THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hey, everybody. (Applause.)
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: It seems like you have some fans here.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, I am a fan of everyone here. And I have — so, I said to John, I’m looking out — all of these extraordinary leaders.
You know, there is so much about what’s happening in our country that can cause people to stay awake at night. But when I look out at this crowd, I know our future is bright. I know our future is bright. (Applause.) Truly.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: Thank you. Well, we’re so glad to have you here. And thank you all for being here. We feel the love all the way up on the stage.
Thank you, John, for that introduction.
I am so excited to also be ushering us into the next decade of this work, doing this shoulder to shoulder with you. So, we’re here in Chicago to celebrate — (applause) — Chicago to celebrate the progress that we’ve made working alongside the strongest gun safety administration in history. (Applause.) We’re all also here to chart a course forward for this lifesaving work. And it’s such an honor and pleasure to have you join us today.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Angela, it’s wonderful to be —
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: Thank you. Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And, Jason, thank you.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: So we are 10 years into Moms Demand Action, rolling up those red sleeves. But you got us beat because you have been doing this — making sure you’re keeping our community safe, preventing the illegal flow of guns into communities — your entire career. You travel the country, meeting world leaders. You also advise the President. So why did you decide to come and join us here at Gun Sense University?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I decided, first and foremost, to come to just thank you all. Let me just start with this. I — I know who’s here. And so many of the leaders who are here are here because you have chosen to translate your grief and your fear into the empowerment of communities and our country. And it’s an extraordinary thing that you are doing on behalf of people you may never meet and people who may never know your name.
It’s extraordinary what you are doing that in the midst of this issue that creates such fear and such trauma and — and such feelings of loneliness, to use your individual leadership and the power of your leadership to remind people that they are not alone and that we exist in a community that cares about fellowship and love and empathy.
I think about who the leaders are here who understand that our measure of the strength of a leader is not based on who you beat down. It’s based on who you lift up. (Applause.) You know?
So, I’m here to thank you. I’m here to thank you.
MR. GEORGE: Oh, well, thank you so much, again, for being here, I just want to say from the bottom of my heart. And thank you all for being here for me personally, because I’m — (applause) — look, I mean, it’s a — it is a personal issue, as you were just saying. For so many of us, it’s — it’s affected us personally in our lives. Loved ones —
I mean, for me personally, it was — my cousin Darrell was a victim of gun violence. We have had issues of domestic abuse in my family where a gun was part of the issue. We have a family friend where a moment of domestic abuse and easy access to a gun means that he will probably never walk out of a prison again.
So, I’ve — in my life, I’ve seen it from all different sides. And you’ve been working so hard for gun safety all this time. I — and you’ve seen the changes in it. I’m just wondering how you’re thinking about this issue right now in this moment.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Vote.gov — (applause). (Laughs.)
MR. GEORGE: Y’all heard her, right? You heard it, right?
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: Right.
MR. GEORGE: Say it loud. Say it — Vote.gov. Say it loud, tell a friend — tell a friend.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: Tell a couple of friends, at least five.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I — as Vice President of the United States, I am acutely aware of the fact that gun violence is the leading cause of death of the children of America. It’s — it’s the number one cause of death — not some disease — well, although this is a form of a disease, to be sure. Gun violence is the leading cause of death of our children.
I don’t need to tell anybody here. But for those watching and listening from afar: One in five Americans has a family member that was killed by gun violence. And when we think then about the tragedy of that and we consider that each incident that occurs — be it an incident that was a mass shooting or everyday gun violence or suicide by gun or an accidental shooting because there was not a lockbox in the safe box — when we think about it, we know that it is so much bigger than the tragedy of that one incident.
The ramifications of it to the individuals who are directly impacted, to the community then that is impacted, and to all of society and — and for a lifetime often. I think that we rightly and the leaders here rightly characterize this as a crisis that requires leadership, because the solutions don’t require, by the way, a whole lot of creativity.
MR. GEORGE: Right. Right.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It’s not like we need to — (applause).
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: Absolutely.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And so I — I very seriously responded to your question with — with my point about voting, because the reality of it is: So much of this issue can be addressed by commonsense, reasonable gun safety laws. But we need elected leaders to have the courage to act. (Applause.)
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: Right.
MR. GEORGE: Say it again. Say it again.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: I think we have some in the room. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And we do. And we do. The members of Congress who are here, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general. We even have — Reverend Jesse Jackson is with us today. (Applause.)
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: Yes.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, there he is.
MR. GEORGE: The legend.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: We see you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
But — but we — we — and here’s the thing about this issue that I think we — again, we all know, and — it is that there are some people who are just trying to sell a false choice, which we know to not buy. That false choice be to suggest that you’re either in favor of the Second Amendment or you want to take everyone’s guns away.
