Early this morning, U.S. Senate Democrats achieved something that, by the current standards of the nation's gun debate, counts as a major victory: They forced a vote on gun-control legislation.
Spurred by Sunday's mass shooting that killed 49 people in Orlando, Fla., the Senate Democrats took to the floor Wednesday morning for what would become a nearly 15-hour filibuster. The goal: stop Senate Republicans from removing gun-control provisions that were tacked on two unrelated spending bills.
Helmed by Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the filibuster featured the speeches of at least 40 senators.
Among the voices of the filibuster were Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon).
Wyden called upon the Senate to close multiple loopholes in the nation's gun laws and to "close the pipeline for illegal guns."
Here's the video of Wyden's speech.
Merkley gave two speeches. Here's the transcript of the second, which occurred late Wednesday night.
Senator Merkley: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to ask a question of my colleague from Connecticut.
Earlier I came to the floor and I was reflecting on the connection between Connecticut and Oregon in terms of the shooting in Sandy Hook and the shooting we had last year at Umpqua Community College, the 10 individuals who were killed at Umpqua Community College. But as I was pondering during the day, my head was going further back in time to 1998 when I was running for my first race for State legislature. Our primary was held May 19 of that year, and I was immersed in this primary. I was running a race against two former State representatives and the head of the water district, and I was the individual who had never run for office and never held office, and I assumed I would lose. But on May 19 when the results came in, I had won the primary.
Two days later, on May 21, a young man who had been expelled from his school–his name was Kip Kinkel–Thurston High School in Springfield, OR, took the guns from his house. He murdered his parents. He proceeded to go to Thurston High School. He had with him a 9mm Glock. He had a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle, he had a .22-caliber Mark II pistol, and he had 1,127 rounds of ammunition. His goal was to shoot as many students, to kill as many students as he could. He shot a lot of students. Two died and twenty-five were wounded. As he exhausted the ammunition in his semiautomatic rifle, he had to reload the magazine, and as he did that, he was tackled by one student who was already wounded, six others piled on, and the carnage ended. But he had only begun to tap into the 1,127 rounds of ammunition he was carrying. Thank goodness that individual, that student, Jacob Ryker, succeeded in stopping him when he was reloading that rifle.
The year went on. November was the general election. I was elected to the Oregon House. The Oregon House came into session in January of 1999, and we said: It is time to fix the background check system we have in our State. It is time to close the gun show loophole.
What makes no sense is to have this background check system when you go to a gun store and then no background check system when you go to a gun show. And we knew that many people who had felony backgrounds were seeking to acquire guns. We knew that many people who were deeply mentally disturbed were seeking weapons. They were being turned away at the gun store, and they were going to the gun show or they were going to the classifieds. So we tried to pass that bill to close that background loophole, the gun show loophole, and we failed. We could not muster the majority, just as this body has not been able to muster the majority to address the complete illogic of this situation.
Then the citizens of Oregon took this into their own hands. They petitioned for an initiative. They put it on the ballot, and the citizens of Oregon voted overwhelmingly–by a huge margin–they voted overwhelmingly to close the gun show loophole. But it would be many years later–not until 2015–that the legislature would take the additional step of closing the classified ads loophole, or the Craig’s List loophole, as it is often called.
So in Oregon, if you go to a gun store or a gun show or to a Craig’s List listing, you have to go through a background check. But someone who is turned away in Oregon can go to any of a number of States across our country, bypass that background check, buy those guns, and come back to our home State.
It makes no sense to have a national system without national effectiveness. And I so much appreciate my colleagues being here tonight to talk about this, to talk about the fact that those who are on a terrorist list should be on a list to deny guns, and that those who are denied guns–to have it effectively, you have to have a background check system.
My State is a State that loves guns. We are a State with incredible wilderness. People love to hunt. They love to target practice. They love to just shoot guns. And they love the Second Amendment and nature. But they voted for the background check system because they knew it didn’t make sense to have guns in the hands of felons or deeply disturbed individuals because of the carnage that comes from that.
