June 07, 2022

Senator Hirono Highlights Need for Gun Safety Laws at Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned witnesses at a full Committee hearing that examined the growing domestic terrorism threat in the U.S. Following tragic acts of hatred and violence in Buffalo, California, Uvalde, and elsewhere, Senator Hirono questioned experts and heard from individuals impacted by these attacks about the danger of domestic terrorism and what Congress can do to combat this mounting threat.

During the hearing, Senator Hirono pointed to the role easy access to guns is playing in our nation’s growing epidemic of mass shootings.

“We've been talking a lot about the ideology that drives the kinds of mass shootings in our country,” Senator Hirono said during the hearing. “But, in listening to some of the responses to questions, I think that a large factor, a large part of the kind of mass shootings that occur in our country, has to do a lot with, regardless of ideology, with the easy access to guns that we have in our country.”

Senator Hirono also pointed out the relationship between Hawaii’s strong gun safety laws and it’s relatively low level of gun violence.

“I realize there are a lot of attitude and cultural things that are going on in our country that leads to the kind of violence we see,” said Senator Hirono. “On the other hand, if we do not enact some kind of legislation – for example, Hawaii has some of the strictest gun safety laws and note that Hawaii has the lowest incidents of gun violence of any other state. There is a cause and effect going on here.”

A link to download video of Senator Hirono’s question line is available here. A transcript is included below.

Senator Hirono: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I thank all of our witnesses, and Mr. Whitfield, deepest condolences to you on the loss of your mother, who sounded like an incredible person. We've been talking a lot about the ideology that drives the kinds of mass shootings in our country. But, in listening to some of the responses to questions, I think that a large factor, a large part of the kind of mass shootings that occur in our country, has to do a lot with, regardless of ideology, with the easy access to guns that we have in our country. I'd like to ask each of you, do you agree that the easy access to guns is a significant driver of and a factor in mass shootings in our country? We'll start with you, Mr. Whitfield, and go right down the line. 

Mr. Whitfield: Thank you, senator. Yes, absolutely. Gun access is certainly a driver of this violence. It is certainly a large part of the problem. But I would say that it comes under the banner of white supremacy, it's just one of those things that's contributing to it. And there's a lot of other things that would come under that banner. 

Senator Hirono: We can even set aside the ideology, although I agree with you that the rise of white supremacy in our country is a huge part of it. Mr. Turley? 

Mr. Turley: Thank, you senator. There is no question, we have a country awash in guns, we have hundreds and millions of weapons in the country. The task that I am working with, with a lot of members right now, in terms of finding a way to do that constitutionally. There are limits and we are waiting for a major decision from the supreme court that may give us some insight into what the range of movement can be under the second amendment. 

Senator Hirono: Well, we know that the supreme court has acknowledged that there are certain limits we can place on second amendment rights. Professor Pape, do you agree that easy accessibility to guns contributes? 

Mr. Pape: Without a doubt. Since 2015, we have five mass shootings around the world related to the great replacement, killing many people. Four are in the United States. That is almost surely due to the easy access of weapons that can kill ten and more in very rapid period of time, compared to the rest of the world. 

Senator Hirono: Mr. Herdman? 

Mr. Herdman: Senator, every case that I described for the committee involved at least the contemplation of acquiring firearms or the actual attempted or acquisition of firearms. So, like they do with any other type of violent crime on the federal level, when we're dealing with federal firearms statues or federal terrorism offenses, we're almost always looking at a gun at the center of that violation. 

Senator Hirono: So, you would agree that easy access to guns in our country is a problem? 

Mr. Herdman: The characterization of the easy access is one that I -- 

Senator Hirono: It's relative, but it's pretty easy in our country compared to a lot of other countries. 

Mr. Herdman: I only pause because there is one case that I'm thinking of where the individual did not purchase a firearm because they had a prior felony conviction, it is one of the cases I discussed here today. 

Senator Hirono: Mr. German? 

Mr. German: Yes, I believe the easy access to firearms is a contributor to mass shootings, and I would point you to writing my colleagues, President of the Brennan Center Michael Waldman and Brennan Center fellow Eric Ruben, have produced on this issue. 

Senator Hirono: So, based on the relative unanimity of acknowledging that easy access to guns in our country really contributes to these kinds of horrific shootings, that we should do something about limiting who can get guns and limiting access to guns. Professor Pape, you mentioned and you noted in your testimony that violent populism is rising in our country. Do you think that this trend is going to change anytime soon? And if not, why not? If so, why? 

Mr. Pape: If left, if we do not do anything, if nothing changes, I am worried that yes, it is going to continue into the future. A point about guns, ma'am, if I may. We are now in the worst of both worlds, we are pushing gun legislation that will almost surely not pass. That is my view as a political scientist. But what it’s doing, and this is according to our data on our nationally represented surveys, it is making those individuals who would have the violent sentiments even more concerned and more dangerous. So we need to be aware that it is not a free move to simply call for legislation on guns that goes nowhere because there are many people, in those 18 million that I point out, who are already concerned the federal government is coming for their rights. If we push legislation which goes nowhere, what we are doing is inflaming the problem more than we are solving it. Very important to see, that is inside of our data. If we go forward and look at the next several years, the system, as I was just explaining to the other senator, we have a system now where once these dangerous ideas are in the main strain, there are incentives for mainstream media figures and mainstream politicians to propagate them even more. Those incentives are not exactly that they want violence as much as they are benefits. And we have seen this in other countries, in India, Northern Ireland, where politicians and media figures push dangerous ideas to gain votes or to gain media popularity. And they accept or do not notice, or do not understand that it is also creating violence as a byproduct. That is what's dangerous about the next few years. As we go forward, we have created a system now where these ideas are in the mainstream, they are no longer in the fringe. And there are incentives for both political leaders and media figures to continue to propagate those dangerous ideas. 

Senator Hirono: I agree with you, professor, that this is a complicated situation. On the other hand, I realize there are a lot of attitude and cultural things that are going on in our country that leads to the kind of violence we see. On the other hand, if we do not enact some kind of legislation – for example, Hawaii has some of the strictest gun safety laws and note that Hawaii has the lowest incidents of gun violence of any other state. There is a cause and effect going on here. So, if we propose legislation, I agree with you that if we don’t enact gun safety legislation, that would exacerbate the situation, but what if we actually passed some of these laws? I think it would be a big help, don't you? 

Mr. Pape: Yes, absolutely. 

Senator Hirono: Thank you Mr. Chairman, thank you. 

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