And that’s n- — I believe in the Second Amendment, but I also believe we need to renew the assault weapons ban. We need red flag laws. We need universal background checks. (Applause.)
And, again, I’m preaching to the choir. But here’s the thing: It’s just reasonable that you might want to know before someone can buy a lethal weapon if they’ve been found by a court to be a danger to themselves or others. You just might want to know. (Applause.)
MR. GEORGE: You might. You might.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: It feels like common sense.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It is reasonable to say that a weapon of war, a weapon that was literally designed to kill a lot of human beings quickly —
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: That’s right.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — has no place on the streets of a civil society. (Applause.) It’s reasonable.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: That’s right.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And it — I think it is also reasonable, as a former prosecutor, to say that it is reasonable to say that the — the gun manufacturers should not have immunity from litigation — (applause) —
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: That right there. Yes.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — on this issue.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: That’s right.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You know, you can’t, on the one hand, say — you know, it’s interesting how some of the people who are — who are — there are the people who are fearless and then there are people who are feckless. (Laughter.) And — and it is interesting to me — oh, we’re going to have real talk up here. Right? (Laughter.)
MR. GEORGE: We’re going to get real. We’re going to get real real.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It is interesting to me how some of the very people who refuse to engage in a meaningful debate and discussion on this, who refuse to pass reasonable laws, are the same ones who talk about accountability all the time — (applause) — the hypocrisy of that. And I think all these things need to be called out and addressed in — on this issue.
And we don’t have a moment to spare, nor do we have a life to spare on this issue.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: Right. Not a moment to spare, not a life to spare.
MR. GEORGE: That’s a t-shirt.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: That sure is. And you just named it. You named –when you started speaking about this being the leading cause of death for kids and teens in this country.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Can you imagine?
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: It’s absolutely outrageous and unacceptable. And then when you turn on the TV, it just feels like, every single time, there is news of some other senseless tragedy. And it doesn’t even take into account the daily gun violence and the stories that never even get a headline.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Absolutely right.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: We know in this room that this is a public health crisis and this is an epidemic. So, what is the administration doing to help keep our communities safe and protect them?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. So, John mentioned a number of things. We are proud, President Biden and I and our administration, that we were able to push forward and help pass the first meaningful gun safety legislation in 30 years. (Applause.)
And — and, by the way, you know, there are a lot of organizers here, so you will know this term, but the outside- inside game matters.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: Yes.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Because you are all in these red t-shirts show up everywhere. (Laughs.) I — everywhere.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: We scare some people.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And it matters, and it matters, and it matters. Because you are putting the pressure on the folks who are on the inside to act. It matters.
I know sometimes it feels like: Is it making a difference? And it requires a whole lot of you. It requires you to — to leave your home and all the obligations that come with that in your role of responsibility — in the context of your life and your family — to go to these events, to go to these town halls, to go to these rallies. And it matters, because then you put the pressure on the system so that the system has to hear the voices and respond in some way.
And so, that’s why it’s because of your activism that we then had momentum on the inside to pass this historic legislation. But the President would tell you if you were here; I will tell you: It is historic and it is a drop in the bucket — (applause) — because we still have so much more to do.
And again, that is about universal background checks. That is about the assault weapons ban. It is about all of these other things.
But what we have been able to do, to your point about a public health crisis, is to put substantial resources into things like mental health, put substantial resources into community-based response — (applause) —
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: Right.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — right? — which is so important.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: Incredible.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And — and, you know, on the mental health piece, I don’t need to tell, in particular, the young leaders here how real this is. You know, I — I grew up in California. So, when we started school — elementary —
I know a lot of Californians are here. (Applause.)
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: We got a few people from California here.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Wait — but, look — look what I’m about to do: My husband grew up in New Jersey. (Applause.) (Laughter.)
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: We’ve got Jersey here, too. (Laughter.)
MR. GEORGE: And anybody from Virginia? (Applause.) (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Or Illi- — Illinois. Right? (Applause.)
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: And I’m from D.C., so — (applause) —
MR. GEORGE: That’s just Virginia. We — that’s just Virginia.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Couldn’t help it.
But the — the piece that is about the — so, growing up, when I started school as a — as a young student, first day of school: We learned the teacher’s name; we learned where the bathroom was; we would learn if there’s an earthquake, duck under a desk.
Our babies have been going to school, and on the first day of school, they are learning the teacher’s name, where the bathroom is, and how to sit quiet if there is an active shooter in their school.
I’ve had young students on this issue talk with me and say things like, “Yeah, I really don’t like going to fifth period.” And I said, “Well, why, sweetheart? Why don’t you want to go to fifth period?” “Because in that classroom, there’s no closet.”
