The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act Strengthens Background Checks, Closes the Boyfriend Loophole, Invests In Mental Health, and Improves School Safety
Washington, D.C. — Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet urged his colleagues on the Senate floor to pass the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. This legislation will strengthen background checks for young people, close the boyfriend loophole, invest in mental and behavioral health, and improve school safety. Bennet’s speech comes after the Supreme Court ruled today to weaken gun safety laws for the first time in a decade, underscoring the urgent need for Congress to act.
“I think we need to show them, and the young people that are here today, the young people that are living all over America, that we aren’t so broken that we can’t respond to one more massacre of kids at a school,” said Bennet. “We need to show them when we have this opportunity to demonstrate that we’re not going to fail again, and that we can succeed in passing this bipartisan bill. And that after all these years, we can meet the American people’s reasonable expectation to begin to protect our communities against gun violence that happens in the United States of America – and only in the United States of America.”
In his remarks, Bennet also urged his colleagues to take additional steps after the Senate considers the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. He proposed raising the age for buying a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21, passing universal background checks, limiting the size of magazines, and banning bump stocks.
“If we can make progress in a Western state like Colorado, where people are demanding it — Democrats, Independents, and Republicans and most important of all our children are demanding it — we can do it here,” said Bennet in his speech.
“Today, our kids are growing up with a reasonable fear that they could get shot in their school, or in their temple, or in their church,” said Bennet. “I didn’t grow up in a country with more gun-related deaths than virtually any country in the industrialized world. That wasn’t the country I grew up in.”
Bennet continued: “Communities, once they’ve been savaged by something like the Aurora movie theater shooting or the Columbine shooting, they never move on. And I can tell you that there is a whole generation of Americans that’s grown up in this country savaged by gun violence and the prospect that it could happen to them when they go to school the next day or the next week.”
Bennet has advanced common-sense legislation to address gun violence and mental health. Recently, Bennet introduced the School Shooting Safety and Preparedness Act to help lawmakers gain a more accurate picture of gun violence in and around school campuses. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act also includes $150 million in one-time funding to strengthen the 9-8-8 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL), a national network of crisis centers linked through a 24/7 toll-free number that connects callers to immediate crisis care with trained counselors. This aligns with Bennet’s Suicide and Crisis Outreach Prevention Enhancement Act, which he introduced with U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) in July 2021. Bennet was a co-sponsor of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act to create the 9-8-8 NSPL, which was signed into law in 2020.
“We have nearly 200 times the rate of violent gun deaths as Japan or South Korea, and nearly 100 times what they experience in the United Kingdom. I can tell you speaking as a father, it’s not because we love our children any less, or because we’re uniquely violent, or that somehow we’ve got a mental health problem that other countries don’t have. It’s because we have a United States Senate that year after year after year has been paralyzed by the National Rifle Association, by the NRA,” said Bennet.
Bennet’s full speech is available HERE. A full transcript is available below.
This morning, the Supreme Court weakened gun safety laws in America for the first time in over a decade. It gutted a century-old law to make sure that people carrying concealed weapons actually needed them.
And, the Court is taking us backward at a time when the American people are demanding that we do more — not less — to protect our communities.
The shooting at Columbine High School happened the year before my oldest daughter was born. She’s now 22 years old. We've raised three daughters, and their entire generation has grown up in the shadow of gun violence.
Since Columbine, my state has endured one tragedy after another.
In 2012, a gunman killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora.
In 2019, a shooter injured 8 students at STEM High School in Highlands Ranch.
And last March, a shooter killed 10 people at the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder. That was almost a year to the day, really, to the shootings in Buffalo that took another ten lives of people who had just gone to shop for their families.
Two months after that grocery store shooting in Colorado, a gunman killed 6 people at a birthday party in Colorado Springs.
You know, Mr. President, I remember back — it’s hard, over time you lose track of things — but I remember back in 2017, after a gunman in Las Vegas killed 58 Americans — shooting across the street from a hotel room — I came to work the following Monday, Mr. President, and I realized about three-quarters of the way through the day that nobody had talked to me about the shooting.
I don’t know whether it was the shooting before that or two, or three, or four before that, when we became so desensitized that 58 people could be killed in Las Vegas and it wasn’t even mentioned the following Monday.
We cannot allow this to become normal in this country. The people of Colorado refuse for this to become normal in this country.
And it’s not just mass shootings. It’s the daily shootings that stalks our communities like the West Side of Chicago where I've spent time with my friend, Arne Duncan, who after being the Secretary of Education, has gone back to his hometown to try to keep young men from killing one another.
They can’t afford for us to continue to just move on and forget that it ever happened.
Communities, once they’ve been savaged by something like the Aurora movie theater shooting or the Columbine shooting, they never move on.
And I can tell you — the pages here are a little bit younger than my daughters are — but I can tell you that there is a whole generation of Americans that’s grown up in this country savaged by gun violence and the prospect that it could happen to them when they go to school the next day or the next week.
You can see it. You can see kids sitting on the couch cringing when they’re watching the television reports wondering whether that’s going to be me…whether that’s going to be them or their classmates.
They have carried a burden that no generation of Americans has ever had to carry. No generation of humans living in the industrialized world has had to carry this particular burden.
Today, our kids are growing up with a reasonable fear that they could get shot in their school, or in their temple, or in their church.
I didn’t grow up in a country with more gun-related deaths than virtually any country in the industrialized world. That wasn’t the country I grew up in.
