Thank you, Sheriff High – and thank you all for being here. It’s a pleasure to join Vice President Biden in welcoming this distinguished group to the White House. And it’s a privilege to stand with so many dedicated law enforcement leaders as we advance our national conversation about how we can – and why we must – take action to combat the gun violence that devastates too many lives and communities every day.
I’m grateful for your willingness to lend your voices – and your diverse perspectives – to this critical discussion. I appreciate the work you’re leading – through organizations like the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence – in big cities and small towns across America. And I thank you not only for your advocacy, but for your service – every day – on the front lines of our struggle against gun-, gang-, and drug-fueled violence.
Last year’s horrific events in Aurora, Colorado; in Oak Creek, Wisconsin; and in Newtown, Connecticut – were shocking reminders of the gun violence that afflicts communities throughout the nation. On a daily basis, these unspeakable tragedies are compounded by countless individual tragedies that take place on our cities’ streets; that pass too often unnoticed; and that too frequently take the lives of our most vulnerable citizens: our children.
For me – and for my colleagues across the Justice Department – responding to this senseless violence, and preventing future tragedies, constitutes a top priority. That’s why, earlier this year, I was honored to join with Vice President Biden and a number of my fellow Cabinet members to assemble a comprehensive plan for reducing gun violence and making our neighborhoods and schools more secure. Contrary to what a few have said, this plan – which President Obama announced in January – is consistent with the Second Amendment, and would not infringe – in any way – on the rights of responsible, law-abiding gun owners. This plan includes a range of legislative proposals that we’ve called upon Congress to pass without delay – along with a series of 23 executive actions, many of which the Justice Department has made significant progress in implementing.
For instance, the Department recently announced that it will invest more than $20 million this fiscal year to strengthen the firearm background check system that Sheriff High just mentioned – by improving states’ abilities to share information with the NICS. This grant funding is intended to enhance reporting of prohibiting mental health information, felony convictions, misdemeanor convictions of domestic violence, and active felony and misdemeanor warrants. In addition, just last month, I issued guidance to all federal agencies that will require federal law enforcement to trace all guns recovered in investigations. And the Justice Department is continuing to review gun safety technology innovations – and is in the process of undertaking a review of all prohibitors.
Beyond this work, I’m pleased that the Senate will soon consider a number of gun violence reduction proposals. This afternoon, I’m proud to join the Vice President in urging both houses of Congress to give each and every one of these measures the timely, individual consideration they deserve. Let me say it more clearly than that: each of these measures deserves a vote. The American people deserve these votes in spite of the pressure that the special interests and lobbyists are exerting in back rooms on our elected representatives. I’m confident that, with the support of countless ordinary citizens – and the expertise and assistance of the leaders in this room – we can take the common-sense steps we need to prevent gun violence and keep deadly weapons from falling into the wrong hands. I recognize, as you do, that there’s no single prescription for addressing these challenges and confronting their underlying causes. But I also know that those whose lives have been impacted by gun violence – the victims and the survivors – are depending on us.
In December, just days after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I traveled to Newtown. In what were without question the worst moments of my career, I walked the halls where these unspeakable acts took place. I saw the dried blood. I saw the horrific crime scene photos. I met with the first responders and crime scene search officers who arrived at the school just after the first calls came in. And when these brave men and women asked me, with broken hearts and tear-streamed faces, to do whatever I could to prevent such a thing from happening again – I told them I would not rest until we have secured the common-sense changes our nation needs.
I promised them, as I have promised survivors from Oak Creek, to Aurora, to Tucson, that I would never forget. I know you all will not forget. And this afternoon, I ask you to help us keep our promise to these communities and to the American people – and pursue reforms to improve our nation’s security, protect the men and women who bravely serve in law enforcement, and make safe our children’s futures.
At this time, it is my privilege to introduce a remarkable leader who has been at the forefront of this Administration’s efforts to do just that; a public servant of extraordinary passion: the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden.