October 18, 2017

Cortez Masto: In Honor of Loved Ones Lost to Gun Violence, Congress Must Pass Commonsense Reforms

FTPs of Senator Cortez Masto’s speech are available to TV stations here.

“When I was preparing to deliver my maiden speech before this body, my intention was to honor the Silver State’s history and people… Unfortunately, my maiden speech on the floor of this body will instead talk about mass murder.”

“This chamber should speak in a unified voice that these tools don’t belong in our country. And this has nothing to do with infringing on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners. You don’t need a bump stock to hunt – unless you’re hunting people.”

“If we do nothing now, there will be more massacres.”

Washington, D.C. – This evening, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) delivered her maiden speech on the Senate floor. Cortez Masto discussed the mass shooting that occurred on October 1st, 2017, in Las Vegas, Nevada, and issued a call to prevent another tragedy like what happened in her hometown of Las Vegas from happening again. Below are her remarks as prepared for delivery:

As the newest Senator from the Silver State, I’m humbled to serve and represent my fellow Nevadans. We Nevadans are very proud of our state, its people, and the spirit of self-reliance and community that guides us every single day. We are proud of the vastness and beauty of our rural counties and the energy and diversity of our cities, such as Reno and my hometown, Las Vegas.

When I was preparing to deliver my maiden speech before this body, my intention was to honor the Silver State’s history and people, as well as share the issues that I plan to fight for in Congress – issues that matter to hardworking Nevadans.

That speech was meant to celebrate Nevada’s founding and values, to declare the basic right of every individual to education and affordable health care, to remind my colleagues of the dignity of equality and the right to marry whom you love.

That speech was meant to proclaim the dignity of women and their right to make their own health choices, to defend the right of immigrants and DREAMers to live in our country without fear, and to call on this body to fight for American values including diversity and inclusion.

That speech was meant to demand that our country’s leaders respect every American regardless of the color of their skin, or how they choose to worship.

Unfortunately, my maiden speech on the floor of this body will instead talk about mass murder. Today, I want to recognize the courage of heroes and first responders, and honor the wounded and those murdered. And I want to recognize the fundamental dignity of every American in this age of violence, rancor, and ignorance: the dignity of Americans not to be slaughtered by other Americans just for walking outside and attending a concert.

With over 43 million visitors per year, Las Vegas prides itself on warmly welcoming people from all around the world to revel in what we have to offer. Hospitality, in every sense of the word, defines who we are. When travelers come to Las Vegas, they plan to enjoy themselves in the company of loved ones, friends, and become a part of our Nevada family.

On October 1st, a man attacked that family by smashing two windows in his 32nd floor hotel suite and unleashing a barrage of bullets onto 22,000 people attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival. In 10 minutes, 58 innocent people were massacred and more than 500 were injured.

At first, concertgoers confused the rapid gunfire for fireworks. The grim realization that repetitive bursts were not fireworks, but bullets, came as those in the crowd began to collapse one after another and blood began to stain the ground. This was a concert on the Las Vegas Strip, but it looked more like a battlefield. These were innocent people.

The human cost of this atrocious act of terrorism is incalculable. Children lost parents. Parents lost children. Friends lost friends. Those who survived the ordeal must not only heal from physical wounds, but cope with the mental scars that will haunt them forever.

I will never forget the stories that I heard walking through our hospitals and meeting with our first responders and those recovering from their wounds. Entire emergency room and hallway floors stained with blood. A recovery room in one of our hospitals turned into a makeshift morgue. A victim’s phone ringing continuously with calls from her father who would soon learn she would never be coming home.

There is one life story cut short for each of the 58 people killed that night. We’ve come to learn their stories. Stories of sacrifice, courage, and love.

A young man died taking the bullets that would have ended his girlfriend’s life.

A security guard was killed on the job. As bullets ripped through the night sky and bodies began falling to the ground, he took responsibility for keeping the public safe by directing the panicked crowd. He made the ultimate sacrifice protecting others.

With approximately 2 million residents, the Las Vegas area is not a small town. But this tragedy has shown us just how strong and connected our community is.

And it goes beyond Las Vegas, there are so many communities across this country that were injured by this tragedy in some way. Many of those killed and injured were visitors to Las Vegas. All Nevadans grieve for those dead and are doing what they can to help survivors.

You know, Mr. Rogers has a timeless quote: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” And as we embrace each other and the families of the wounded and those murdered, we also recognize so many in the community who helped. 

Even in the middle of the attack, there were helpers shielding strangers from bullets and helpers who led people out of the concert venue. Helpers who plugged strangers’ bullet wounds with their fingers.

There were helpers like Jonathan. Despite receiving a gunshot wound to the neck, Jonathan saved the lives of 30 people by leading them out of the venue and aiding them in taking cover. He did this even after losing sight of his own family.