I grew up in a country with a Second Amendment, but not a country with more shootings than any place else in the industrialized world.
Our attitude about this has changed — is different from what our parents and grandparents believed. No matter what party they were in.
I heard somebody after a shooting on the radio, some well-known talk show host, say that this was just the price of freedom. That being victimized in a mass shooting or being worried that your family member could be killed in a mass shooting was just the price of freedom. That's not what freedom meant to America when I was growing up.
Partly what freedom means is being free from fear that you're going to get gunned down. That's a freedom. And we've denied that freedom to the next generation of America.
And what a shame that somebody would say something like that after a mass shooting. What a limited view of what freedom is. What a surrender that represents to our children and the victims of these crimes.
Mr. President, in 2020, the leading cause of death for kids in America was guns. Guns.
Not car accidents. Not drugs. But guns.
There was a study that looked at how many kids aged four or younger have been killed by guns across 29 industrialized countries. This is kids 4 and younger in 29 industrialized countries. The United States accounted for 97 percent of the deaths.
This country accounted for 97 percent of deaths of kids that were 4 years and under. What a disgrace. What an indictment. The entire rest of the industrialized world accounted for 3 percent. We accounted for 97 percent.
We have nearly 200 times the rate of violent gun deaths as Japan or South Korea, and nearly 100 times what they experience in the United Kingdom.
I can tell you speaking as a father, it’s not because we love our children any less. Or because we’re uniquely violent or that somehow we’ve got a mental health problem that other countries don’t have. That we’re mentally more unwell, which I hear some say.
It’s because we have a United States Senate that year after year after year has been paralyzed by the National Rifle Association, by the NRA.
A Senate that’s allowed our kids to get shot in schools, movie theaters, grocery stores, and concerts and offered nothing but thoughts and prayers.
A Senate that — until now — has failed to respond to the overwhelming demand of the American people to protect our communities. That’s what I hear when I go home. I live in a Western state. As you’ll hear, we’ve been able to enact meaningful gun reforms in my state.
If we can make progress in a Western state like Colorado, where people are demanding it — Democrats, Independents, and Republicans, and most important of all, our children are demanding it, we can do it here.
I’ve said it over and over again on this floor after we’ve had mass shooting after mass shooting across our country.
And finally, for the first time in a decade, we have the chance to make progress.
And I want to thank my colleagues, I really do. I don’t mean that in the usual way that people come out here and say. I want to thank my colleagues, Chris Murphy and John Cornyn, for leading this really important bipartisan effort.
And I strongly support what they’ve put forward, which would strengthen background checks for young people buying firearms, so we’re checking their mental health and juvenile records;
Helping states strengthen red flag laws, which would help keep guns out of the hands of people who are a threat to themselves or to others. We’ve passed a bill like that already in Colorado;
Make a historic investment in mental health and school security.
I said a minute ago that sometimes you just hear people talk about how we have mental health, and I pointed out that we probably have about the same mental health as other countries in the world have.
But that doesn't mean it's not an issue, and it is an issue. We're having an epidemic of mental health on the backend — and behavioral health — on the backend of this pandemic, especially among adolescents, in this country and in the state of Colorado.
There's $15 billion in this bill for mental health, and I'm proud that that’s in there. That is a historic investment, and it's both sides that are making it.
We’re going to close the “boyfriend loophole,” which allows abusive partners to buy a gun; and
We’re going to crack down on “straw purchases” where people illegally buy guns on behalf of someone else. That’s a big problem that we’re gonna address in this bill.
And frankly, I don’t know how anybody on this floor could object to any of those ideas.
I don’t know how anyone could go home and say they opposed investing in mental health or making sure they’re not letting a troubled 18-year-old have access to an AR-15 or some other weapon.
But on that point, this can’t be the end of our work, Mr. President. There’s more for us to do.
We should raise the age for buying a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21.
We should pass universal background checks. In Colorado, after Columbine, we passed universal background checks. I said it over and over again on this floor.
And every year somewhere around 3 percent of the people that try to buy a gun can't buy a gun in Colorado. And you know why they can't buy a gun? Because they're convicted felons, because they're murderers, because they're domestic abusers.
In the…12 years that I've been coming down here talking about this, I've challenged people, I've said come tell me why Colorado’s not safer with that law in place, and there's nobody that ever comes here and says, “here's why you're not safer” because obviously we are safer. And the country would be safer and Colorado would be safer if we passed background checks at the national level.
We should close the gun show loophole.
We should limit the size of magazines, which we also have done in my Western state of Colorado.
We should ban bump stocks.
People in Colorado and across the country overwhelmingly support these steps.
But in the meantime, Mr. President, let’s pass this bipartisan proposal.
A few weekends ago, it was actually over the Memorial Day weekend, I had high school kids, not in the same place and not just one, literally coming up to me in tears out of desperation that we were not responding to what had happened in Texas. And we hadn’t done anything in this country about guns.
I think we need to show them, and the young people that are here today, the young people that are living all over America, that we aren’t so broken that we can’t respond to one more massacre of kids at a school.
We need to show them, Mr. President, when we have this opportunity to demonstrate that we’re not going to fail again. And that we can succeed in passing this bipartisan bill.
And that after all these years, we can meet the American people’s reasonable expectation to begin to protect our communities against gun violence that happens in the United States of America and only in the United States of America.
With that Mr. President, I yield the floor.