Community 2020 Forum on Gun Violence
TRANSCRIPT OF PROCEEDINGS
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
Office of Community Planning and Development
451 7th Street, Southwest, Room 10130
Washington, DC 20410-4000
SPEAKER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Please welcome Secretary Andrew Cuomo accompanied by Sonia Burgos, Father Joseph Hacala, Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, and Mr. Tom Mauser. (Applause)
MS. BURGOS: Good evening. Welcome to the Department of Housing and Urban Development's ninth Community 2020 Seminar, waging peace in our communities, overcoming gun violence. My name is Sonia Burgos, and I am HUD's director of the Office of Community Safety and Conservation and the Office of Public and Indian Housing.
Before coming to HUD 5½ years ago I was a detective with the New York City Police Department for 14 years working with families in communities confronted by gun violence and have been fortunate to bring that first-hand experience to my work here at HUD, where we work with so many of you, our community partners, on peace-making and violence-reduction initiatives ranging from community policing to drug counseling to gang intervention to gun buy-backs.
Tonight we will take a long-range look at the efforts we make together to take guns out of the hands of children and criminals and make our communities stronger. HUD's Secretary, Andrew Cuomo, a champion for decent, safe, and quality housing, will be joined by United States Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York and Mr. Tom Mauser of Columbine, Colorado, two private citizens who became public activists after gun violence struck their families.
Before we begin the program this evening Father Joe Hacala of HUD's Center for Community and Interfaith Partnerships will offer some reflection. Father Joe?
FATHER HACALA: As we gather this evening as a community here at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to reflect together, to be educated, and to recommit ourselves to justice in this important area of waging peace in our community by overcoming gun violence let's take just a moment to do what we often do not do, and that is after a busy day to pause and reflect why we have come here this evening, to reflect in our own hearts perhaps our sinfulness, our need, for education and conversion, and to recommit ourselves to justice.
In the Old Testament Book of Psalms the psalmist invites us to invoke the name of our creator, to do so on this magnificent day and as we do so to reflect on God's action, whoever God is for us, both in us personally and in our world. "Praise the Lord, my soul," we read there. Happy those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord our God, who made the Heavens and the Earth, the seas and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever, who secures justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry and sets the captives free. The Lord God gives sight to the blind and raises up the lowly. He protects the stranger and the alien and brings forth justice and peace.
In January of this year a coalition of more than 100 religious leaders and groups signed an important letter that pledged their commitment to ending gun violence in this country. It was signed by many of the national religious leaders, churches, synagogues, in our country. In part they say this: "Our society faces a challenge. Gun violence brings tragedy to the lives of far too many. As religious leaders, we have seen the results of these tragedies. It is imperative for us to do what we can to avoid further incidents."
The tragedy of gun violence was created and is continued by people. Because this is a disaster of our making we have the power to change it. The problem has gone on for too long. In the beginning of a new millennium, let us make changes that transcend the divisive rhetoric surrounding this issue and results in safer lives for our communities and for our families.
As religious leaders representing several faiths and spiritual traditions we say with D----, the great Zen Buddhist monk, do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means are possible to protect life and to prevent war.
And we say with the great Old Testament prophet Isaiah, "They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." And we say with the Apostle Paul in a spirit of dogged persistence and commitment and hope we glory in tribulations also knowing ultimately that tribulation works patience.
And so, our loving god and creator, as we begin this forum this evening we ask your blessing upon all of us gathered here from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, our special guests, our colleagues, our friends and our loved ones, we ask you tonight to grace those most in need, the war-weary refugees, the homeless, the unemployed, the underemployed, the elderly, the poor, those who have suffered from gun violence. We lift up in a special way tonight Daniel Mauser and Congresswoman McCarthy's husband, and we pray that you continue to bless them with the gift of your peace, and all this we pay in the name of our loving god and creator. Amen.
I want to acknowledge in the name of Secretary Cuomo and the Department of Housing and Urban Development all of you and welcome you again this evening. I'd especially like to acknowledge some special guests who are joining us tonight. Those on the platform will be introduced more fully later by Secretary Cuomo.
But we would like to welcome Mayor Scott King of Gary, Indiana. Mayor King was in the forefront in leading the fight against gun violence in his community, has worked very closely with the department and with his community, and is a national spokesperson on this, and we thank you for joining us this evening, Mayor King.
We welcome also Lynda Carter, who is joining us here in the first row, and we're honored by your presence. Thank you very much. Also by Ambassador Bagley, who is joining us. Thank you so much for being here. And, Mr. Weldon Latham (?), thank you for your presence and commitment.