There is another story I wanted to share that is related to 1998. This story fast-forwards from the primary election in May to the general election in October, November. So it was as we were approaching that first Tuesday in November, the general election, which would be held November 3. The day was October 6, so roughly a month away–a month before–a young man named Matthew Wayne Shepard was offered a ride home by two other young men, Eric McKinney and Russell Henderson. They didn’t give him a ride home. They took him out to a very rural area near Laramie, WY. They tied him to a fence because he was gay. They robbed him, they pistol-whipped him, they tortured him, and they left him there to die. It was 18 hours later that a bicyclist riding past saw this young man still tied to a fence. The bicyclist thought that Matthew Wayne Shepard was a scarecrow but went to investigate, realized it was a young man, and proceeded to get help. Matthew was extremely damaged. His skull was fractured, his brain stem absolutely inflamed. He never regained consciousness. He died six days later.
It was a hate crime that rocked the Nation. It was a hate crime that shocked the conscience. These crimes were happening with some regularity–these hate crimes against our LGBT community–but this one caught the attention of the Nation, and a bill was crafted, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. That bill was championed by my predecessor in office, Gordon Smith, but it didn’t get passed until I came to the Senate in 2009–not because I came but because it took that long to build the support on the foundation that others had laid in the years before. So we passed that hate crimes act, but the hate crimes act doesn’t stop the discrimination against the LGBT community. It doesn’t stop the promotion of hate.
I am going to be submitting a resolution, and I thought I would read it tonight. It is a resolution that Senator Mark Kirk has agreed to cosponsor, that Senator Baldwin has agreed to cosponsor, that Senator Cory Booker has agreed to cosponsor, and I hope many others will join us in this.
It says the following:
(1) Equal treatment and protection under the law is one of the most cherished constitutional principles of the United States of America.
(2) Laws in many parts of the country still fail to explicitly prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ….. individuals.
The failure to actively oppose and prohibit discrimination leaves our LGBT individuals vulnerable based on who they are or whom they love; vulnerable to being evicted from their homes; vulnerable to being denied credit or other financial services; vulnerable to being refused basic services in public places, such as restaurants or shops, or terminated from employment or otherwise discriminated against in employment.
(4) To allow discrimination to persist is incompatible with the founding principles of this country.
(5) Failure to ensure that all people of the United States are treated equally allows a culture of hate against some people in the United States to fester.
(6) This hate culture includes continuing physical assaults and murders committed against LGBT individuals, and particularly against transgender individuals, in the United States.
(7) The events that transpired on June 12, 2016, in Orlando, Florida, were a horrifying and tragic act of hate and terror that took the lives of 49 innocent individuals and injured 53 more. The victims were targeted because of who they were, who they loved, or who they associated with.
(b) It is the sense of Congress that–
(1) it is time to end discrimination against LGBT individuals and stand against the culture of hatred and prejudice that such discrimination allows;
(2) it is incumbent on policymakers to ensure that LGBT individuals benefit from the full protection of the civil rights laws of the Nation; and
(3) Congress commits to take every action necessary to make certain that all people in the United States are treated and protected equally under the law.
That is the philosophy embedded in our Constitution–equal treatment and equal opportunity. It is the spirit of anti-discrimination that is our higher self that we should treat each individual with respect, each individual with dignity. It is the principle of opportunity for all that cannot take place when discrimination interferes. It is the spirit that we have carried along a long journey–a journey in which we have reached out to embrace individuals who were excluded.
Our original practices in this Nation operated under the vision of full opportunity for all, but it was a flawed vision. It was a vision that didn’t include Native Americans. It was a vision that at that time didn’t include individuals who were minorities. It was a vision that at that time didn’t include women. But over time we have reached out and started to make that incredible picture portrayed in our founding documents and in the hearts of our Founders a reality. We have done so in step by step along an arc. It was Martin Luther King who said that “the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.” But that bending takes place because ordinary mortals say they are determined to make it happen. They apply themselves to that effort, whether in their everyday life with the individuals they encounter and work with and live with and worship with and recreate with or in the lives of legislators who work within their institutions to say: We are changing hearts, but let’s change our laws as well.
We have the 1964 Civil Rights Act as a foundation, a milestone, an anchor, a foundation of laws against discrimination, but when you read the 1964 act, you don’t see any protections for our LGBT community. Now many of us have put forward a law called the Equality Act that would remedy that, that would use the foundation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to extend full equality for the LGBT community.
It is unbelievable that today in America you can get married to someone you love in the morning and announce it in the afternoon and be fired from your job–legally fired from your job or evicted from your apartment before nightfall because your marriage demonstrates that you are gay or lesbian or transgender or bisexual. Some States have remedied that, but we haven’t done it as a nation. And when you have a legal structure that embraces discrimination, that fosters a culture of discrimination among some. Let’s end that. Let’s end that structure of law. Let’s pass the Equality Act.
