns and perhaps provide the difference of opinion and respecting those differences.

Because we are a nation of differences and different opinions, but we are at our best when we come together under common dialogue.

Let me also thank my team from the 20th Congressional District. Matt our communications director is up from D.C., you heard from Collen, you have Max and Kelly here, Bianca is at the front desk, Diana is by the camera. If I’m missing anyone from the team, let me know.

Thank you to the hardworking team that really pours forth from the 20th Congressional District who believe very nobly in public service.

This year we mark 18 years since the tragic shooting at Columbine High School that took the lives of 12 students and one teacher and injured 21 others.

Think about that. 18 years ago. So if you’re a senior today, you’ve been defined by those dynamics of concern, from Columbine to Parkland.

Many of our local high school students, probably some of you, will turn 18 this year.

Yours is the first generation to live your entire lives with active shooter drills as a normal part of school, with concerned teachers and classroom doors that can be locked and barricaded.

Many of you were in elementary school when the shooting at Virginia Tech took the lives of 32 students and faculty members and wounded 17 others.

Those of you who are seniors today were in, what, the seventh grade, when a 20-year-old killed 26 people and himself, including 20 first graders aged six and seven, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

Time and again, you have watched tragedy strike, you have seen the nation shocked, parents and teachers that are shaken, leaders offering thoughts and prayers, communities in mourning and the painful images of classmates and parents and friends, tears and anguish on their faces, crushed in the grip of a deeply personal and irreversible tragedy.

Maybe your parents talked to you about these tragedies to help you make sense of what had happened.

Maybe your principal held an assembly or someone from your school sent around a notice about new safety and security practices.

Or maybe you watched as state and local leaders in New York and throughout the country debated what to do next to keep you safe, to prevent this from happening again.

Some took action. Congress did not.

Then, a little more than a month ago, on Valentine’s Day tragically, a 19-year-old former student brought a semi-automatic rifle to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and killed 14 students and three adults, and injured 14 others. 

America’s students decided they had seen enough. Not one more. Never again. You organized, you raised your voices and you made sure everyone was listening. You reached out to my office and demanded action, you demanded accountability, and a willingness to fight on your behalf. 

That is why we are here today.

So thank you for speaking out, students, and demanding a get-together. I am proud to comply.

As your representative in Congress, I share your commitment to act. To rally our peers, our community and the nation around the idea that we must not let this continue unchecked.  

To be clear, I have been fighting to take action to stop gun violence since I came to Congress in 2009 -- we can get into that more if you want, what I and others have done in the past and what we’re working on now to address this uniquely American crisis

But first and foremost today, I am here to listen.

This issue is complex. It is emotional. For some, owning a gun is a strange and alienating idea. For others, it is woven into their sense of identity, of family and community.

But there can be no doubt that a grave problem exists in our great America, whatever name we choose to give it.  

While state efforts to address gun violence have driven overall rates down since the 1990s, mass shootings have as much as tripled in frequency over the last decade.

And no single group has been affected more directly, or more personally by this trend over the past two decades, than you: America’s students.

State laws are not enough to protect the lives of people, of families in cities like Chicago who suffer as guns flow across the border from Indiana and other surrounding states.

That makes this a national problem. And that means Congress needs to act.

With some 13,000 deaths every year, Americans are 25 times more likely to die of a gun homicide than the people of any other developed nation.

On an average day, 96 Americans are killed with guns. Seven of them are children or teens.

Every day.

So this afternoon is mostly about you, our students, our young leaders. You are next in line to lead this world.

Some of your parents are here, maybe some teachers, and quite a few members of our community. We are listening.

I hope you will share your experiences, voice your demands and offer your best ideas.

And I hope you, and we, everyone gathered here, will remember to be respectful and constructive as we proceed with today’s discussion. 

As I and my staff have said, this event was requested by students and their voices will be given priority.

If we don’t get to your question during the event, I hope you will take the time to write your comment on a piece of paper and we will be sure to follow up with you.

Again, thank you for taking time out of your weekend to come out today.

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Contact Paul

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Washington D.C. Office

2369 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-5076
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Schenectady, NY 12305
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