I now have the honor of introducing one who has provided unprecedented vision, leadership, credibility, wisdom, and success to the mission and program of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, one who has increased HUD's budget, who has provided additional low-income housing and housing vouchers for the poor, who has attacked the evils in our inner-city areas of predatory lending, who has focused and energized our efforts in the areas of hopelessness, home ownership, fair housing, safety, and economic development, and who today presided over an historic fair-housing civil-rights settlement, a national event without precedent in our country.
But most of all I'm proud to introduce one who in his role as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development has created the possibility of new hope and a renewed future for countless families and persons and children in our country, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Andrew Cuomo.
SECRETARY CUOMO: Thank you very much. Good evening to all of you. Joseph Hacala, thank you very much for that kind introduction. I always believe you should be introduced by someone who is on your payroll. (Laughter)
SECRETARY CUOMO: It leads to a better introduction. Joseph Hacala is a Jesuit Catholic priest. He is at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the only Catholic priest now serving in the federal government. What better place than at HUD to have one? You can come here, get a Section 8 voucher and absolution in one stop.(Laughter)
SECRETARY CUOMO: New version of one-stop shopping in the federal government. Sonia Burgos, thank you very much. It's good to have you here. It's good for me personally to hear that New York accent because I don't want to sound like a Southerner when I leave here, Sonia. And Sonia with her experience in the police department whose experience has been a great, great asset, thank you to her. Our special guests who are here, thank you very much for joining with us, and I'll introduce our very special guests in a moment.
This seminar series we call the Community 2020 Seminar Series. 2020, why? Because if you are thinking of the concept of community in the year 2020 what are the major issues facing us over the next 20 years as we try to forge community in the broadest sense?
"Community" is a word that's used quite often. The Latin root is communitas, of the common. If you were trying to come up with common solutions, forge community, what would the issue be? We've gone through about nine different issues, everything from education, to diversity, to jobs, economic development, but in many ways this issue is more pressing, more immediate, literally a matter of life and death, than any of the other issues, and I thank you all very much for being here.
Let me make a couple of quick points before I get out of the way and actually turn it over to people who know what they're talking about which is always nice.
But not knowing the subject matter has never stopped me to date, and it will not tonight, I'll have you know.(Laughter)
A couple of points I'd like to make quickly on this topic. First, the opposition to gun control legislation will say guns don't kill people, people kill people. And it sounds like a trite line, but there's a germ of truth in that, I think, that has to be addressed.
The first problem is the problem of violence. The gun does not create the violence. Something created violence and that is true. And that is a very deep problem for this nation and for us as citizens in this nation.
In many ways violence is a part of our culture and our tradition. When you think about it we were forged by revolution. That's how we started. World Wars are how we define ourselves. When you're educated about the history of this nation, you talk about World War I, World War II, when were you born vis-a-vis World War I, you're the World War II generation, I'm the Korea generation, she's the Vietnam War generation.
Many of our sports are violent. Violence is part of our culture. It then becomes a personal problem when it happens within the home, and we have to acknowledge that violence is an issue separate and apart from the gun issue which must be addressed as a nation, as a family, in schools, institution by institution. Guns don't kill people, people kill people.
Point two is it's not just people who kill people. It's people with guns who kill people which is why guns are relevant because, yes, you may have this violent culture, you may have this welling up of violence, but the gun becomes the problematic vehicle and expression for that violence.
Yelling is not a good thing. Shooting is a much worse thing to do. And you have the violence, but then why give it that outlet, why give it the gun? And we have too many guns in this society. Two hundred million guns are too many, and it's more than we've ever had before.
In 1950 you had one-quarter of the number of guns you have today. Four times the number of guns, and the guns are more lethal. Assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, they shoot more bullets faster more accurately than ever before. That's why guns are a problem.
This is a uniquely American issue. No other industrialized country loses as many children as we lose to gun violence. As a matter of fact, the 25 other industrialized nations combined, if you add up all of their loss of children, our number is 12 times the combined number. So this is not just a part of the evolution of the globe. Something different is going on in this country.
We lose 14 people out of every 100,000, 14 people. England loses 4, Australia 2, Germany 1, Japan .05. So this violence and this death is an American phenomenon.
The next point is there is something we can do about it. We can fight violence. We can end violence. We can bring down the violence. And on the gun issue specifically we signed an agreement with a gun manufacturer March 17th which changed this entire debate.
