Grassley Opening Statement -- Committee Hearing on the Causes of Gun Violence
Mr. Chairman, what happened at Newtown shocked the entire nation.
We will never forget where we were and how we reacted when we learned that 20 very young children and 6 adults were killed that day.
As a grandfather and great-grandfather, I cannot imagine how anyone would commit such an evil act.
And I cannot even begin to know what it would be like to be a relative of one of those slain children.
We pray for the families who continue to mourn the loss of their loved ones.
We pray for all victims of violence, gun or otherwise.
Clearly, violent crimes and those who commit them are a plague on society—one that has been with us for far too long.
We have looked at these issues before, but I welcome this renewed discussion.
I think the need for the Judiciary Committee to hold hearings after Newtown is clear.
All over America, people were appalled by what happened to those vulnerable and precious victims.
And we all want to examine sensible actions that could reduce the likelihood of future crimes.
I extend a special welcome to former Congresswoman Giffords. She was doing what a conscientious representative should do, taking the pulse of constituents to represent them in Congress.
She was representing the people of her congressional district when a crazed gunman opened fire. The shooting was a horrible tragedy.
But her determination to overcome her injuries, progress through rehabilitation, and continued contribution to society are an inspiration to us all. I thank her for being here today with her husband, Captain Kelly.
Although Newtown and Tucson are terrible tragedies, the deaths in Newtown should not be used to put forward every gun control measure that has been floating around for years.
The problem is greater than guns alone.
Any serious discussion of the causes of gun violence must include a complete reexamination of mental health as it relates to mass shootings.
Society as a whole has changed, too.
There are too many video games that celebrate the mass killing of innocent people—games that despite attempts at industry self-regulation find their way into the hands of children.
For example, one video game released in November 2009, which has sold over 22 million copies in the U.S. and the U.K., was for foreign distribution because the opening level depicted shooting innocent civilians in an airport security line.
This game was specifically cited in the manifesto of the Norway mass shooter as “part of my training-simulation” for carrying out the attacks.
Where is the artistic value in shooting innocent civilians?
I share Vice President Biden’s disbelief of manufacturer denials that these games have no effect on real-world violence.
Above all, we should not rush to pass legislation that will not reduce mass killings.
Banning guns based on their appearance does not make sense.
The 1994 assault weapons ban did not stop Columbine.
The Justice Department found the ban ineffective.
Scholars have indicated that refining or expanding such legislation will not cut gun violence.
I also question limitations on magazine capacity.
Those can be circumvented by carrying multiple guns, as many killers have done.
We hear that no one needs to carry larger magazines than those that hunters use to shoot deer.
But an attacking criminal, unlike a deer, shoots back.
I do think, Mr. Chairman, that we may be able to work together to prevent straw purchasers from trafficking in guns.
The oversight work I conducted on the illegal Operation Fast and Furious shows that there are some gaps in this area of the law that should be closed.
Besides legislative proposals, the President recently took 23 executive actions on guns.
Despite this Administration’s claim to be the most transparent in history, the text of these actions is still not posted on the White House website, only very brief statements.
But all of those executive actions could have been issued four years ago. Or after the Tucson shooting. Or after Aurora. Why only now?
One order directs the Center for Disease Control to research the causes of gun violence.
Contrary to what you may have heard, Congress has never prohibited CDC from researching gun violence.
Rather, Congress prevented federal research to “advocate or promote gun control,” which some government researchers had been doing under the guise of taxpayer supported science.
Had Congress actually prohibited gun violence research, the President could not legally have directed CDC to conduct that research.
I was taken aback when the President cited the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as sources of government power to restrict gun ownership rights.
The Constitution creates a limited federal government.
It separates powers among the branches of the federal government and it preserves state power against federal power.
The Framers believed these structures would adequately control the government so as to protect individual liberty.
But the American people disagreed.
They feared that the Constitution gave the federal government so much power that it could be tyrannical and violate individual rights.
So a Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution.
Each of those rights, including the Second Amendment, was adopted to further limit government power and protect individual rights.
President Obama’s remarks turned the Constitution on its head.
He said, “The right to worship freely and safely, that right was denied to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
“The right to assemble peacefully, that right was denied shoppers in Clackamas, Oregon, and moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. That most fundamental set of rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness – fundamental rights that were denied to college students at Virginia Tech, and high school students at Columbine, and elementary school students in Newtown…”
But this is not so. Except for its prohibition on slavery, the Constitution limits only the actions of government, not individuals.
So, for instance, the right to peacefully assemble protects individual rights to organize to protest or seek to change governmental action.
That right is trivialized and mischaracterized as protecting shopping and watching movies.
And those constitutional rights are not a source of government power to enact legislation, as the President suggested.
Just the opposite. They were included in the Bill of Rights because throughout history, governments have wanted to shut up those who would criticize government, to suppress unpopular religions, and to disarm the people.
The President cited constitutional protections of individual rights as a basis for expanding federal power over the lives of private individuals. This is the same President who exceeded his power under the Constitution to make recess appointments.
No wonder millions of Americans fear that the President might take executive action and Congress may enact legislation that could lead to a tyrannical federal government.
I cannot accept the President’s claim that “there will be politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear.”
This necessarily and understandably leads many citizens to fear that their individual rights will be violated.
And that extends well beyond the Second Amendment. It should be a matter of deep concern to us all.
The Constitution for 225 years has established a government that is the servant of the people, not its master.
So, Mr. Chairman, as we consider and debate legislation arising from the tragedy at Newtown, I hope we will proceed with a proper understanding of the relationship that the Constitution establishes between governmental power and individual liberty.
And I hope that we will pass only those bills that would actually be effective in reducing gun violence.
I welcome the witnesses and all those in attendance.
Let’s start this dialogue, but do so in a respectful manner that honors the victims of these horrific crimes. Thank you.