U.S. Sen. Doug Jones delivered his first speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, calling for a pragmatic conversation and compromise on the hot button issues surrounding gun control.
“We must acknowledge the deadly consequences that can follow when a gun is in the wrong hands, but also recognize and respect the freedom to own and enjoy guns by law-abiding citizens as guarantees by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Those two concepts are not mutually exclusive,” said Jones, who won a special election against Roy Moore in December to become the first Democratic U.S. senator from Alabama in more than 20 years.
Jones pointed to the youth-led outcry for an end to gun violence in schools, sparked by last month’s deadly shooting at a Parkland, Florida, school, as the catalyst that could move conversations forward. He compared the current movement to the Children’s March in Birmingham in 1963 — a protest that became a turning point in the fight for desegregation in Birmingham.
In his speech, the senator called for a ban on manufacturing or possessing bump stocks, which are devices that enable semi-automatic weapons to fire more rapidly. He also called for passing legislation to close loopholes in the federal background check system currently in place, widen requirements for background checks and waiting periods to purchase guns, and raise the minimum age requirement for purchasing semi-automatic weapons.
“Gun deaths continue to rise. In 2016, over 38,000 people in this country died because of gunfire. Almost 15,000 of those deaths were homicides. Almost 23,000 were suicides and nearly 500 were accidental.” Jones said. Jones also noted that gun death rates in Alabama ranked second in the nation in 2016.
A gun aficionado, collector and avid hunter, Jones called for a shift in attitudes from all sides. Jones said it was best to accept that a bill to ban specific weapons, such as assault rifles, would be unlikely to pass in Congress and suggested, instead, that focus should be on restricting access to those types of weapons so they don’t land in the hands of those who would do harm to others.
Regarding pro-gun groups like the NRA, the senator said, “While I know these groups sometimes take what many, me included, consider extreme positions, they are also representing millions of law-abiding gun owners who are concerned that their right to bear arms is at risk.”
In his speech, Jones said he supported the Fix NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) bill, which focuses on improving background check processes to ensure states upload criminal information to the FBI centralized database.
Jones said, “The bill would also create a domestic abuse and violence prevention program to give states the ability and incentives to share information to prevent anyone convicted of a domestic violence crime from purchasing a gun. The bill, sponsored by U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, along with 76 more co-sponsors, has wide bi-partisan support and is included in the spending package to be released by Congress on Wednesday.
Jones called the Fix NICS a good start, but he also said he believes background checks should be required for all gun purchases, including internet and private sales.
Jones also supports a proposed measure to require a three-day waiting period before a customer can receive a gun, even if a background check had been completed. States that have implemented waiting periods have seen significant decreases in suicides, the senator said.
Jones called for provisions to allow family members or law enforcement officers to seek court orders to prevent individuals who pose extreme danger to themselves or others from obtaining a gun.
In a press conference after his speech, Jones said his hope is that, during the upcoming congressional recess, legislators will return to their home states and listen to the discussion and concerns of their constituents.
“Upwards of a million young people are staging rallies and marches this Saturday to try to bring attention to America’s issues of gun violence,” Jones said.
Jones said he plans to continue the dialogue after the recess.