We signed an agreement with Smith & Wesson. Smith & Wesson is the largest manufacturer of handguns in the United States, and the federal government signed an agreement with Smith & Wesson, and the agreement said you can have safe guns distributed to responsible dealers and it doesn't make any difference to the bona fide gun owner, hunter, sportsman, et cetera. You don't intrude on their life at all. You don't intrude on their sport. You don't intrude on their guns and their ownership and their rights. But you can have a safe gun, and you can have a responsible code of conduct.
They have technology that makes guns safe. Interesting aside, guns were exempted from our consumer safety product laws, which were passed about 20 years ago. So we now have a society where you have safety devices all over. Automatic garage door openers have a safety device. If they hit a child, the garage door automatically reverses. Mandated by the federal government. You must have that if you manufacture a garage door.
If you make an all-terrain vehicle you have to have certain safety devices. You have to wear seat belts. You have to have air bags. We're very good at coming up with a problem and saying here is the safety device that goes with that.
Well, then, why not a gun? Well, they were exempted in the wisdom of the United States Congress. Not that you don't have the technology, not that you don't have the device, not that it's very expensive, but they were exempted by law.
So now you have a place where you have a safety cap on a bottle of aspirin by law. Why? Well, aspirin could be dangerous. A child could get the jar, take off the cap, and take too many Bayer aspirin, wouldn't have a headache until they were 77.(Laughter)
SECRETARY CUOMO: So we understand that might be a problem. Well, how about a child picking up a gun, .44 Magnum? That's not a problem? Exempted from the law. Smith & Wesson says we will make the guns safe. Child trigger lock costs about $6 for a manufacturer. Safe gun technology. Little key pad on the gun. Before the gun will operate you punch three numbers. Or a simple little combination lock, three rotary dials. Fancy, reads the fingerprint on the trigger. They call it authorized user technology. When your fingerprint hits the trigger, the trigger reads your fingerprint and only the programmed fingerprint works. So we have the technology.
Responsible dealers, meaning what? Meaning if you're a gun dealer you should do everything you can do to make sure you're not selling to a criminal; otherwise, you're not a bona fide responsible gun dealer. The Smith & Wesson agreement says that all of that can be done. So it doesn't have to be this way.
The last point is I believe on this issue that has seen much pain and much loss of life we are truly at a turning point in the overall dynamic and end result on this issue. You have legislation which is stalled on the Hill, but you have the American people who are saying they are not going to take this any more, and their voices are rising up.
If you poll the American people, 86 percent of the American people, they say they want responsible gun safety, responsible gun control, but no laws have passed despite 86 percent of the people. Why? Because you have a very vocal, powerful minority called the NRA, 3 million people, but the tail wags the dog in this case, and the 3 million have really changed the course for the nation on this.
Three million is not that large a percent of the American people. Three million, there are three million public housing residents in this country who are at the other end of the gun. There are three million public school teachers in this nation. There are over two million nurses, Carolyn's former profession. Why do the three million NRA count so disproportionate to the other groups? Why? Why, because they've been allowed to get away with it, because the American people's voices haven't been heard.
The Million Mom March this Sunday says it's the beginning of a new day. It's cost a lot of blood, a lot of pain, but the American people understand this issue, and they understand that this is not acceptable and it must change. We are better than that, and there's no reason, there is no reason, to have the pain and the suffering and the tragedy that we endure.
Maybe it's been the year-long litany of disaster after disaster, tragedy after tragedy, one worse than the other, all of them unbelievable, 6-year-olds, National Zoo, Columbine High School, who could believe? I don't know what one piece did it or maybe it was the cumulative effect or maybe it was Smith & Wesson saying it doesn't have to be this way or maybe it was the President of the United States saying listen to this issue, America. Or maybe it was the lunacy of the NRA or maybe it was the obstinacy of the Congress, but something said enough is enough, and 1 million moms will march on Sunday and that will be the march to a productive solution on this issue, finally.
It's my pleasure to introduce the two people who really understand this issue. These are two national leaders. We do a lot on this issue here at HUD, and I work with people all across the country on this issue. And the two people who are with us tonight understand the issue painfully as well as anyone in the nation and are doing as much creatively, intelligently to change it.
We're going to first hear from Representative Carolyn McCarthy from the great State of New York, the 4th District on Long Island. (Laughter)
SECRETARY CUOMO: She's not here because she's a New Yorker. Congresswoman McCarthy is the voice of experience and sanity and creativity on this issue. She is literally the spokesperson nationally on what we can be doing, what we should be doing. Unfortunately, she learned the lesson in a very painful way and a very personal way when she lost her husband and her son was injured.
She is a tremendous asset to her congressional district. She is an asset to the state. She is an asset to the nation. We're proud and honored to have her here tonight.
