June 20, 2024

Remarks by Vice President Harris at Gun Violence Awareness Day Event

Remarks by Vice President Harris at Gun Violence Awareness Day Event

John R. Lewis High School
Springfield, Virginia

4:11 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Hi, everyone!  (Applause.)  Hi, everyone.  Good afternoon.  Good afternoon.
 
Can we give it up for Jada?  (Applause.)  And, you know, I will tell you, I’m so honored to be here, in particular with all of the young leaders like Jada, because you all are what this is all about.  
 
And we are so proud of you, and we care about you, and we want you to soar.  And we have a deep and profound sense of responsibility to allow you to dream and to be, and to be safe.  And so that’s why we are all here together today.
 
I want to thank Secretary Miguel Cardona for the work that you do every day.  (Applause.)
 
And to all the state and local elected leaders, to my friend Angela Ferrell-Zabala — where are you? — thank you for your leadership.
 
And Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action — (applause) — thank you all.  Thank you all.
 
So, we’re all here today for a simple reason: Every person and every child deserves the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and live up to their God-given potential.
 
Every family, in every community, should have the freedom to live and to thrive.
 
And we know none of that is possible — true freedom is not possible if people are not safe.  (Applause.) 
 
In a civilized society, the people must know they can shop in a grocery store, walk down the street, or even sit in a classroom and know that they will be safe from fear and from violence.
 
And so that is why we are all here today: to mark Gun Violence Awareness Day and to address the moment that we are in.
 
Our nation is being torn apart by gun violence, and torn apart by the very fear of gun violence.
 
It is tragic that every day in the United States of America, that there are parents who offer a prayer after dropping their child off at school that their child will make it home safe and alive, who fear the worst every time they see a text from their child’s school.
 
It is a shame that in our country today teachers have to start off the school year introducing [sic] and introducing a child — instructing a child on how to barricade the classroom door.
 
That kindergarten students practice lockdown drills and rehearse how to turn off the lights and hide quietly in a closet.
 
And that, just last year, students at this school — and thousands of others across our nation — had to walk out of class simply to demand action to save lives.  (Applause.) 
 
All of this that leads to, as Jada has put it, and I quote, “a permanent state of fear and outrage” for our students.
 
And everyone here, because this is a room full of leaders — everyone here knows that in this moment in our country, the number one cause of death of the children in America is gun violence.

The number one cause of death for the children of America is gun violence.
 
In this very moment in our country, one in five Americans has lost a family member to gun violence.  One in five.
 
In the 153 days of this year, there have been more than 260
mass shootings.
 
And because of everyday gun violence in communities
across our nation, every single day, on average, 120 Americans are killed with guns.
 
And as we all know, while this violence impacts all communities, it does not do so equally.
 
Black Americans are 10 times more likely to be victims of gun violence[homicides].  Latino Americans, twice as likely.
 
Folks, we cannot normalize any of this. 
 
These are not just statistics or another headline.  These are the lives of our children, of loved ones, of parents and siblings and our fellow Americans.
 
Here in Virginia, it is a six-year-old boy who has access to a gun, and shoots and wounds his teacher just a few months ago in Newport News.  It is the three student athletes who were shot and killed at UVA last fall.  It is the 32 students and faculty who lost their lives at Virginia Tech. 
 
I will tell you, as a former courtroom prosecutor and former elected District Attorney, I prosecuted homicide cases.  I have seen with my own eyes what a bullet does to the human body.  I have held hands with parents who have lost a child.  I have tried to comfort children who were traumatized by the loss of a parent or a sibling.
 
And as someone who has fought my entire career to try to end this violence, I know some of the answers are pretty straightforward.  Solutions do exist.  (Applause.)  Solutions do exist. 
 
It just requires elected leaders in the United States Congress and in state legislatures to pass commonsense reforms.  (Applause.)  To simply exercise courage.  (Applause.)  Common sense. 
 