AUDIENCE: Awww —
MR. GEORGE: That’s deep.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Our children are supposed to be sitting in a classroom with their mind open to all of the wonders and beauty of the world. And half of their mind, because they are realists and they are paying attention, are concerned about where their chair is situated as it relates to the door of the classroom.
Or you got these — again, I’m going to put them in the same category as all these other people that don’t have the courage to act, who will — some of them will say, “Well, you know, the solution here: Strap a gun to the teacher.”
AUDIENCE: Booo —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Our teachers want to teach. Our teachers want to teach. (Applause.)
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: It makes no sense.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And we don’t pay them enough as it is. (Applause.)
But the trauma piece of this is so very real. The trauma piece of this, where a mother or a father is telling their child, “Honey, when gunfire breaks out at night, jump in the tub, because if you’re laying in the tub, that stray bullet is unlikely to hit you.” This is America. And this kind of self-inflicted harm has got to stop. (Applause.)
MR. GEORGE: As a parent, that hit me hard. That’s a, you know —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MR. GEORGE: You were talking about how these lovely people are busy people, but they take time out of their lives to be activists. You are an incredibly busy woman. You’ve been working for gun safety for so much time. But you also had a lot of the administration’s other issues.
My favorite phrase that you use is that: The right to be safe is a civic right.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: A civil right.
MR. GEORGE: Civil right.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I do believe that.
MR. GEORGE: Is it — and that’s an amazing phrase.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MR. GEORGE: So I’m — but there are a lot of other civil rights and issues that you talk about that you are handling for the administration: LGBTQ+ —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
MR. GEORGE: — reproductive rights —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes. (Applause.)
MR. GEORGE: — voting rights.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. (Applause.)
MR. GEORGE: And in my mind, that puts you in the perfect position to be able to see how — if and how there’s a connection between all those issues. And I wonder if you could speak on that a little bit.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Definitely. And I would put on that list also: fighting that our schools would teach America’s full history. (Applause.)
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: Please, say it. Say it. Say it.
I’m going to get my blood pressure up, Madam Vice President. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. But — but to your point: So, Jason, I’d love — okay, so this is where you’re going to hear the geek in me: I love Venn diagrams. (Applause.) So, I — those three circles — sometimes there’s more — and you —
MR. GEORGE: Geek out. Love it.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And you — and you can tell so much if you just look at where the intersections are. So we’ve — I’ve prepared and I’ve asked my team to prepare a Venn diagram on from where are we seeing the attacks on voting rights, on people’s access and right to reproductive health care, on LGBTQ rights. And then you can put this circle on it and those who refuse to propose and fight for reasonable gun safety laws. And you will see an extraordinary intersection.
And here’s — here’s what that also tells you, and this is the beauty of organizing in all movements: incredible opportunity for coalition building — incredible opportunity for coalition building. (Applause.)
Because to your point about — I do believe that the right to be safe should be thought of as a civil right and —
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — and — and as a human right — I heard somebody in the audience say — and it — and it is about freedom, right?
And including — and this is a very maybe simple point, but I think very important: the freedom to just be. (Applause.) To just be. To be safe. The freedom to exercise your right to exercise your voice through the ballot. The freedom to make decisions about your own body and not having the government trying to tell you what to do. (Applause.) Right? The freedom to love who you love and be open and proud about that. (Applause.)
So, the intersections are — are pretty profound, because there is a collective movement, if we see the connections, that is about freedom. And I will say then, I do believe that when we are in the fight for America to realize her promise and to achieve the foundational principles of freedom and equality, we are acting in one of the most purest forms of patriotism, because we are fighting born out of love of country for America to achieve her ideals and the promise of America. (Applause.) Right?
And I do believe that to be a very true and pure form of patriotism. That we know our country is worth fighting for, we love our country, and we will challenge our country to live up to its promise. (Applause.) Right?
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: Well, this is such a meaningful, incredible conversation already. And I want to spread the love, Madam Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: I want to make sure that we have a couple questions from the audience. So, I first want to hand it over to Brenda Mitchell from Illinois. (Applause.) Brenda.
MR. GEORGE: Brenda is on the home team.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, I see. There she is.
Q My first question is: Your administration has always put victims and survivors of gun violence at the center of its efforts to save lives. I know you personally visited with so many survivors of gun violence, like myself, and seen how the trauma impacts an entire community. What have you learned from traveling across the country and meeting with communities impacted by gun violence? Thank you, Madam.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you. And I had the honor of speaking with you before we came out here. And I just want to thank you again for the courage that you have shown to lead in spite of the extraordinary loss you have suffered. (Applause.)
So, the trauma piece of this is — is — can’t be understated, because also without serious intervention, trauma is inherited — not physiologically, not genetically — but environmentally. Healing is so important.
