Menendez Delivers Remarks on Gun Safety to NJ Chamber

Menendez Delivers Remarks on Gun Safety to NJ Chamber

WASHINGTON, DC -- U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) delivered remarks at an annual meeting of public and private sector leaders from New Jersey this evening on the need for commonsense gun safety reforms following the recent mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, which left 17 students and teachers dead. At the 2018 "Walk to Washington," organized by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, Senator Menendez urged business leaders and public officials alike to support sensible gun control measures, including his own Keep Americans Safe Act, as well as other legislative proposals to close loopholes in our background check system.


It’s great to be here, and I want to thank President Tom Bracken and Board Chair Robert Doherty for all the Chamber does to help New Jersey businesses succeed. I also want to congratulate tonight’s honoree, the Dean of our Delegation, Congressman Chris Smith.

And while Senator Booker had to go, you should all know I feel very fortunate to have him fighting for New Jersey with me in the Senate.

It’s great to be here with so many industry leaders from across our state. New Jersey is known as a state of innovators and inventors, and this chamber is no exception. You took the concept of the party bus and pioneered the party train!

In all seriousness, I cannot blame you for having a drink or two -- this past year has been a year to forget!

Between signing a tax bill that treats New Jersey’s middle class like America’s piggy bank, and undermining critical projects like Gateway, and proposing an infrastructure plan that slams commuters with more tolls, it sure feels like Donald Trump has it out for New Jersey!

Yet despite these challenges, our Delegation has scored some big wins. That’s what I would normally do here tonight -- tell you about all the ways we’ve delivered for New Jersey.

I would tell you about the two-year budget we just passed, and how it protects Deborah Hospital from unfair cuts and fully funds New Jersey’s 24 community health centers. 

I would tell you about our hard-won fight to bring the KC-46 tankers to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and all we’re doing to keep America’s only Tri-Service base mission ready. 

And I would tell you that we are very close – closer than ever – to getting the Trump Administration to agree to keep offshore oil rigs away from the Jersey shore.

These are the kind of things I would normally talk about on a night like this one -- but not tonight. Tonight I want to talk to you about a higher purpose.

Two weeks ago, a weapon of mass murder was once again used to commit mass murder in an American school. Once again, our hearts are heavy with a grief that’s become far too routine. And once again, we’re told there’s nothing we can do about it.

But something feels different this time. That’s because the students of Stoneman Douglas High School have pledged to turn “once again” into “never again.” These young men and women were thrust into a tragedy, and yet they’ve turned their mourning into a movement.

I saw it with my own eyes last Sunday, when a few of the Stoneman Douglas students visited Livingston, and over 2,000 New Jerseyans came to rally in support of them. And earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet with a larger group of these students.

Let me tell you – they are brave, they are bright, and they are driven. And what’s most refreshing is that they’re not yet jaded by the ways of Washington. They’ve grown up practicing active shooter drills, and being told that mass shootings are just a fact of life. But they know they deserve better.

Their call to action has pricked the conscience of this country. We see it at rallies across America, we see it in the students organizing the “March for our Lives,” and we see it in corporate America. Already, companies like United Airlines have parted ways with the NRA, Dick’s Sporting Goods is taking assault rifles off their shelves, and both Dick’s and Walmart are limiting gun sales to those over 21.

So, America is taking action. The question is, can Congress take action? It’s not as if we don’t know what to do. We know that weapons like the AR-15 – and the high capacity magazines that attach to them – are designed for one thing: high capacity killing.

These weapons are modeled after the assault rifles we give our soldiers on the battlefield. They’re what link Parkland to Newtown, and Las Vegas to San Bernandino, and Aurora to Orlando.

I voted for the assault weapons ban of 1994, and would gladly vote to reinstate it today. But at the very least, we should be able to limit high-capacity magazines.

I introduced a bill to do this months ago, called the Keep Americans Safe Act. It’s narrowly focused, it doesn’t infringe on anyone’s right to bear arms, and it’s exactly the kind of commonsense step we must take to keep people safe.

But we won’t get anywhere if we keep letting the NRA set the agenda. Some of you may think this isn’t relevant to you, but believe me, it is. Some of my colleagues are effectively holding gun safety measures hostage until we pass an NRA-backed “concealed carry reciprocity” bill. 

Let’s be clear about what this means for New Jersey.We have some of the toughest gun laws in America. And guess what? We also have the 6h lowest rate of gun deaths in America. We’d like to keep it that way. Trouble is, some states give concealed carry permits to just about anyone – teenagers, domestic abusers – you name it. 

Why should a gun owner from a state with looser standards be able to bring their weapon into the next big meeting of business leaders in New Jersey? Or one of our schools? Or Newark Penn Station? 

I’ve heard a whole lot about states’ rights from my Republican colleagues over the years. Well, it’s time to protect New Jersey’s right to enforce our own gun laws and keep our nine million residents safe.

At the end of the day, the NRA has five or six million members. We are a nation of 320 million-plus people. While millions of gun owners support the Second Amendment, poll after poll tells us they also support universal background checks and commonsense gun laws.

It’s time we call out those who spout the same old NRA talking points, such as “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Well, that’s why we don’t run background checks on guns. We run them on people!

And it’s not enough for background checks to be comprehensive – they have to be universal. That means background checks for every gun sale – whether it’s with the click of a button online or out of a trunk at a gun show.

Likewise, we hear it’s time to arm teachers and “harden our schools.” Well, I haven’t met many teachers who want to be charged with assessing threats and taking lives in front of their own students. And let’s get serious: arming our teachers won’t stop the next Las Vegas or Orlando or Tuscon.

Only we can do that – by passing commonsense, smarter gun safety laws. So tonight, I ask you to think about the positions of influence you hold as business leaders at forefront of our economy.
Some of you manage tremendous assets in our financial services industry. You have the power to choose where to invest.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time less money go to gun-makers. Some of you sit at the helm of New Jersey’s health care sector. Well earlier this week I read a piece by a radiologist who cared for some of the Stoneman Douglas victims.

She described how a typical handgun wound leaves an organ lacerated. But not an AR-15. An assault weapon leaves an organ looking like, and I quote, “an overripe melon smashed by a sledgehammer...Nothing was left to repair.”

How can we in a state known for putting patients first sit idly by as children die of these explosive wounds? The reality is no matter what sector you work in, you wield enormous influence.

Think about the power in this room tonight. You are innovators. You are investors. You are business owners and industry leaders. When you speak, people listen. When you act, others follow.

It’s not enough to have public opinion with us. It’s not even enough to have President Trump with us.
We need corporate America with us. We need you to help the students of Parkland turn “once again” into “never again.”

Because never again do we want children to watch their best friends and beloved teachers die at the hands of a deranged killer armed with weapons of war. And never again do we want to learn of another mass shooting in a school or church or theater or anywhere else!

But that’s exactly what’s going to happen again and again and again if Congress fails to act. Despite all the dysfunction in Washington, I’ve been so inspired to see that young Americans still believe they have the power to change things.

How tragic would it be if we proved them wrong? If we failed to do everything we possibly could to stop the next mass shooting? We can’t let that happen. We must act and we must do it now – and I’m pleading with you to use the power of your voice to say with me “never again.”