June 15, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I rise today, along with other Members of this body and tens of millions of Americans in every corner of our Nation, to express my profound sympathy and heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the 49 beautiful young people of Orlando whose lives were stolen Sunday morning. We may never know the kind of hatred, what kind of sickness moves an individual so vehemently with such unchecked racism and homophobia to commit mass murder allegedly in the name of one or more terrorist causes.

   My mind constantly returns to those who lost their lives at the Pulse, along with the 53 who were wounded, in an attempt to understand how one individual came to have the power to wreak such destruction and havoc. These innocent souls now join those lost at Blacksburg, Virginia; Newtown, Connecticut; Killeen, Texas; San Ysidro, California; San Bernardino, California; Edmund, Oklahoma; Fort Hood, Texas; Binghamton, New York; and Aurora, Colorado, as victims of modern warfare.

   So far 2016 has seen 136 mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

   How can we countenance the continued ownership, availability, and use of semiautomatic weapons such as the AR-15? What legitimate purpose can they serve? What legitimate need do they fulfill? How many more must die before we rise up as a Nation and reinstate the ban on such weapons in civilian life? Would that have an impact? Would such a ban save lives?

   We don't have to guess. We can look to the experience of Australia, a nation with some significant parallels to the United States. In 1996, after the worst mass shooting in Australian history, then-Prime Minister John Howard led the battle for what was to become the National Firearms Agreement, which banned certain semiautomatic and self-loading rifles and shotguns and required all firearm license applicants to show a genuine reason for owning a gun, which couldn't include self-defense.

   The country instituted a mandatory federally financed gun buyback program, which led to the repurchase of 700,000 guns, which halved the number of gun-owning households and reduced the number of guns in circulation by about 20 percent. The firearm homicide rate fell by 59 percent and the firearm suicide rate fell by 65 percent without increases in other types of deaths. Australia hasn't had another mass shooting on that scale since.

   Mr. Speaker, I want to close on another even more critical note: addressing the deadly end result of racism, homophobia, and male chauvinism.

   The self-serving notion that any individual or group is superior to another has plagued America from our earliest days as a Nation. Slavery was a cancer on our people. Justified by the crudest, cruelest, most vicious ideology, which proclaimed persons of African or Native American ancestry to be inferior and subhuman and persons of European ancestry to be their natural masters, it was the basis of a vicious system of social oppression and economic exploitation. No people will endure such oppression and exploitation forever. Indeed, it inevitably led to the deadliest and most divisive war in our Nation's history: the Civil War. 204,070 people died in battle or from injury in battle, and 414,152 died from disease or accident, a total of 618,000 souls.

   Yet here we have these evils lingering in our society today. They continue to express themselves in so many different ways.

   What kind of deranged mind leads itself to believe that it can pass judgment on other individuals or groups? What kind of mind raised in the United States places itself above our constitutional declarations of equality for all? What kind of mind finds the basis to declare other individuals or groups defective or inferior? What kind of mind declares other individuals unworthy or unqualified to share the protections of our Constitution? What kind of mind asserts they are above judgment by a member of another group? What kind of mind envisions a world where one people are superior to another people and believes that such notions can lead to anything other than enduring conflict, death, and destruction?

   Mr. Speaker, these kinds of thoughts can no longer linger. The answer rests, to a real degree, with us.