Sen. Bob Casey
Editor’s note: Senator Casey delivered a version of this as a floor speech on Wednesday.
Last week’s horrific massacre in Uvalde, Texas is not just another tragedy. It is an American failure. Nineteen children and two adults died after a gunman entered Robb Elementary School with body armor protecting him from any response from law enforcement. Just over a week prior, a gunman killed 10 Black people in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and now, elementary school students are killed because a gunman had a high-powered weapon. Not to mention the people gunned down every day in communities plagued by gun violence.
And we’re supposed to get used to this? That seems to be the response here in Washington. Now, this isn’t a problem of Congress broadly or the executive branch of our government. The failure to pass something as simple and as popular as background check legislation is a problem because of one side of the United States Senate. Republican Senators have refused for years to pass anything remotely resembling commonsense gun measures.
I support a whole series of bills that we could talk about. At the very least the United States Senate should be able to pass a background check bill supported by 90% of the American people. But to this point, we can’t.
You have to ask, why is that? It’s not simply that you have so many Republicans beholden to the gun lobby. That’s obvious. That’s right in front of us.
The other problem — which is related to the question of the power of the gun lobby over one party — is that an entire political party seems to want to surrender to this problem, to throw up our hands and say there’s nothing the most powerful nation in the world can do, nothing at all that the most powerful nation in the world can do to stop the senseless killing of Americans over and over again.
This is especially clear in the context of the unspeakable horror of elementary school students who cannot be identified readily because of the power of the weapon and the number of bullets discharged in a matter of seconds. With such weapons, no law enforcement is fast enough to arrive on the scene quickly enough to prevent a massacre.
So, as Americans, we’re supposed to accept mass shootings as a fact. I guess that’s the Republican position — to surrender to this problem. The most powerful nation in the world can’t stop a killer from murdering kids in schools. The most powerful country in the world, I guess, can’t prevent the shooting we saw in Buffalo. And you can go down the long list of other tragedies.
This is a uniquely American problem. No other similarly situated country comes close.
No other country has this problem.
And one side is blocking any kind of change or reform or action.
I know there’s work to be done at the state legislative level. But right here in the Senate, we could have voted last week on a background check bill and the American people would support it overwhelmingly.
But think about this: What if someone said right after 9/11, “You know what? There’s really nothing we can do to stop a foreign terrorist from taking an airplane into a building or the Pentagon or the field in Pennsylvania. There’s nothing we can do about it. So, we just have to get used to the reality of terrorism in our country.”
No one would say that — then or now. Similarly, no one said two years ago that we shouldn’t do anything about COVID-19 even though we have the knowledge and the skill to create a vaccine. We invested. We did what Americans do — confronted a big problem and tackled it head on.
Now you have an entire political party that has not only surrendered to the gun lobby — that’s objectionable and insulting enough — but they’ve surrendered to the problem. They act as though there is nothing we can do about it. That, I would submit, is un-American.
It’s about time that Senate Republicans begin to be part of the solution, to do something that Americans do all the time: confront evil like we did after 9/11, confront terrorism or disease or whatever the problem may be — in this case, gun violence — and do something about it, not sit around and pretend that there is nothing we can do. That is un-American.
We don’t surrender. We’re American.
We have taken on tough problems throughout our entire history. But we haven’t taken on this problem.
Republicans have a choice to make. They can work with us so that no parent will need to fear for their child’s life and no child will have to fear for their own life when they leave home. Or they can stand with the gun lobby and remain complicit in the carnage of gun violence impacting our communities every single day across this nation. It’s that simple.
What we should be saying to these families — in addition to offering our sympathy — is this: Your government has failed you.
Your government at the federal level, and your government at the state level. It’s failed you, and in this case in the United States Senate has failed because one side will not even entertain the idea of passing any popular, commonsense gun measures.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, represents Pennsylvania.