Jonathan later said, “I decided I’m not going to leave anybody behind.”

Helpers like Taylor, an Iraq war veteran, who turned a parked utility van into an ambulance. After climbing a fence as he fled the gunfire, he came across the vehicle and he knew what he had to do. Before first responders arrived, Taylor drove roughly 30 people to area hospitals.

Other helpers, like Tami, also an Iraq war veteran, stayed behind to help victims on the ground. Tami used her ER nursing experience to triage those who were immobile because of their injuries. Despite her best efforts, Tami couldn’t save one young woman and had the heartbreaking task of telling a mother that her daughter was dead.

Tami said, “I’ll never forget that girl’s face. I had to tell the mom that her daughter had gone.”

In the toughest of circumstances, the promptness, efficiency, and professionalism of Southern Nevada’s first responders and medical community saved many lives and ensured that tragedy did not escalate into further loss of life.

Andrew, an ambulance dispatcher, calmly and purposefully directed his team despite it being his first day in his new role.

There were doctors across our valley who didn’t need a call to rush to our hospitals to help. There were nurses who stayed long past their shifts to help care for and comfort the wounded. And our police and firefighters ran towards the bullets to help.

These first responders, doctors, and nurses knew some of the people they were helping.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the Clark County Fire Department, American Medical Response, MedicWest Ambulance, Community Ambulance, the University Medical Center, Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, the Valley Health System, and Dignity Health deserve our deepest thanks for their valor and their unmatched bravery.

I also want to honor and thank the Red Cross, the Department of Veterans Affairs, who brought mobile units to our hospitals, and the volunteer mental health counselors who came from all over the country to help provide comfort and support. I’ll never forget their dedication as our community grappled with this senseless tragedy.

In the days that followed, our community’s compassionate response showed the world who we are as Las Vegans. So many unnamed heroes in our community stood for hours in line to donate blood. They came to the family reunification center and gave food, water, and whatever was needed.

Artists and volunteers created beautiful memorials and prayerful spaces of honor and grief.

And local businesses, as well as airlines like Allegiant and Southwest, and medical providers like Valley Health Systems, Medic West, and American Medical Response, made sure the families of the slain as well as the wounded were provided help, support, and relief from medical bills and travel costs.

In less than a week, dedicated volunteers built a beautiful Remembrance Wall and planted a Healing Garden for all of us to express our grief, reflect, and to remember.

Our city also received an outpouring of support and solidarity from countless fellow Americans, state governments, and foreign Embassies. I was personally touched by the outpouring of support from my colleagues in this Chamber and I thank them for it.

The people of Las Vegas came together to heal and protect their community, but they can’t do it all on their own. It has been difficult for all of us to understand the events of the past two weeks, but one thing is clear: we cannot stand by and do nothing.

As a lifelong Las Vegan, I have never seen such a profound community response. In the midst of such horror, I am so proud of my community and I continue to be amazed at the strength and spirit that will help us move forward.

But they need our help. The time has come for the people in this room – all of us – to do our part to keep our communities safe.

Over the past few weeks, I have heard my colleagues saying things like, “No law could stop this” and, “You can’t legislate away evil.” While that may be true, we are not helpless. When something bad happens, you can always take steps to understand what happened and work together to find a way to stop a future tragedy. We can’t stop every shooting but we can do something to prevent these senseless mass murders.

Just over a year ago, 49 people were murdered at a nightclub in Orlando – then the deadliest shooting in modern US history. My hometown of Las Vegas has now broken that record, with 58 men and women murdered by one man with multiple guns rigged for combat.

This is a horrific distinction to bear. Will we stand by and wait for the next community to break that record?

In our communities every day, Americans make common sense decisions to protect their health and safety. They lock their doors, they set their alarms, they go to the doctor for an annual check-up, and they wear seatbelts.

After the worst attack on American soil on September 11, 2001, we reshaped the way we protect our country and our way of life.

Now, in the wake of the worst mass shooting in modern American history, I’m calling on my colleagues to work with me to take reasonable, concrete steps to reduce the likelihood of another senseless shooting massacre on American soil.

Don’t get me wrong. The people of Las Vegas are grateful to have the thoughts and prayers of nearly every Member of Congress. But thoughts and prayers alone are not enough.

Now it’s time for action, meaningful action to prevent mass murders.

Let me be very clear: this is not about banning or taking away guns. I grew up in a family of gun owners and hunters. My father was a member of Ducks Unlimited. I have family members who are avid sportsmen, including an Uncle who was a member of the Nevada Big Horns Unlimited. My husband is a retired Secret Service agent. We are both proud gun owners. I believe that Americans have the right to own guns.