Then we'll hear from Mr. Tom Mauser, director of political affairs for Safe Colorado, which is leading the fight in his home state to close the background check loophole at gun shows which is a loophole that allows people with criminal records to buy a gun before that record is traced. Tom has made gun safety his life's work ever since he lost his son Daniel in the tragedy at Columbine High School.
Both Tom and the Congresswoman have taken a tremendous personal pain and turned it into a public service. Their loss literally has become the nation's gain. That isn't done easily. Every time this topic has to be discussed I'm sure all sorts for memories come back. It's a true testament to their sense of community and their courage that they do what they do.
Thank you very much for being with us. Congressman McCarthy?(Applause)
REP. McCARTHY: Thank you. And I thank you, Secretary Cuomo, again for --well, I still talk like a New Yorker, right? I can say "tauk" and I can say "caufee," and everybody picks up who I am. (Laughter)
REP. McCARTHY: What Secretary Cuomo was saying as far as every time we, Tom and I, have to talk about this issue we never probably know how we're going to react. Sometimes we're good. Sometimes we fall apart. It's always hard. But one thing I know, we're doing this for a very, very strong reason.
May I ask in this audience if there are any victims of gun violence? Could you raise your hand? Well, I saw about four hands and I'm sorry for those people because I know the pain that they feel. It's all of you, it's the rest of you, on why I have taken on this crusade. Tom, myself, don't want another family, another mother, another father, another child to go through what we went through. That's why we get up an talk about what we're trying to do. We know what the pain is like.
I remember being in my Education Committee when the incident at Columbine happened, and I remember when my staff came in and tapped me on the shoulder and they said, "Congresswoman, there's been another shooting." I excused myself from the committee and went back to my office to watch the story unfold.
And when I saw the first parts of what was going on on the TV all that pain came rushing back from December 7, 1993, when I was told that my husband was killed, and my son was fighting for his life at the hospital.
It became a very long journey. I'm happy to say my son did survive. I'm happy to say my son is back in the community productively working, raising a child, but his struggle is not over. Kevin was left paralyzed. We as victims are always asked how are you doing. We as victims always say we're doing okay. That's a lie, and it is a lie.
We get up and we function. We go to work and we try and make a difference in this world, but that pain doesn't go away. And each time there's a shooting in our community that pain comes back. I knew what the families of Columbine were going to go through. I knew the pain of those that lost someone that they loved would feel like. And I knew what the pain was going to feel like for those that survived and the families and what they had to go through. That's why we're involved. That is why we got involved. We know too well firsthand what it's like.
But why are we here today? Every time I see Secretary Cuomo I think back 16 years ago in 1994 when I met his father, Governor Cuomo, when I first became involved in the gun violence in this country. And where did I spend most of my time speaking? Basically it was in our urban areas, our areas that gun violence was rampant, and it seemed like nobody was paying attention to this.
No one seemed to care that we were losing back then 18 children a day. No one seemed to care that we were losing so many people every single year and I couldn't understand that. A human life is a human life.
And then I had gone into an area called Fort Apache, an area where the community decided to take back their community block by block, where the community worked with the police and the neighbors because they had had it then. And every single year we would see the communities start to take back their neighborhoods. Yes, we can work together with the local police. Yes, we can try and trace how those illegal guns are coming into our areas. But until the community, the people that are not affected by gun violence, become involved I have to say I didn't know we would ever win this battle. But now we're seeing it more and more.
This Million Mom March is the first time that I'm seeing a big light at the end of the tunnel mainly because for the first time I'm seeing the American people, people that have not become victims, say enough is enough.
We have the power. We have the wherewithal of doing this. But you can't keep listening to the other side saying only the criminals will end up with guns and all the things that we're trying to do. Believe me, that is not true.
Can we enforce the laws and make sure that criminals don't get guns? Yes, we can. Can we do this without infringing on the rights of citizens? Yes, we can. Don't keep listening to these lies. Back in 1994 when we were trying to get an assault- weapons bill passed in New York and here in Washington I heard the same things. You're taking our guns. Only the criminals will have guns. Well, you know what? You're absolutely right. We have taken the guns away, and they have been from the criminals. Not one citizen's guns were taken away because of the law back in 1994. And the other thing that the NRA was saying, I don't understand why you're doing this. The criminals buy their guns at gun shows. Hello? That's what we're trying to do now. Now we're trying to go to the gun shows and close that loophole so that criminals can't get the guns and come into our communities. But all of a sudden the NRA is saying well, no, that's going to infringe on our rights. How? Please tell me how. The majority of the people can go to the gun show and get their guns, instant check, rapidly. Some might have to wait 2 hours, and a very small percentage might have to wait 3 days. And I'm sorry if we're inconveniencing you for 3 days. I really, truly am sorry about that but you tell that to a victim. You tell that to a victim whose child was killed or whose husband was killed because they don't want to wait 3 days or those that are injured.
