(Senate - February 14, 2013)

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[Pages S756-S757]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                              GUN VIOLENCE

  Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I rise to speak about the problem of gun 
violence in America. Every day we lose over 30 men, women and children 
in violent shooting deaths. More than 11,000 Americans are murdered 
with guns each year. That is more deaths

[[Page S757]]

each year than all the American lives lost in the 9/11 attacks . . . 
and the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war combined. Every day provides 
some grim reminder of the toll of gun violence in our nation. And today 
marks yet another sad anniversary.
  Five years ago today, on February 14, 2008, a gunman entered a 
lecture hall on the campus of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. 
The gunman opened fire on the students gathered in the hall, taking the 
lives of five students and wounding 17 others. The five Illinoisans we 
lost that day were: Gayle Dubowski, 20 years old, from Carol Stream, 
who sang in her church choir and enjoyed working as a camp counselor; 
Catalina Garcia, of Cicero, age 20, who had a glowing smile and who 
hoped to be a teacher someday; Juliana Gehant, of Mendota, age 32, a 
veteran of the United States Army and Army Reserve who also dreamed of 
becoming a teacher; Ryanne Mace, of Carpentersville, only 19 years old, 
who aspired to work as a counselor so she could help others; and Daniel 
Parmenter, 20 years old, from Westchester, a rugby player and a gentle 
giant who died trying to shield his girlfriend from the shooter.
  This day was devastating for the families of the victims, for the NIU 
community, and for our nation. We were heartbroken by the senseless 
murders of these young Americans who had hopes and dreams and bright 
futures. The Northern Illinois University community came together in 
response to the tragedy. They held each other close, and continued to 
move ``forward, together forward'' in the words of the Huskie fight 
song. But no family and no community should have to suffer like this. 
And those who were scarred by the shooting but survived will never 
forget that day and never fully heal from it.
  There are things that we can do to move forward together on this 
issue of gun violence. Just the other day I received an email from 
Patrick Korellis, of Gurnee, IL, who was in the NIU lecture hall on 
that day 5 years ago. He was shot in the head but survived. Patrick 
wrote me because he believes Congress needs to act to prevent and 
reduce gun violence. He wrote in support of the proposals that the 
President has put forward and that we will soon consider in the Senate 
Judiciary Committee. These proposals will not stop every shooting in 
America. But they will stop many of them. And lives will be saved if we 
can move forward and put them into effect.
  We know what we need to do. Earlier this week I chaired a hearing in 
the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights to 
discuss ways we can protect our communities from gun violence while 
respecting the Second Amendment. We discussed a number of common sense 
proposals. First, we need to have a system of universal background 
checks for all gun sales. This idea is a no-brainer. Universal 
background checks will ensure that those who are prohibited by law from 
buying a gun, like felons, fugitives, and the mentally ill, cannot get 
one from a private seller at a gun show or over the Internet. Universal 
background checks are not controversial. In fact, the idea is supported 
by 74 percent of the members of the NRA, according to a poll conducted 
last year by Republican pollster Frank Luntz.
  We should also stop the flood of new military-style assault weapons 
onto our streets. When you talk to hunters, they tell you that these 
kinds of weapons are not needed for hunting. And these weapons are not 
designed for self-defense. These are weapons of aggression, designed to 
spray a large number of bullets in a short time with minimal reloading. 
And they were used to commit mass slaughter in places like Newtown and 
Aurora. Our children and our first responders should not have to face 
these weapons of aggression. Surely we can agree on reasonable limits 
for military-style assault weapons.
  We should also limit the capacity of ammunition magazines--to a level 
that allows for reasonable self-defense but that reduces the scope of 
carnage that a mass shooter can cause. This would have saved lives in 
Tucson and in other mass shootings.
  We should crack down on the straw purchasers who buy guns and then 
give them to criminals and other prohibited purchasers. Straw 
purchasing fuels the criminal gun market, and it costs lives. But right 
now federal law only allows straw purchasers to be charged with a 
paperwork violation for lying on the gun sale form. At the hearing I 
chaired earlier this week, we learned from U.S. Attorney Timothy Heaphy 
of the Western District of Virginia that these ``paperwork 
prosecutions'' are difficult to prove and usually carry only minor 
penalties. That is not good enough. We need to create a strong 
deterrent to these unlawful straw purchases so we can stop this supply 
chain of guns to criminals.
  At the hearing I chaired, we also heard powerful testimony from 
Sandra Wortham of the South Side of Chicago. Sandra's brother, Officer 
Thomas Wortham the Fourth, was shot and killed by gang members on May 
19, 2010, in front of his parents' home. Thomas was a Chicago Police 
Officer, a community leader and a combat veteran who had served two 
tours in Iraq. Some say that the answer to gun violence in America is 
simply to arm more good guys with guns so they can shoot back. But both 
Thomas Wortham and his father, a retired Chicago police officer, were 
armed that night, and they shot back at the men who pulled a gun on 
Thomas. Even so, those men killed Thomas Wortham with a straw-purchased 
  These were men who were not allowed to legally buy a handgun, but 
they got one all too easily on the streets--a gun that was straw 
purchased in Mississippi and trafficked up to Chicago. As Sandra 
Wortham said so eloquently in her testimony, ``the fact that my brother 
and father were armed that night did not prevent my brother from being 
killed. We need to do more to keep guns out of the wrong hands in the 
first place. I don't think that makes us anti-gun, I think it makes us 
pro-decent, law abiding people.''
  I agree with Sandra. We can take steps, consistent with our 
Constitution and the Second Amendment, to limit access to dangerous 
weapons and keep them out of the hands of those prohibited from using 
  I believe the Wortham family deserves a vote here in the United 
States Senate. They deserve a vote on common sense reforms that would 
keep guns out of the wrong hands. We owe that to them, and I look 
forward to that vote.
  Whether it strikes in a college lecture hall in DeKalb or on the 
sidewalks of the South Side of Chicago, gun violence is a tragedy. 
Today we mourn the loss of those taken from us at NIU 5 years ago. And 
we mourn Thomas Wortham and the tens of thousands of other Americans we 
have lost in violent shootings since that day. But the time is coming 
soon when we will be able to vote on measures to save families from the 
suffering that the Worthams and so many others have experienced. And I 
hope the Senate will make those families proud.