Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet on Wednesday called on the Senate to act in the wake of a mass shooting at a supermarket in his state, asserting in an impassioned speech from the chamber floor that his colleagues have a moral obligation to a generation of young Americans who have lived through dozens of such attacks.
“Boulder will heal but this scar will always be there – my daughter’s generation will always bear the burden of a national government that did nothing to protect them. They and the children that I used to work for at the Denver Public Schools, they carry a burden that we didn’t carry,” the Colorado Democrat said, referencing his previous work as superintendent of the school district.
“They have grown up with a reasonable fear that they will be shot in their classrooms or in their schools or at a movie theater or in any public place. I didn’t grow up in an America with more gun-related deaths than virtually any country in this world, and we can’t accept it for their America,” he continued.
The at-times emotional speech from a senator whose state previously witnessed the Columbine and Aurora massacres comes at a time of heightened debate over guns on Capitol Hill following seven mass shootings in seven days around the country, including in Boulder, Colorado, and a rampage in Atlanta. But despite Democratic control of the House, Senate and White House, potential gun reform faces an uphill battle, with Senate Democrats divided over House-passed measures including expanded background checks.
The 21-year-old suspect in Monday’s massacre at the Boulder supermarket – which left 10 dead including a store manager and a police officer – faces 10 counts of murder in the first degree, police said Tuesday. The motive in the attack isn’t immediately known, and the investigation will take a long time, authorities said.
Bennet stressed Wednesday that gun violence has been a longstanding issue for both his state and the country, speaking to the current political climate in calling for gun regulations.
“I’m not asking anybody here to show the courage that (Boulder shooting victim) Officer Talley showed, or the other men and women of law enforcement who constantly have to deal with the inability of this place’s capacity to deal with these issues,” Bennet told his fellow senators. “I’m just asking us to show just an ounce of their courage by doing whatever we can to keep weapons of war out of our communities, to pass universal background checks, to limit the size of magazines, to address the epidemic crisis of mental health in this country. It seems like that would be the least that we could do.”
Lawmakers’ failure to act, he said, “has helped create these conditions, and we can’t wait any longer. The Senate needs to act. There’s nobody else to act but the United States Senate.”
The Democratic-led House of Representatives passed two bills on March 11 that would expand background checks on all commercial gun sales. While the first of the two recently passed bills, H.R. 8, has bipartisan support in the House, it needs a supermajority in the Senate – which it does not currently have.
Bennet also referenced the Columbine High School shooting, which occurred in Colorado in 1999, as a benchmark for the many such massacres punctuating the young adulthoods of an entire generation of Americans, including his daughter.
“The shootings at Columbine High School happened right before my oldest daughter was born, Caroline Bennet,” Bennet said. “She’s 21 years old, and her entire generation has grown up in the shadow of gun violence, something none of us had to do.”
Bennet, a moderate Democrat and former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, is up for reelection in 2022. While the seat is not seen as particularly vulnerable in light of Colorado having trended blue, Democrats are still monitoring the race, which could potentially see gun control emerge as a key issue.
While speaking on the Senate floor, Bennet also read remembrances of the 10 victims’ lives, including Officer Eric Talley, the first Boulder police officer to arrive at the shooting.
“I’ve spent the past day learning about the victims of this terrible crime and I want America to know what extraordinary human beings we’ve lost in my state,” Bennet said, tearing up while recounting one woman’s account of how grateful she was that her father, who was killed in the shooting, could walk her down the aisle at her wedding last year.
“Officer Talley and these other folks represent the best of Colorado, and we certainly owe Officer Talley a debt of gratitude we’ll never be able to repay,” Bennet said, adding that “my heart goes out to all of the families and the entire community of Boulder. We have endured too many tragedies as a state. So many other states are the same, here.”
CNN’s Amir Vera, Jason Hanna and Madeline Holcombe contributed to this report.