But with the right to own a gun comes a shared responsibility to ensure that weapons do not fall into the hands of dangerous people. The right to own a gun must be balanced by the right of every American to be able to go out in public without fearing they’ll be shot and killed at Church. Or in a movie theatre. Or in a classroom. Or at a night club. Or on a baseball field. Or at a concert.

The right to own a gun is important – and equally important is the right to not be killed by someone who has no business owning a gun.

The Second Amendment calls for gun ownership in defense of the security of America. Not to terrorize its citizens.

Congress has the responsibility to keep weapons designed for our military out of the hands of mass murderers. When we took office, each of us swore an oath to protect and defend the United States Constitution. That means we are sworn to protect the lives and liberty of the American people.

Are we keeping that promise?

If there are common sense, reasonable, proven steps that we can take to keep innocent people from dying at the hands of mass murderers, why wouldn’t we take them? Why wouldn’t we pass legislation that the majority of Americans support? Why wouldn’t we ban the tools used to kill and injure almost 600 people in the space of ten minutes?

Many place blame with the strength of organizations like the National Rifle Association and other allied interest groups. Yet a recent poll finds that 93% of voters in gun households support universal background checks. Count me as part of that 93%.

Congress will not repeal the Second Amendment. But its Members need to find the courage to be honest that there is a problem.

I echo my colleague, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who gave his maiden speech on this very same topic in 2013, right after the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school. He said he never expected to find himself talking about guns in his maiden speech, but the issue of gun violence found him.

I am devastated to say that the issue of gun violence found me too. It found the city of Las Vegas, along with everyone else in the State of Nevada. It’s already found other members of this body and their neighbors across the country.

Like Senator Murphy, I am making it my mission to prevent another tragedy like this one from ever happening again.

We should return to common sense principles as we determine how to move forward.

One – guns should not be available to people who are mentally ill, have a history of violence, or are suspected terrorists.

Two – everyone who buys a firearm should undergo a background check – no exceptions for people who buy from online retailers, gun shows, or private dealers. We can’t enforce our laws or keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people if we aren’t running background checks to determine who’s trying to buy a firearm.

And three – certain military-style accessories necessary for war zones simply do not need to be in our communities.

As members of this body are aware, the mass shooting in my hometown was made all the more lethal because of what is referred to as a “bump stock.” A tool designed to turn a semi-automatic rifle into an even deadlier weapon to kill as many people as possible and rain gunfire down on 22,000 concert goers.

This chamber should speak in a unified voice that these tools don’t belong in our country. And this has nothing to do with infringing on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners. You don’t need a bump stock to hunt – unless you’re hunting people.

If we do nothing now, there will be more massacres. We will see more fathers without daughters, more mothers without sons, more sisters without brothers.

The time has come to ask ourselves, who will really be at fault, the next time something like this happens?

Will it be the deranged killer who used a loophole to get his hands on a deadly weapon, or the people who failed to close that loophole when they had the chance?

My colleagues are right – we cannot legislate away mental illness. We cannot legislate away evil. But we can legislate to prevent murder. We can take smart, sensible steps to keep Americans safe. We can work together with gun owners and citizens against gun violence to make Americans safer.

To my colleagues who are undecided, I invite you to come with me to the hospitals in Las Vegas. Hear from the people who came to Las Vegas for a night of fun and country music, who will have to live with emotional and physical scars for the rest of their lives.

Hear from Dana, who will never see her fiancé again. Hear from Lindsey, who will never see her sister again. Hear from Hannah’s three children, who will never see their mother again.

I’ve spent much of the last two weeks talking with families of those who were wounded, or killed. That Monday night after the massacre I remember hugging a mother and father who were looking for their 26 year old daughter at the family reunification center. They had gone to all of the area hospitals with the hope that they might find their daughter alive. Their final hope that night, if you want to call it that, was waiting in the reunification center for the call from the Coroner’s office to see if their daughter’s body had been identified.

It so easily could have been my family frantically searching, waiting, and grieving in that center.

My niece was at that concert.

The people of Las Vegas responded to the worst tragedy our city has ever seen with unprecedented bravery, and selflessness, and compassion. We are Vegas Strong.

It is long past time for Congress to follow their example, and the example of so many other communities in our country touched by this violence, and finally summon the strength to get something done and reduce gun violence in America.

Let’s not ignore the lives of those murdered, or those wounded. Let’s actually come together and agree that we must do something to honor all of the daughters, mothers, sons, fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends we have already lost to senseless gun violence.

It’s time for us to move beyond resolutions. We must have a new resolve to protect the basic freedom and safety of Americans.

Work with me. Reach out to my office, so that we can find common ground, and finally offer the American people something more than just our thoughts and prayers.

Let’s get something done in honor of the loved ones who are still with us – the family members and friends we would do anything to protect – the people in our lives we could not bear to lose.

Work with me to prevent this from ever happening again.