U.S. Senator Gary Peters of Michigan talks Orlando massacre, calls for closure in ‘terror gap’

Democratic Sen. Gary Peters

Democratic Sen. Gary Peters

U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) spoke on the Senate Floor on Wednesday June 15, on the devastating terrorist attack and hate crime against the LGBT Community in Orlando. Following is his statement:

While I intend to ask my colleague from Connecticut shortly about the interaction between closing the terror gap for gun purchasers and expanding background checks, I would first like to take a moment to mourn the loss of the 49 people who were killed and recognize the dozens more who were wounded in the worst mass shooting our nation has ever seen.

While my heart goes out to all the family and friends of the victims, today I would like to honor two Michigan men who lost their lives that night: Tevin Crosby and Christopher Andrew Leinonen – who went by Drew.

Tevin was only 25. Born in North Carolina, he came to call Michigan home after finishing school and starting his own marketing business in Saginaw – Total Entrepreneurs Concepts. Founded just last year, his business employs about 20 people and handles retail marketing for Fortune 500 companies.

Tevin had recently visited family in North Carolina to watch several nieces and nephews graduate before traveling to Florida to see friends and colleagues.

Drew was 32, and grew up in metro Detroit before moving to Orlando with his mother. He became a civically-minded activist early in life – starting a gay-straight alliance in high school before studying psychology and becoming a licensed mental health counselor.

He recently won the Anne Frank Humanitarian Award for his work in the gay community. Drew was at Pulse with his partner, Juan Guerrero, who also lost his life that night.

Now, instead of potentially helping them plan a wedding one day, their loving families are planning a joint funeral – they want their sons to be side-by-side as their friends and family pay their respects and bid them farewell.

Orlando’s events serve as a stark reminder that the fight for equality in this nation for LGBT Americans must not end with marriage equality. We still live in a nation where Americans can face discrimination – and even be killed – simply because of who they love. We cannot tolerate violence that targets any individual based on their gender, sexuality, race or religion.

This horrific incident raises a number of questions. Was it a hate crime? An act of terrorism? An outgrowth of the ease with which individuals in the country can purchase deadly weapons with high-capacity magazines? The heinous actions of a self-radicalized young man inspired by – and swearing allegiance to – ISIS?

The answer to all of these questions is yes – and I urge my colleagues – and Americans across the country – to resist painting this tragedy in simple, reductive terms.

This attack was a hate crime. This attack was an act of terrorism. And yes, this attack speaks to the disturbing ease with which dangerous firearms can be acquired in our nation.

The problems that led to this tragedy are complex, but complexity is not an argument for inaction.

We need to start somewhere. Thoughts and prayers can be meaningful, but we need more than just thoughts and prayers. Now is a time for action.

As Senators, we have no higher duty than keeping the American people safe. This includes taking the fight to ISIS overseas with our allies and vigilant law enforcement here at home.

My colleague from Connecticut has been discussing two simple, critical changes we can make to help prevent deaths from gun violence in our nation – including acts of terror like we have seen in Orlando.

We need to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them – this includes individuals convicted of domestic violence offenses, people with court-order restraints related to stalking, and convicted felons.

These groups are already barred under federal law from purchasing or otherwise possessing firearms and this is enforced through background checks.

It is also painfully clear that we need to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists – this is why we need to close the “terror gap” and prevent individuals on terrorist watch lists from purchasing firearms.

Unfortunately, closing the terror gap and enforcing existing gun safety laws cannot be effective without universal background checks. It doesn’t matter if we ban selling guns to people on the terror watch list if large percentages of purchasers avoid a background check by buying a weapon at a gun show or over the internet.

A story from our neighboring state, Wisconsin, haunts me as an example of violence that could have been stopped.

Recently, a Wisconsin man subject to a restraining order from his estranged wife – a man who was barred under current law from purchasing a gun – was able to take advantage of the private seller loophole and purchase a weapon without a background check. He then confronted his wife at the spa where she worked. He killed her and two others and injured four more people before turning the gun on himself.

Just like our current law bans gun sales to those convicted of domestic violence or with restraining orders in place against them, closing the terror gap will only be fully effective if we have universal background checks.

My question for the Senator from Connecticut is this: Will closing the terror gap alone prevent the sales of weapons to potential terrorists here in the United States? Or will we need universal background checks to ensure these individuals are not able to exploit loopholes in current law?

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