I am sure it will be sometime before they call up the act in hearing in committee. That shouldn’t be the case on something so profound, so important. It should have had a hearing right after it was introduced, and we will keep pushing for that hearing. We hope it can get to the floor, but in the meantime, let’s stand behind a sense-of-the-Senate that it is way past time for us to address this issue of discrimination that fosters this culture of hatred. We saw that culture in full demonstration the night of October 6, 1998, when Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence, brutally assaulted, tortured, and left to die. We saw that culture of hatred in Orlando, FL, with the deaths of so many beautiful young people on that tragic night.
So we have before us two challenges. Let’s address simple measures that can make a difference–that terrorists shouldn’t have access to guns and that we should have a background check system that actually works, so gun shows and classified ads are treated the same as a purchase at a gun shop.
Let’s decrease the size of the magazines. When Kip Kinkel took 1,127 rounds of ammunition and 3 guns to his school to kill as many of his schoolmates as he could, he was stopped because he ran out of ammunition and had to reload, and those 2 seconds gave a fellow student, Jacob Ryker, an opportunity to tackle him. He probably saved dozens of lives that day.
We have the challenge before us of these simple improvements in our background check system, in our terrorist list, and in our gun magazines, but we also need to end the discrimination that is embedded in the law that treats millions of Americans as second-class citizens and can foster among some, unfortunately, and contribute to a culture of hatred against those individuals. So let’s do both.
Tonight I am so honored to be here with my colleagues sharing in this joint effort to say enough is enough. Let’s not hide from these issues. Let’s have a vote on these issues. Let’s be accountable to our constituents on these issues. That will not happen if my colleague from Connecticut cannot get a vote on the proposal he is putting forward.
I wish this room right now had every desk filled. The beautiful speeches my colleagues have been giving, the reflections, the insight, the wisdom, the earnestness, the grief. But the room is not full. We need our colleagues in the majority to join us in this conversation that affects the lives of so many people in America.
What happened in Orlando, FL, not only killed 49 individuals, but it shattered their families, it shattered the community, and it shattered and reverberated throughout this Nation. And this–perhaps not to the same degree, but this type of violence goes on and on and on.
I believe my colleague from Connecticut has said that a major event of this nature, of multiple deaths, occurs every month. If you look at the events of person-on-person violence, if you look at what happens in our cities across this country, our rural areas across this country, every day there are acts of violence. Every day there are acts of hate crimes against our LGBT community. So let’s do both of these.
We ask and we hope that citizens across the country will weigh in with those Senators who may not be here tonight and may not have been here this afternoon and may not have been here when this conversation started over 12 hours ago; that they might hear at least a reverberation, that the thoughts issued here reverberate back through the country and come back in those phone calls and in those letters to our colleagues’ offices; that they might be aware and they might read the stories so many citizens could tell of an incident that might have been averted if we had a better system of laws on background checks and if we got rid of the discrimination embedded in our laws in this country.
So I ask my colleague from Connecticut, is it your hope, is it your aspiration that this body will indeed embrace and have a full dialogue–not just one side of the aisle but on both sides of the aisle–and that will lead to votes on these very significant proposals so that we can act to make America a better place?
Here's the full transcript of Wyden's speech.
Senator Wyden: I want to begin by thanking my friends Senator Murphy, Senator Booker and Senator Blumenthal for what they have done today.
Here’s the bottom line for me. Mass shootings are now happening like clockwork in America. Thurston, Columbine, Blacksburg, Tucson, Newtown, Aurora, Charleston, Roseburg, Orlando. Communities are being torn apart by unspeakable gun violence like clockwork. In this building, we come together for moments of silence honoring the victims of these shootings like clockwork.
And like clockwork, again, Congress does nothing about it.
While I was home last month, I visited Umpqua Community College, just outside of Roseburg, which was the site of a horrible shooting eight months ago. It was one of the deadliest school shootings in our history as a nation. What I saw at Umpqua Community College, what I heard from the people at that school and the families in that community, is probably a lot like what my friends from Connecticut see and hear in Newtown, about how the suffering doesn’t go away.
The one-year anniversary of the shooting in Charleston is fast approaching, and I’m quite sure it’s the same feeling for people in South Carolina. The trauma, the process of mourning, rebuilding, and trying to move forward from the enveloping grief — it’s a horrendous common experience that so many of our communities now share.
