Reid to back assault weapons ban

Reversing a 1994 position, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a speech tinged with anger and passion, announced Wednesday he would vote for an assault weapons ban.

UPDATED: Video embedded here, remarks below:


Here are his remarks:


Today the United States Senate will honor the memory of 20 first graders and six of their teachers who were killed last year in Newtown, Connecticut – as well as tens of thousands of others who are killed by guns each year – by voting on a number of measures to strengthen the laws that prevent gun violence in this nation. The families of the innocents killed in Newtown and Aurora, in Carson City and Blacksburg, in Oak Creek and Columbine deserve these votes.


Where I stand on each of the Democratic proposals?


This afternoon the Senate will vote on a compromise background check proposal crafted by Senators Manchin, Toomey, Kirk and Schumer – all experienced legislators. I appreciate their principled stands on legislation supported by 90 percent of American. The American people overwhelmingly support this common-sense proposal, which would close gaping loopholes in the law and keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people with severe mental illnesses.


What it would not do is create a national registry of guns or gun owners. In fact, that is specifically outlawed in the legislation. I direct my colleagues to page 27 of the Manchin-Toomey compromise legislation. It not only bans a registry, but also carries a 15 year felony sentence for any government official found storing gun records. Claims that this legislation would create a gun registry are nothing more than shameful scare tactics.


If my colleagues wish to vote against stronger background checks – and oppose the will of the American people – that is their right. But they should not spread misinformation or sow seeds of fear about this critical anti-violence provision.


Today the Senate will also vote on Senator Feinstein’s proposal to ban assault weapons.

I am a strong supporter of Americans’ right to keep and bear arms. That’s how I earned a B grade from the National Rifle Association. When I was a 12-year-old little boy in Searchlight, Nevada, my parents sent away for a 12-gauge shotgun from the Sears catalogue. And I carried a handgun when I served on the Capitol Police force.

Where I come from, people own guns as a matter of course for self-defense and for hunting. But I have always had trouble understanding why people need assault weapons to hunt or to protect their homes.

When the assault weapons ban came before the Senate for a vote in 1993 I called my friends in Nevada to ask their opinion on the legislation. One friend said he believed it was impossible to define what an assault weapon was. That seemed reasonable to me, and so I voted against the ban.

I called that same friend again last month. I asked if his opinion had changed. It had not. He still opposes a ban on assault weapons. But now he opposes it for a different reason – a reason I found troubling, and one that caused me to reassess my position.


He asked me if the police have assault weapons. He asked me if United States military personnel have assault weapons. I said yes, of course they do. And he said, and I quote, “If they have them, I want them.”

I thought about what this statement means. It means that there should be no limits on the kinds of weapons private citizens are allowed to own. I asked myself whether I believe that to be true.


The police have riot gear and tear gas and battering rams. Should civilians have those, too? The military has rockets and machine guns and tanks and fighter jets. Should civilians have those, too? I decided the answer is no. In a civil society, where we have to balance individual rights with public safety, there should be limits on the kind of destructive weapons people are allowed to own.

I firmly believe in the right to own a gun, and to protect your home and family. I will continue to defend that right as long as I am serving the people of Nevada. But you don’t need an assault weapon to defend yourself or your property. Assault weapons have one purpose and one purpose only: to kill a large number of people in a short amount of time. That goes well beyond the purpose of self-defense.


The desire to arm ourselves against the young men and women who willingly risk their lives to defend our freedoms overseas is not a reason to oppose an assault weapons ban. The wish to arm ourselves against the police who keep our streets safe is not a reason to oppose an assault weapons ban.


I firmly believe that as Americans we have the right to arm ourselves against criminals, but we do not need the ability to arm ourselves against the army. The United States military is not out to get us. Federal law enforcement and local police departments are not out to get us.


These conspiracy theories are dangerous and they should be put to rest.


In the real world, in addition to mowing down first-graders, assault weapons are used to shoot down the very people who are sworn to protect us.


Here’s just one real-world example. After serving nine months in Afghanistan with his National Guard unit, Staff Sgt. Ian Michael Deutch was eager to return to his day job as a police officer with the Nye County, Nevada sheriff’s office. He couldn’t wait to get back to work.


He had survived Afghanistan. He had survived bombs and bullets.


On his second day back on the job, he was shot and killed by a man with an assault weapon with a 30-round clip. Sgt. Deutch was responding to a domestic dispute at a Pahrump, Nevada casino when he was shot three times in the chest. One of the bullets pierced his body armor. He was airlifted to Las Vegas, and rushed into emergency surgery. But he died later that night. He was 27 years old.


All 730 soldiers in Michael’s squadron returned alive from their tour of duty in Afghanistan. It was a criminal on the streets of the United States of America, armed with a weapon designed to kill who took Michael’s young life. This is what his mother said: “He was finally safe. In our country. And somebody here kills him.”


That’s a tragedy. And it’s one we could have prevented by keeping weapons of war off the streets.


And we can keep them off the streets. In the 1920s, organized crime was committing murders with machine guns. So Congress dramatically limited the sale and transfer of machine guns. As a result, machine guns all but disappeared from the streets. We can and should take the same common-sense approach to safeguard Americans from modern weapons of war.


That is why I will vote for Senator Dianne Feinstein’s assault weapons ban – because we must strike a better balance between the right to defend ourselves and the right of every child in America to grow up safe from gun violence. I will vote for the ban because maintaining law and order is more important than satisfying conspiracy theorists who believe in black helicopters and false flags. And I will vote for the ban because saving the lives of young police officers and innocent civilians is more important than preventing imagined tyranny.


My reason for supporting a ban on large ammunition magazines is similar. These large clips are designed to kill. Not to kill deer or ducks or any other game, large or small. They are designed to kill humans – living, breathing human beings. Our fellow Americans.


In fact, it’s not even legal to load more than three shotgun shells, let alone 30, to hunt birds. When I was 12 years old, my parents bought me a shotgun. By law, we had to limit the amount of ammo in that shotgun to 3 shells.   That way, when you went bird hunting, you gave the birds a sporting chance.


As Senator Manchin said, “I don’t know anybody who needs 30 rounds to go hunting.” So why shouldn’t we limit the number of bullets in a clip? Don’t people deserve at least as much protection as birds?


Limiting magazine size will force shooters bent on taking human life to reload more often. When a madman walked into an Aurora, Colorado movie theater with a semi-automatic weapon and a 100-round drum, the only thing that spared many survivors was the fact that the shooter’s gun jammed.


In Tucson, Arizona, a shooter emptied a 33-round clip in less than 30 seconds, killing 6 and injuring many more – including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.


And in Carson City, Nevada, a mentally ill man went to an IHOP during the breakfast rush and killed four people. He shot nearly 80 rounds in 85 second, using three, 30-round clips.


Limiting the size of clips won’t hurt hunters and sportsmen. But it will save lives. That’s why I will vote in support of the Blumenthal-Lautenberg amendment.


As the case of the Carson City, Nevada IHOP tragedy reveals, the deficiencies in this nation’s mental health treatment system are another important part of the discussion about how to prevent gun violence.


We have simply not done a good job of providing funding for and access to mental health services. We have also done a poor job of removing the stigma that keeps many Americas from seeking the treatment they need. We must do better. And Senator Harkin’s amendment begins the work of improving access to these critical services.


As I have said many times, these efforts won’t stop every criminal bent on violence. But last year’s terrible tragedy in Newtown was a wakeup call that we are not doing enough to keep our citizens safe.


It is hard to even comprehend the scope of that tragedy, let alone recover from it. But part of the healing process is this remarkable conversation about how to prevent violence in America. Part of the healing process is examining what can be done to prevent more tragedies like the ones in Newtown, Connecticut; Aurora, Colorado; Oak Creek, Wisconsin; and Carson City, Nevada.


I believe that if we can save the life of a single American we owe it to ourselves to try. That will take courage. Thomas Monson, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said this about courage: “Life’s journey is not traveled on a freeway devoid of obstacles, pitfalls and snares. Rather, it is a pathway marked by forks and turnings. Decisions are constantly before us. To make them wisely, courage is needed: the courage to say, ‘no,’ the courage to say, ‘yes.’ Decisions do determine destiny.”


Today, our decisions will determine our destiny. Today, I chose to vote my conscience, not only as Harry Reid, United States Senator, but also as a husband, a father, a grandfather and a friend. I choose to vote my conscience because, if tragedy strikes again – if innocents are gunned down in a classroom or a theater or a restaurant – I could not live with myself as a father, as a husband, as a grandfather or as a friend knowing that I didn’t do everything in my power to prevent it.