So here’s the thing: It is reasonable that you might want to know before someone can buy a gun whether they have been found by a court to be a danger to themselves or others.  Common sense would suggest background checks and red-flag laws might avoid that danger.  (Applause.)  Common sense. 
 
And by comparison, it makes no sense, as some would suggest, to require teachers to carry firearms.  (Applause.)  Because understand what that would mean: We’re going to have a second-grader look up at the front of her classroom and see her teacher strapped with a gun?  Again, it’s just common sense for us to believe teachers should focus on teaching — (applause) — and children should focus on learning.  (Applause.)  Common sense.
 
And consider weapons of war, weapons that were designed to kill a lot of people quickly.  It’s just common sense to believe that they have no place on the streets of a civil society –(applause) — and that is time to renew the assault weapons ban.  (Applause.) 
 
And on the subject of gun safety laws, it is a false choice — it is a false choice to suggest that we have to choose between either supporting the Second Amendment or passing reasonable gun safety laws.  (Applause.)  We can do both.  We can do both.  (Applause.)
 
And the majority of NRA members support background checks for all gun purchases.  (Applause.)  We just need leaders to step up and show some courage.  (Applause.) 
 
And thanks to so many here, in 2020 we saw that people in our nation stood in line to vote, and they elected President Joe Biden and me vice president.  (Applause.) 
 
And because of that work, because people voted, people stood in line, people registered folks to vote — our young leaders said, “I might not be able to vote, but when you vote, think about me and who represents my interests.”  And because of all of that, we were then able to pass the first significant piece of federal gun safety legislation in 30 years — thanks to you all.  (Applause.)  And most noteworthy about that: bipartisan gun legislation.  Bipartisan.  (Applause.)   
 
Democrats and some Republicans came together, backed by a majority of Americans, and you — you made that happen.  Because of your voices, extremist so-called leaders and the gun lobby could not stand in our way, not even those just a few miles away from here at the headquarters of the NRA.  (Applause.)
 
But let’s be clear: We have more to do.  So, let us continue to fight, to make sure the voices of students and parents and teachers and preachers will not be silenced.  (Applause.)  Let us make sure.  Let us make sure that the voice of the people will be heard, that the voice of the people will not be discouraged, will not be deterred, and that we will not tire.

Because the bottom line is this: We love our country.  We love our country.  (Applause.)  And I believe — I believe, especially in this moment, that the strength of our nation depends on each of us, especially our young leaders.  (Applause.)  Especially you.

So — so, specifically to the students of John Lewis High School — (applause) — specifically to you, I don’t need to tell you Congressman John Lewis fought his whole life for the civil rights of all people.  (Applause.)  I was so honored to work with him.  And I will tell you that — I think we all do believe; I certainly do — that the right to be safe is also a civil right.  (Applause.)
 
So, to the young leaders, I don’t need to tell you; you know this: John Lewis was only 23 when he spoke during the March on Washington.  (Applause.)  And he was 76 when he led a sit-in at the U.S. House of Representatives to demand action to end gun violence.  (Applause.)  The great John Lewis — the great John Lewis taught us it is never too early or too late to join this fight.  (Applause.)
 
Recall — recall the Parkland students were in high school when they marched for their lives and inspired a national movement.
 
Maxwell Frost — (applause) — was 15 when he joined the movement to end gun violence, and now he is the first Gen Z member of the United States Congress.  (Applause.)
 
And two of the most recent national heroes in this movement, the two expelled members of the Tennessee Three — (applause) — the Justins — are both in their twenties.
 
So, to our young leaders, I say: We hear you.  We support you.  And we need you.

We are all in this together.  And so, together, we must fight.  And when we fight, we win.  (Applause.)
 
Thank you.  God bless you.  And God bless the United States of America.  Thank you all.  (Applause.)
 
                          END                 4:29 P.M. EDT

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Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2023/06/02/remarks-by-vice-president-harris-at-gun-violence-awareness-day-event/