We can talk about those that die and we can't replace them, but one of the things that p people don't talk about are those that do survive. No one talks about the medical costs of those that do survive. It's been 6 years since the Long Island Railroad massacre, and I can tell you my son's injuries have cost over a million dollars.
He's now 32 years old. He will have these expenses for the rest of his life. He goes to physical therapy three times a week to keep what he has. That's one person. It is costing this country billions of dollars in money to take care for those that survive, billions of dollars.
This is a health issue. This is an issue that we can cure. Think of what we could do with that money. Education, build new schools, make our classrooms smaller so that our children will get individual attention so maybe they won't go on a path of violence.
Maybe we would have some money for mental health so people won't go on the path of violence. Maybe we would have enough money to help those that need a boost up so they won't go into a world of violence. Think of what we could do.
But there aren't that many victims. We need all of you. You cannot stay silent any longer. You can't, not if you want your children to grow up in a safer place, not if you want your grandchildren to be in a better world, not if you want your schools and your day care centers to feel safe, not if you want your homes to be safe haven.
Everyone has to work together. Everyone has to work together to make our communities a place of peace. This can be done, but you got to roll up your sleeves and become involved and you have to because otherwise the NRA wins, the killings go on, the pain goes on through the communities.
How can you allow the NRA to win on this issue? You have enough people that are taking a stance. But I beg of you, I beg of you, to work on the issues that are confronting this community, confronting the American people, because the day of violence just being in the urban areas, which I have always known as not being true, is now hitting any community in this country because we didn't take care of it like cancer and now it has spread. We have the cure. It's preventive.
Please leave this place tonight, talk to your neighbors. Talk to your friends. Let me see you on Sunday at the Million Mom March. Let me her your voices, but don't let it end that day. This is not something that's a one-day. This is something that has to be worked on every single day, and I beg of you to give us this support so Tom, myself, as we speak for all victims across this country, keep having the strength go on and fight the battle for you. Because you know what? Sometimes we get tired, too. Sometimes the pain is too much. Sometimes our shoulders are not big enough. Sometimes we need help from all of you. Thank you very much. (Applause)
MR. MAUSER: I want to thank you, Carolyn, for saving me the pain of having to say some of the words that you did about what it's like to go through this. What I'm going to talk about with you today, just to give you a brief overview first, is I'm going to talk a little bit about my involvement in this issue and how it came about, talk a little bit about just briefly what's happening in Colorado, and then I'm going to broaden that to really try to relate what's happened in Colorado to what I think is happening in the nation on the whole gun-control issue, and then really broaden it even more with some of my views on what I see as emerging new paradigms in dealing with the issue of gun violence and gun control.
After I became involved in this issue and became a gun-control advocate obviously a lot of people say what happened in Columbine. I won't go into that whole thing, but certainly I have mentioned things like the family, number one, that we have to have strong families. Yes, there are issues with the gun violence that we see in the media, that see in our movies, that we see on television, in our video games, issues of alienation among our youth, all those things.
Then I've had people say then why do you pick on guns, and my response is why do you expect me to tackle all of those issues. I'm one person. We all have to work on all those issues. But for me, for one thing, a lot of those issues are going to take a lot of time.
You can't legislate good families. You can't deal with the violence that we're exposed to in an easy fashion given the First Amendment rights of people. But gun violence and the easy accessibility of guns is something we can work on. It is something we can tackle in a short period of time through our laws.
There's a second reason, though, why I focused on this issue. It all came down to one sentence, one sentence uttered in the form of a question: "Dad, did you know there were loopholes in the Brady Bill?" Two weeks later, after my son Daniel asked me that question, he was murdered at Columbine High School with a gun purchased from a private vendor at a gun show. That's why I became involved in this issue. I'm determined in Daniel's name to help close that gun show loophole.
Ten days after Columbine happened I felt strongly enough about that question that he uttered to me that I found myself on the steps of the State Capitol in Denver in front of 12,000 people who were protesting the fact that the NRA was having its annual convention in Denver so shortly after the Columbine tragedy, and I found myself speaking and that was really the beginning of my journey.
Then in January I took a leave of absence from my job with the Colorado Department of Transportation to become a lobbyist for SAFE Colorado. The SAFE stands for Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic. We're a bipartisan organization determined to promote the regulation of firearms in this country while at the same time recognizing legitimate rights of people to own guns for legitimate purposes. Briefly stated, my first task was to lobby the state legislature in Colorado. There were well over 20 gun-related bills, both pro-gun control and some things in between. But the primary focus was on five bills because they were promoted by our attorney general and our governor in Colorado.
Our governor in Colorado is a conservative Republican who was supported by the NRA in his bid for election. But the two of them sponsored a youth violence summit and came up with a number of recommendations for dealing with the issue of violence among our youth. And in the area of guns it made five particular recommendations, and they said we support these things.
Our attorney general is a Democrat, our governor is a Republican, and our governor took an awful lot of heat for that, but I give him a lot of credit for standing up for it.
Of those five bills only two passed the legislature, and it was no coincidence. The two that passed had support of the NRA and the gun lobby. The three that were opposed by the NRA and the gun lobby failed.
They failed despite strong support in Colorado. At a minimum, 74 percent of the people in Colorado favored each of those bills, and some of the bills had even higher support than 74, but the legislature said no.
So what we're doing in Colorado is we're taking the one that was most significant to us, the most significant loss, closing the gun show loophole. We're now circulating petitions in the state, and we're going to put that on the ballot this fall to close the gun show loophole in Colorado, close the loophole that allows a criminal to walk to one table and be turned down for a gun when they go to a registered dealer and they have to go through a Brady Bill background check and are told they can't buy a gun. Okay, fine, I'll just walk across the aisle and buy it at a table from a private seller, no questions asked. I can get the gun there. That's what we're determined to do in Colorado.
Now let me shift a little bit and present a broader picture relating that to the gun issue nationwide. And to do that I first want to touch on what I see my own little 30-second, very quick analysis of a little bit of the history of what I see as gun control in this country very simply stated so we have a little context. Really, gun control in this country started back in the '20s, probably some things before that, but in particular I point to the 1920s. Yes, the 1920s. We had a real problem in this country, and people responded and they supported it. We outlawed machine guns and we outlawed silencers. Broad public support. That was the beginning. Move fast-forward to the 1960s.
In 1968 was the first really strong gun-control measure that was passed in this country, and certainly the killings of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were very much behind that, although I have to add I think there was another thing that was involved there and it involved the suburbs.
We also had race riots in the late 1960s, so you had people, white folks, particularly in the suburbs, who were concerned about this violence problem so we'd better do something about it. So we saw the gun control act in 1968.
Fast-forward to the late-1980s, we saw gun deaths increasing greatly. As Mister Secretary pointed out, it didn't really concern people a whole heck of a lot. No, I guess it was Carolyn who pointed that out. It didn't concern them a real lot because well, this mostly involves gangs, doesn't it? Yes, this is happening in the inner-city, so people still didn't care that much even though the numbers were going up quite a bit. Fast-forward to the mid-'90s and we really saw some things start happening thanks to Jim Brady and others. We saw the Brady Bill and we saw the assault weapons ban. But it really wasn't in a way until the later '90s that I think that something really started happening in this country, and what happened really was a paradox because these things had been happening even though gun deaths are actually starting to go down.
They're going down for any number of reasons, and it depends on what expert you talk to as to the reasons but it involves the aging of our population. Don't have as many young people. We have better policing in our communities. We have a get-tough attitude. We're building one heck of a lot more prison cells in this country and putting more people into it so you're taking some of those people off the streets. Gun control is certainly one of the factors. A good economy is cited often.
But we still had a concern despite all that, and the concern is we've started seeing new kinds of killings. We started seeing killings in the work place, in domestic-violence cases, in fast-food restaurants. My God, we were seeing them in our churches and in our schools. That's what started concerning people.
Also what started concerning people was the increase in the lethality of the guns that we have, the assault weapons that we have, and concern with the paramilitary types that we have. We see people with military weapons who are not in the military.
Whatever happened to the Second Amendment statement, the opening clause that talks about a well-regulated militia? It doesn't seem like it's very well regulated when you have anybody who can buy any kind of weapon that normally you'd find in the military. That concerned people.
Incidents like Oklahoma City, Ruby Ridge, Waco concerned people with the kinds of weapons that people were storing. What is going on here? The randomness, also, I think really affected people. These weren't just domestic disputes or people who had were fighting each other out on the street corner. Many of them were just random and very often very gruesome.