The reality is, the trauma does not vanish. The news cameras will eventually leave Orlando, just like they left Roseburg. The bullet holes in that nightclub will get patched up. The families and friends of the victims will try to live their lives as best they can, as will Orlando’s LGBTQ community. But trauma does not vanish.
There’s no perfect solution to fix this crisis, but trauma should be followed up in some way with a debate, with a plan, with some specific, concrete steps that can begin to lay out an answer.
The idea of following up more moments of silence with more inaction is not good enough. There are common-sense steps the Congress can take now.
Those who’ve argued that the only possible response to this shooting in Orlando can come in a war zone thousands of miles away are looking for excuses not to do something meaningful, not to do anything, here at home.
There are steps that can be taken now to curb this violence. They won’t stop every last crime, and unfortunately a lot of these ideas have been discussed before, but the victims of these shootings are owed a response.
First is an issue I know my colleagues have already talked about this afternoon. Senator Feinstein has put forward a proposal to close the dangerous, terrorist gun loophole. In my view it’s a sensible step – common sense. People shouldn’t look at that as a partisan issue. Americans want to know why anyone would vote to allow individuals suspected of terrorist ties and motivations to purchase regulated firearms.
Next, the loopholes in background checks must be closed. It is way past time to stop allowing the purchase of a gun online or at a gun show without a background check. The background checks themselves must be substantially improved. There are holes that need to be plugged, including those that keep guns in the hands of convicted domestic abusers.
Once and for all, Congress needs to close off the pipeline for illegal guns. Straw purchasing and gun trafficking should be federal crimes.
The Senator from Connecticut and I have also been strong advocates of beefing up the research into gun violence. The ban in place today defies common sense. It makes no sense at all to block the CDC from gathering information that could help keep our communities and our families safe.
Finally I want to address something that’s more personal. My late brother suffered from a serious mental illness. Not a day went by that I didn’t worry that he, a schizophrenic, would be out on the streets and would hurt himself or somebody else. That was the reality for my family. It is time to establish, once and for all, a system through which individuals who are found to be a potential threat to themselves or others can receive the treatment that they need.
A majority of Americans find these kinds of common sense gun safety measures not to be ones that infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners or violate the second amendment. A majority of gun owners think that these proposals make sense.
So I’ll turn to my friend Senator Murphy from Connecticut to ask a question. Senator Feinstein’s proposal, of course, is designed to prevent those on the terrorist watch list from buying a gun. Numbers have been thrown around repeatedly about the sum total of people this would actually impact. And I know that the GAO has looked into this. Can you tell me how many people on this watch list have been able to buy a gun?
Senator Murphy: Thank you, Senator Wyden for the question. It’s a really important one because the number in certain ways is shocking for how high it is and how low it is at the same time.
Let’s take 2015. In 2015 there were 244 individuals who are on the terrorist watch list who attempted to buy weapons, and 223 of those were successful in buying the weapon. In 90 percent of the occasions that someone on the watch list attempted to buy a weapon, they walked out of that store with the weapon.
It gives you a sense of the scope. There are only 224 people, over the course of the whole year that were on the terrorist watch list that attempted to buy a weapon, but what we know from this weekend is that it only takes one in order to create a path of death and destruction that is almost impossible to calculate.
It’s just impossible for the American public to understand how that number persists, how we allow for 90 percent of the people on that watch list to walk into a store and to successfully buy a weapon. That’s the number from 2015, 223 out of 244 they were successful. I yield back for a question.
Senator Wyden: I thank my colleague. I’ll just wrap up by way of saying that it seems to me that what has been learned here is that while the investigation goes on, this may have been a terrorist attack, this may have been a hate-inspired attack. My question is, aren’t the steps that I’ve outlined here today common sense, practical steps, whether it is a hate- or terror- inspired attack? We’ve seen the human toll that discrimination takes against those who are targeted on the basis of hate. We’ve seen what it means to families who have been struck by terror. Aren’t these common sense legislative efforts that make sense whether this has been primarily a terror attack or a hate-inspired attack?
Senator Murphy: I thank the gentleman for the question. They are common sense measures and measures supported by the broad cross-section of the American public. What you are proposing is only controversial here in the United States Senate. It’s controversial nowhere else in this country.