As we pause on Earth Day to reflect on our stewardship of this planet, we must remember the importance of land conservation and ensuring access to natural, historic and cultural sites. August 25, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. The 394 units of the National Park System are some of our Nation's most treasured sites. Each year, millions of Americans visit National Parks to discover and appreciate our country's history and culture. Pennsylvania is proudly home to 19 National Parks, 7 National Heritage Areas, 27 National Natural Landmarks, 167 National Historic Landmarks, 3,356 National Register of Historic Places listings and one World Heritage Site. These sites are economic drivers for communities, contributing $649.7 million in economic output in the Pennsylvania economy in 2015, according to the National Park Service, and providing recreational and educational opportunities throughout the Commonwealth.
National Parks allow us to celebrate the history of Pennsylvania as a leader in industrial development at Steamtown National Historic Site or Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, the birthplace of America and the site of key battles in the Revolutionary War and Civil War that shaped our country’s future. These sites pay tribute to the lives lost in the Johnstown Flood of 1889 or the brave men and women of Flight 93. National Parks protect the rivers and trails of Pennsylvania, remind us of the sacrifices that built our country and honor those who came before us. We must ensure that these and other National Parks, Historic Sites, Trails or Recreations Areas throughout the Commonwealth and country can continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.
The Annual White House Easter Egg Roll is on Monday, March 28th. As in past years, the White House is conducting an online lottery to choose the lucky winners of tickets. Pennsylvanians wishing to attend must register for the lottery before the February 17th deadline at Recreation.Gov.
This week we mark the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwitz and International Holocaust Memorial Day. It is important that we reflect on the past and on the murder and torture of millions of Jews at the hands of the fascist Nazi regime, as well as the individuals who survived this brutality. This year’s theme for International Holocaust Memorial Day reminds us, “Don’t Stand By,” as we each have a responsibility to stand up against discrimination and attacks on religious freedom. I am very concerned about the rise of anti-Semitic sentiments, especially in Europe. I urge Pennsylvanians to join me in taking a moment to reflect and to work together to ensure the horrors of the Holocaust are never repeated.
Today, as we take the time to reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let us honor his commitment to service and civil rights laws that helped make our Nation stronger, more equal, and truer to the principles upon which it was founded. We must always be reminded of the America Dr. King dreamed of, where justice and acceptance triumph over hate and separation. This America guarantees a fair shot for all, including the right to fully participate in the progress and process of our country. In the almost 50 years since Dr.King’s passing, there is still much work to be done to protect hard-won rights and advance the cause of equality. As a member of Congress, I will continue to fight for equal rights and justice in our communities. This includes supporting restoring the Voting Rights Act, reforming the criminal justice system, increasing investment in early learning for our most vulnerable children and promoting an economy with rising incomes. All of us, lawmakers and citizens together, must remain vigilant in ensuring that all Americans have an equal opportunity to pursue the American Dream.
On a Friday morning three years ago, 20 six and seven year-old children went to school in Newtown Connecticut and never came home. These boys and girls, as well as six adults, were killed by bullets fired at close range from a high-powered rifle. Each child was struck multiple times as the shooter fired more than 150 rounds within five minutes. I shudder to think what the gunman would have done given more time.
On the three-year anniversary of that dark day at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we pray for those who lost their lives and their families who live with the pain of that day. We also have an obligation to act to reduce gun violence.
Since that Friday in Newtown, a gun has been fired on school grounds nearly once a week for a total of 144 school shootings, including five in Pennsylvania, according to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety. That means that almost every single week, some number of young people in this country, whether it’s six year-olds bouncing down the hall in elementary school or sophomores hurrying to the library in college, will feel the threat of gun violence.
As recent events around the nation show, the problem extends far beyond school campuses too. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of over 32,500 Americans are killed by guns each year, including 1,400 in Pennsylvania. This crisis of violence has gone too far, and as elected representatives we in Congress have a duty to act.
In April 2013, the Senate took up a bipartisan set of proposals that would have expanded background checks for firearms sold at gun shows and on the Internet, improved the ability of law enforcement to tackle the problem of illegally transferred guns, and limited possession of certain high-capacity ammunition magazines and military-grade weapons. Like many of my colleagues and millions of Americans, I am deeply disappointed that these measures were blocked, particularly in light of the overwhelming public support they enjoyed.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Senate again took up the same proposal to expand background checks and keep firearms out of the hands of those who wish to commit violence. The Senate also took up another commonsense piece of legislation, which I cosponsor, that would close a loophole in the law to prohibit suspects on the terrorist watchlist from purchasing firearms. I was again extremely frustrated to see these measures fail to gain enough Republican support to pass. We have to do better.
As a parent and an elected official, I have a duty to protect our children from harm. We must come together around commonsense steps to reduce gun violence. We have before us a wide range of options worthy of consideration, from expanding background checks and banning the most lethal weapons and accessories, to funding research on gun violence and improving mental health services.
I support the Second Amendment and know that the vast majority of gun owners use their firearms responsibly, whether by participating in Pennsylvania’s rich tradition of hunting and sport or for self-protection. The simple fact is, far from infringing on the Second Amendment rights of these law-abiding citizens, commonsense solutions to reduce gun violence would enhance their freedom. All Americans should be free to study or work or worship without feeling in danger. While no single piece of legislation will prevent every tragedy, each may contribute to a safer society. I refuse to believe we cannot find common ground on this issue, it is too important.
As we pause to reflect on the massacre in Newtown on this sad anniversary, as we offer our thoughts and prayers, let us also commit to the work of preventing future tragedies. For our children’s sake, Congress must seize this opportunity and act to reduce gun violence.