And also what concerned people was there the people who were pulling the trigger in so many cases are no longer you traditionally refer to as criminals. People who shot at Columbine were not criminals, not until they pulled those triggers. The man who shot his three own daughters in Castle Rock, Colorado, last summer was not a criminal before he pulled the trigger. I'm sure you can cite many other examples in your communities. They're not traditional criminals, but we've always been told if we just lock up the criminals and if we just enforced our laws we'd be okay. But these people are not traditional criminals. Another key factor that really came into play, I think, that concerned people was that it was no longer just an inner-city problem. We've seen school shootings, domestic-violence shootings, work place shootings, in rural areas, and now especially we have been seeing it happening in suburban areas. Now, that got America's attention. Oh-oh, this is where the voting block is in this country, in the suburbs. It's hit there. Then now all of a sudden it's a big concern.
And then Columbine happened. The massacre at Columbine, I think, was a key event for a few special reasons, not just because of the body count. I think it had the same effect on a lot of Americans that Vietnam had to war, that America's attitude about war changed when they saw it firsthand through a TV camera.
I think the same thing happened with Columbine. If you look really at the other school shootings that happened before Columbine, it was usually, bam, bam, bam, it was over quick, and what you saw were people being interviewed afterwards. They were screaming and yes, it was terrible, but at Columbine you saw some of that happen as it happened and you saw a lot of film clippings of kids running out of school. And that scared the hell out of people because they could imagine that being their own child running out of that school.
What also got people and really brings a concern is the fact that these kids didn't fit into any easy stereotypes. They weren't from broken homes. Two-parent families in both cases. Also, unlike the other school shootings where it seemed like it was especially junior-high-aged kids that just got a gun, were mad, and just started shooting, these kids planned this for over a year. They wanted to kill a lot more people, and that scared the hell out of America.
So I think from that event and the other events that we have seen in gun violence I think we have a few new paradigms. What we see happening now, I think, in this country, we're starting to see a bit more of a grass-roots movement starting in the issue of gun violence.
And that's really important because if you look at who has been promoting the gun-control movement in this country, for example, Hand Gun Control, Incorporated, is more of a national organization. When you look at the NRA, who's fighting on the other side of the issue, they're both a national organization and an organization with very deep grass roots.
Why did bills lose in Colorado? The effect of the gun lobby? Yes. Rhetoric of the gun lobby? Yes. Money from the gun lobby? Yes. But the biggest reason, frankly, is that they make you pay a price if you don't vote with them, and the price that you pay for not voting with the gun lobby is much higher than the price that you pay if you don't vote my way as a gun-control advocate. That's the key. But we're now at least starting to see some grass roots. We have, for example, an organization called the Bell Campaign out of San Francisco that's setting up chapters across the country and it's modeled after MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Look at what MADD has done, look at the reputation they have for themselves because they're victim-based. The Bell Campaign is the same thing. It's victim-based. Look at the Million Mom March and the energy we're going to get out of that. The other thing we're seeing happening in Colorado, for example, is that through this movement we're bringing together the urban and the suburban areas. People from both areas are getting together on this issue. I don't think we're anywhere near that in the rural areas. I think rural areas are still in a bit of denial. Physically located there makes it a lot tougher, but I think we now see people getting together in ways that they hadn't before.
We also see people getting a lot more educated about the issue. If you look at the Internet, as was pointed out, you look at the international numbers and people just through communicating through the Internet and just reading and finding out that other people in the world are saying what the heck are you doing in the United States. What kind of policies do you have? Do you not realize that there is a price you pay for this unbelievable access to guns? These people are complaining about their rights and about the inconvenience. Do they not realize that you have the easiest access in the world? So I think people are becoming a lot more educated about the issues, and where it especially helps is that they are not listening to the old rhetoric any more from the gun lobby. They're starting to question that rhetoric. Just as one example, some of the slogans no longer work any more, again, because if we outlaw guns only outlaws will have guns. Well, again, it's not just outlaws who are using guns. When Carolyn pointed out, yes, when it comes to closing the gun show loophole what rights do you lose? The only people who can't get a gun are kids and criminals. Aren't you for that? I also hear well, this or that law won't solve this problem. There is nothing that we do in law that will totally solve a problem. How many lives do we have to save in order for you to support something? Will it be 20, 200, 2,000? If we have a loophole, if we have a problem, then we need to act on it. We can't say that it won't solve all of our problems. We also hear that criminals won't follow this law. No use passing this law because criminals won't follow it, anyhow. Well, if we follow that line of logic, we might as well not make it against the law to run a red light because I sure know a lot of people who do that. They won't listen to that law. Why even outlaw murder? We know that murderers aren't going to care. They already know that people will get executed. They still do it anyhow so why have a law against murder? So I think that people are starting to attack the rhetoric that they're hearing. I think another good thing is that people are asking for enforcement in this country. Sure, the NRA led the way somewhat in saying we need to have enforcement. I think when they do so what they really want to do is not have any loopholes closed or anything more touched in their sacred territory, but we do indeed need to have enforcement and I think people are asking for that.