So, when President Biden and I, when — when we did do the legislation, this piece of it that was about getting more counselors — mental health counselors in schools and community-based intervention — (applause) — was very intentional because the — as I said earlier, the effect of this violence — and we are talking about a violent act. Right?
I don’t mean to get too specific, but I prosecuted homicide cases. I have seen autopsies. I know what it — this violence does to the human body.
And so, we have to take seriously the importance of helping communities heal and not requiring you to do it on your own. I used to when I was — back when I was DA of San Francisco, I used to go and visit with the — it was initially called the Mothers of Homicide Victims, and — and then it changed to the Parents of Homicide Victims. And they would meet — I think was every Thursday evening.
And I would — I was, like, the first person that ev- — DA that ever went to meet with them. And — and we talked a lot about these mothers and fathers who were then counseling mothers and fathers who would walk in because that week they lost their child to gun violence — and the importance of healing and therapy and treating the trauma.
And that’s one of the pieces I just cannot emphasize enough — that as community leaders and as leaders who really do think about healing from a pure perspective, we really do want to always reinforce the importance of people seeking help that is about dealing with the emotional trauma they have experienced. (Applause.)
But the other thing that I — that I see over and over again throughout the country, every year, always and — you know, most recently as vice president, I — I went to Buffalo. Right? So, that’s — that’s a grocery store. I was, you know, in — in Monterey Park. It was a community center. You — July 4th parade. I’ve been to these places. Atlanta. Small businesses.
We also have to — to realize that — that throughout our country, everyday people are having this experience. And these so-called leaders need to hear these voices and — and act — and act in a way that understands this really is about a public health issue as much as it is anything. And we cannot let them get away with politicizing this or pretending that this is some intellectual, ideological debate when there is literally blood on the streets. (Applause.) Because the failure to act is not without consequence.
And so, that’s what I see from traveling the country and all of the folks I have talked with over the years, all of the people I’ve sat with. We just — we need these so-called leaders to hear the people and act. We really do. (Applause.)
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: We really do.
MR. GEORGE: It’s n- — it’s not an intellectual debate.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It’s n- —
MR. GEORGE: There’s blood on the streets. That’s — that’s — thank you for that. And thank you, Brenda, for — for putting that out there. Thank you for all the work you do.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MR. GEORGE: We’re going to throw it out to another audience question from — I think, Erin, from Pennsylvania, is out there. (Applause.)
Q Hi, Vice President Harris.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hi, Erin.
Q I know, good to see you again, today.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You, too.
Q So, as you guys already mentioned, guns are now the leading cause of death for children, teens, and college-aged people in America. I know I’ve grown up witnessing the impacts of gun violence in my home state of Pennsylvania. And I became a leader in Students Demand Action to bring the conversation about this crisis to my rural community and to help f- — lead this fight so the next generation of students don’t have to grow up learning and living in fear of gun violence.
So, my question for you is: How do you see my generation playing a role in this movement? And what do you think we should be doing?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Your generation is critical — is critical — is critical to this issue. (Applause.) You are critical to this issue. We are counting on you. We need you. You are critical to this issue. You are everything, everything, everything. (Applause.)
Because, see, here’s the thing: For your generation — like we were talking about earlier, you know, my generation didn’t have these drills. Your generation is going through all of this, all of these — I mean, on top of what we need to do around saving the planet for you and the children that if you want to have you will have, all that we need to do that is about what is at stake right now for your future. You students demanding action is so critical.
And when you and your peers — and I n- — not you. But when your peers, when your generation starts to vote in your numbers, I see this changing completely. I see this changing completely. (Applause.)
Because you and I talked about it. In terms of the community in which you live, there — people like to legally use guns for hunting and things of that nature. And that’s fine. What we’re talking about is not about that. And you know the difference.
And you know the difference between that issue and the fear of a — an active shooter roaming the halls of your school. And you know what the solutions look like. And you are demanding it, and you’re going to continue to demand it.
You guys are everything. Your generation is everything to this issue. Everything, everything. (Applause.)
So, just register your folks to vote. (Laughs.) Vote.gov! Vote.gov! (Applause.)
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: Vote.gov. And tell five friends at least.
Well, thank you so much, Erin and Brenda, for your very thoughtful questions.
Thank you, Jason, for being here. You always come when we call, and you put your heart into this work. So, we appreciate you. (Applause.)
MR. GEORGE: It takes all of us — all of us.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: Thank you, thank you, thank you.
And mostly, thank you, Madam Vice President. Thank you so much for your leadership. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, thank you.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: Thank you for your tireless work, everything that you do.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We do it together.
MS. FERRELL-ZABALA: We do it together, but what you do makes a difference and it saves lives. We are absolutely proud to have you and President Biden in the White House as our gun sense champions.
Thank you so much. (Applause.)
MR. GEORGE: Give it up one more time — Madam Vice President. (Applause.)