Prepared Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee
The Motion to Proceed to Reid Gun Legislation
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Click here for video of the speech.
Mr. President, earlier today, I met with families from Newtown, Connecticut to discuss the legislation we are currently debating. It was emotional and difficult for all of us. I thank them for sharing their stories of their loved ones and their concerns with me. I hope my colleagues will also consider meeting with these families.
At the meeting, they called for a debate on the legislation, a debate we are having. And under the new procedures available under Senate Resolution 15, the Majority Leader can move to proceed to a measure and vote on some amendments. A vote against the motion to proceed does not cut off debate or votes on amendments.
Nonetheless, Mr. President, we are in the unusual position of being asked to take a leap into the unknown. We are being asked to vote to proceed to an uncertain bill. That bill is not even the bill that we would likely consider if the motion to proceed were successful. The language on background checks would change. Remarkably, if the language changed, it would be replaced with language that does not now exist.
The world’s greatest deliberative body should not operate in this fashion.
In the Judiciary Committee, four bills were considered separately. There was no consensus. Three of them have now been combined. But they are not ready for consideration. At the time, the sponsor of the background check bill said it was not ready. There are numerous problems with that bill.
Movement of firearms from one law-abiding citizen to another would be legal or illegal based on arbitrary distinctions that citizens could not be expected to know. This is true even though when this language was the subject of a hearing in a previous Congress, a witness pointed out the problems. But no changes have been made to address those issues. Even an official with the ACLU says that criminal laws should give more guidance to citizens.
The bill operates in a way that would make gun safety efforts more difficult. That does not make any sense.
The bill requires recordkeeping for private sales. That is a step toward gun registration. Indeed, we heard testimony in the Judiciary Committee that “universal” background checks cannot be effective without gun registration.
And the ACLU official is right to be concerned about the threat to privacy that the background check language presents.
He notes that the government would possess information concerning gun owners that it would not be required to destroy within 24 hours, as it must for current background checks.
He also points out that the bill contains none of the restrictions in current law that prevent other parts of the government from using the database for purposes beyond why the information was supposedly obtained.
The background check provision is also not ready for consideration because of the new federal felony that it creates. If a law-abiding gun owner’s gun is lost or stolen, he or she would be required to report that to both the Attorney General and appropriate local officials within 24 hours. At the markup, I asked a number of questions of the bill’s sponsor about how the offense would work. For instance, who would pay for the additional law enforcement personnel who would take those calls? What would a citizen’s legal obligation be if the gun were misplaced rather than lost? What would determine when the loss occurred that started the 24 hour period?
The sponsor said that these issues would be clarified. So far, however, they have not been. So law-abiding citizens will not know whether they are acting in compliance with the law or face a 5 year jail sentence. The issues have not been clarified, but we are being asked to proceed to the bill anyway.
This new offense criminalizes inaction. That is a grave threat to freedom. Except for filing tax returns or registering for the draft, we punish bad actions. We do not punish inaction. This new crime punishes failure to act. And it only applies to those who lawfully own their guns. A criminal whose gun is stolen is not required to report that fact. With this offense, law-abiding citizens can be turned into felons, but felons cannot commit a crime. Under this new offense, law-abiding citizens might be looking at five years in jail for doing nothing. And all that is necessary for the gun to be subject to the reporting requirement is that the gun once moved in interstate commerce.
The Supreme Court has outlined three categories of situations in which Congress can rely on the Commerce Clause. This is not one of them.
If Congress can do this, it can make people take all sorts of action simply because they owned a product that once moved in interstate commerce. Like bread. Or soap. And they can face jail time if they do not do what Congress demands that they do. Even the individual mandate from Obamacare only established a penalty, not a prison sentence. I do not think 90 percent of Americans would support this universal background check bill if they read it.
The motion to proceed also goes to a bill that contains language on straw purchasing and gun trafficking. I voted to report that bill to the Senate floor. Many changes were made to that bill at my behest. An amendment of mine was adopted. At the time, I expressed concerns. I spoke of my desire to have those concerns worked out before the bill went to the floor. I said I would not necessarily support that bill on the floor if those concerns were not responded to. They have not been addressed so far. And those provisions were tied to the ever-changing background check provisions.
The whole process makes me wonder whether the efforts to pass a bill on this subject really are serious. It seems that if a half-baked bill is brought up, the majority can be sure that they can force Republicans not to agree to proceed to it. It seems like that may be just what they want to happen. If so, that is a very cynical way to treat a very serious issue.
Mr. President, how can we responsibly proceed to a bill that contains language that even its sponsor admits is not ready for consideration?