We also see, I think, to a certain extent that the gun lobby is not just the NRA. In Colorado we have three different organizations at a minimum working against gun- control laws, and so I think you see some fracturing happening in the gun lobby because some of the real extremists are unhappy with the NRA so they're out there, and they're the kind of people that at least in Colorado have bull horns and send me hate mail, and we've seen a death threat recently. And it's that kind of people who are just not helping their cause any. We see an industry being besieged much like tobacco and alcohol, and I think they're being asked by society to respond to that. What are you going to show us that you're a responsible industry? Attitudes are changing. What we see happening now, for example, are – this is a really good development -- more states are now deciding to do their own background checks rather that rely on the FBI. The positive thing there is that you can sometimes catch more things like restraining orders. And that's what happened in Colorado when we relied on the FBI system and didn't catch Simon Gonzalez. He was able to buy a handgun that he then used to murder his three daughters, but he had a restraining order against him that you really can't catch at the fed level. States are also passing some of their own laws out of frustration with the fact that it's not happening at the federal level. Well, if enough states start doing that then the message that I think is going to get through to Washington is why don't we do this at the national level and not have to have this happen at the state level.
That's certainly the message that we want to carry through when we close the gun show loophole in Colorado. It will send a real clear message to our congressional delegation that they ought to be doing that in Washington, just like we did in their own home state.
We see some practical things happening. We have more emphasis now on trigger locks. We have PAX (?) represented here tonight that has a campaign that asks people to encourage parents to ask their child's friends is there a gun in the home they play in. Really gets to that question of where do we have guns and let's face the fact that we have people still today who have a loaded gun in easy reach of a child, and it's time that we really start addressing that.
I think what we also see happening is a bipartisan effort, at least in Colorado. Our organization is very much bipartisan. This should not be a party issue. The degree to what extent we have gun control maybe is the issue, but the basic things that we're dealing with right now, like closing the gun show loophole, should not be a partisan issue.
I think we now have more of an emphasis on acknowledging that gun ownership has a lot of responsibilities, that it's not just a right, there are responsibilities, and that this struggle is not about gun confiscation.
No, the things that we're dealing with and we're proposing right now are really pretty moderate, and it's not about taking people's guns away. There is no plan to take away 200 million guns in this country. Let's be realistic.
And then finally I think that what we really have to work on in terms of attitudes is really taking away the glorification of guns that we've seen in this country, the thinking that somehow we're safer if we have more guns, we're safer is we're all carrying concealed guns, we're all safer if teachers in our schools are carrying guns.
It's time we really look at things in a new way, and I think that is beginning to happen. I think it's happening at the grass-roots level, I really welcome it, and I really have to echo what Carolyn said. We need all of you to join us with that.
And finally I just have to put a separate little commercial in since I have the privilege of the podium here, and I'd just like to invite all of you visit my son's Web site at www.danielmauser.com. I love it when people visit and learn something about Daniel. Thanks.(Applause)
SECRETARY CUOMO: Let's give one more round of applause to Tom Mauser and Carolyn McCarthy. (Applause)
SECRETARY CUOMO: We were supposed to have time left over to take some questions, but one of the three panelists, who is a federal official, spoke too long. (Laughter)
SECRETARY CUOMO: But I won't tell you who that was. We're out of time, and we promised people that we would end on time this time, so we're not going to have a chance for questions. But I think the message was so powerful that the Congresswoman and Mr. Mauser delivered that we have all gotten the message loud and clear. When Carolyn asked how many victims of gun violence were in this audience and four people raised their hands, I think that is really the metaphor. There are not four victims of gun violence but there are four hundred who are here today.
And I'm sure that I speak for all of us when I say to Carolyn and Tom we are all victims and we all share your pain, and we all applaud you and your courage for what you have done. And please know that your personal crusade is appreciated and respected by each and every one of us here, certainly, and your contribution on behalf of your loved ones is something that we all envy.
Together we will make a difference with this. The Million Mom March I think is going to create an energy about it. But I think that hearing the congresswoman's message, I think that hearing Mr. Mauser's message, I think the pain that you have felt in your lives the America people have felt, and they will respond.
Thank you all very much for coming. Thank you. (Applause)
(Whereupon, the PROCEEDINGS were adjourned.)