Sen. Doug Jones (D.), Alabama's new addition to the halls of Congress, used his maiden speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate to call for unity in the gun control debate, even while he attacked the National Rifle Association's "extreme positions" and called for sweeping gun control measures.
Jones, who won a special election in December to fill the seat vacated when Jeff Sessions accepted his post as attorney general, began the speech on Wednesday by denouncing the partisan atmosphere of Washington, D.C. Jones, having denounced how partisanship and gridlock have replaced compromise and consensus, then segued into addressing a topic that has dominated Congress since the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Fla. Citing the dialogue being forged by the survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the senator said he was compelled to devote his first address in the Senate Chamber to the topic of gun violence.
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"In the wake of yet another mass shooting, and the rising voices of young people across the country, it is our responsibility, our duty to have a serious discussion about guns and gun safety," Jones said.
Jones expressed that any solution being proposed would need to balance the interests of both public safety and the constitutional rights accorded by the Second Amendment.
"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 guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the Constitution," Jones said. "Those two concepts … are not mutually exclusive."
The senator then proceeded to reverse course by implying that the discussion surrounding the Second Amendment only served to divide the country while "more lives" perished.
"We can spend days in this chamber debating the meaning of the Second Amendment," Jones said. "We can let our nation further divide itself while more lives are lost … or we can take another path."
Jones expressed his support for Trump administration initiatives to ban the sale of bump stocks. He also urged Congress to pass bipartisan legislation, introduced by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (Texas), to incentive local and state government to streamline information sharing process in hopes of strengthening the background check process. The senator also called on Congress to pass legislation instituting universal background checks for gun sales.
"We have to require background checks on all gun sales," Jones said, "Whether it is at a gun show or over the internet or between individuals."
The senator warned his supporters and gun control advocates to refrain from demonizing Second Amendment groups, like the NRA, before proceeding to chastise those very groups for holding views he considered "extreme."
"You can't simply demonize the NRA and pro-gun groups," Jones said. "I know these groups sometimes take what many, including me, consider extreme positions."
Jones also implored Second Amendment groups to "stop using" what he saw as "scare tactics" that only served to convince law-abiding citizens the federal government intends to confiscate their guns.
"To those who would seek to maintain the status quo, like the NRA, or anyone else," Jones said. "Please stop using scare tactics to try and convince law-abiding gun owners that the federal government is hell-bent on taking their guns away."
Jones further proceeded to denounce the solutions being offered by the very "law-abiding gun owners" he wants to protect from the NRA.
"We also need to get past the idea that more guns in society will make us all safer," he said. "We don't need guns in the hands of school teachers. Simply having more good guys with guns is not the solution."
The senator even suggested that such solutions would only serve to push the nation backward.
"Americans just simply do not want to return to the days of the wild west," Jones said.
Jones, somewhat ironically, finished his speech by proclaiming there would always be forces seeking to sow the seeds of disunity between Americans.
"There will always be forces that seek to sow division and discord. Our challenge and our mission is to prevent them from succeeding," he said. "We can seize this moment by changing the conversation and our country."