Durbin Questions Witnesses At Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing On The Dangers Of Civilian Access To Military-Style Assault Weapons

Hearing follows the Independence Day Parade mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois – the 309th mass shooting this year

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned today’s witnesses during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “After the Highland Park Attack: Protecting Our Communities from Mass Shootings.”  This hearing—the Judiciary Committee’s tenth hearing held in the 117th Congress on aspects of the nation’s gun violence epidemic—focused on the dangers of widespread civilian access to military-style assault weapons that can be used to kill large numbers of people in mere seconds.

Durbin began by asking Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering whether or not she believes a “good guy with a gun” could have stopped the shooter in Highland Park, who was armed with an AR-15 style assault weapon.

“Mayor Rotering, the gun lobby often claims that the best way to stop mass shooters is to have lots of people to carry guns, so bystanders can engage a mass shooter and shoot them as well.  Of course, that approach is good for the gun lobby’s goal of selling more guns.  The New York Times recently looked at 433 active shooter attacks since the year 2000 to see how many times a bystander stopped a mass shooter.  It happened 22 times out of 433 mass shootings, about five percent.  Ten of those incidents, half of them, involved a bystander who happened to be a security guard or off-duty police officer.  So it can happen, though it is pretty rare, statistically,” Durbin said.  “My question to you is this: how much can we count on a good guy with a gun to stop a mass shooter when the mass shooter has an AR-15 style assault weapon that can empty a 30-round magazine in about as many seconds?”

Mayor Rotering responded that in Highland Park “we had good guys with guns on site who were trained who got there within seconds” but it was difficult to quickly identify the shooter’s location with bullets ricocheting off of walls. 

Durbin asked the Mayor if law enforcement in Highland Park was outgunned by the shooter. She answer “they were, and literally because it was so quick, they got there within seconds, but hundreds of people had hundreds of explanations” of where they thought the shooter was located.

Durbin then questioned Professor Joseph Blocher, Professor and Co-Director of the Center for Firearms Law at the Duke University School of Law, about the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen and what it says about potentially banning assault weapons or requiring training before an individual can own an assault weapon.

Professor Blocher responded that the decision did not question the legality of such laws, which had been previously upheld by courts as constitutional, and that the question going forward will be whether, under the Supreme Court’s Bruen test, assault weapons constitute the kind of dangerous and unusual weapons which the Court in Heller and Bruen emphasized can be prohibited consistent with the Second Amendment.

Durbin also pushed back on the argument that AR-15 style assault weapons are merely “inanimate objects.”

“Let me stick with the inanimate object argument, which we’ve heard—it’s just a piece of material, weaponry, plastics and steel and so forth.  And I wonder how that logic applies to grenade launchers?  We don’t allow those to be legally sold to Americans.  They are just inanimate objects.  We don’t allow automatic weapons to be sold to Americans, which holding the trigger continues to fire round after round after round.  Can you describe whether you think there is an analogy?” Durbin asked Professor Blocher.

Professor Blocher responded by saying that weapons, and firearms specifically, intensify violence, and said “I think there’s not much to the idea that the instrument alone is inert.  Of course it is.  The question is what happens with that instrument in various situations, whether it’s being put to good use or bad.”

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.