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Interview with Senator Bob Casey, Jr. MAG
Senator Bob Casey, Jr., (D-PA) has been a member of the U.S. Senate since 2007. He read Annika’s letter and reached out to Teen Ink. Senator Casey agreed to be interviewed, and we are grateful for his time.
Annika Urban: I understand that as recently as 2012 , you opposed stronger restrictions on guns and high capacity magazines, yet more recently, you have been an advocate for tighter gun regulation. What caused this shift in your views?
Senator Casey: Sandy Hook had a profound impact on the way I look at the issue of gun reform. After those 20 students and 6 adults were killed in Newtown, my wife and daughters asked me, “What are you going to do in the Senate? How are you going to vote on measures that would reduce gun violence?” As I reflected on what happened at Sandy Hook, I also thought about the daily tragedy of gun violence that impacts far too many Americans. I determined that those of us in public office had an obligation to take action, which is why I came out in support of measures to reform our gun laws.
Given that you have changed your views on what can be a polarizing issue, what do you think it will take to get others to moderate their opinions?
Young people have begun a movement and it’s the power of those voices that will deliver change. You have the power to make your voices heard, whether it’s communicating with elected officials or voting in 2018 or 2020 or the elections after that. Make sure your elected representatives know where you stand on gun violence, and make sure they listen.
Beyond simply voting for bills proposed by others, what kind of leadership role have you taken or do you hope to take on gun control?
One basic step we should take is funding scientific research on the causes and prevention of gun violence. I’ve requested that the Senate Appropriations Committee repeal the Dickey Amendment, which has limited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) ability to study gun violence, and include $10 million in the 2018 funding bill for the CDC to conduct research that will inform our gun violence prevention efforts. I have also introduced the Disarm Hate Act (S. 1324), which would restrict access to firearms for individuals convicted of violent misdemeanor hate crimes, defined as crimes found to be motivated at least in part by bias and include the use, attempted use, or threat of physical force. Additionally, I am an original cosponsor of the Background Check Expansion Act (S. 2009) to close loopholes in the background check system and the Assault Weapons Ban (S. 2095) to limit the availability of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Given the exact wording of the second amendment, what freedom to regulate guns do you believe that the US government currently has?
We can both respect the Second Amendment to take action to curb gun violence. The reforms being talked about, whether it’s a ban on assault weapons or limits on magazine sizes, they fit squarely within the framework of the Second Amendment.
Do you think that there is a solution to the specific issue of violence in schools that may not be able to be applied to other areas of life but that could be beneficial in a school environment?
There are a lot of commonalities in the gun violence we see, but one area of concern when it comes to gun violence among students is the issue of bullying. Improving school climate, such as the social and emotional health of students, can make schools safer, and research shows that kids who bring weapons to school are more likely to report being bullied or harassed. While we do have federal laws to promote school safety, there is nothing currently in place to comprehensively and expressly address issues of bullying or harassment. That is why, in March, I reintroduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act. This common-sense bill would require that school districts receiving federal funds adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including bullying or harassment based on a student’s actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion. It would also require that incidents of bullying and harassment be reported to the Department of Education, and made public so that parents, teachers and students can see what is happening in their communities.
Do you foresee a future where gun violence has diminished or even nearly completely disappeared? How optimistic are you that this could happen in the next several years? In the next several decades?
As elected officials, we can –and must – take actions that I believe will substantially reduce the likelihood of high levels of gun violence, which is why I support a number of gun reform proposals in the Senate. It’s been inspiring to see so many advocates – especially students and young people – come together to demand action to address not just mass shootings, but the daily gun violence in our communities that usually doesn’t get national news coverage. Young people are going to shape this debate and change the direction of our country on gun reform. I remain encouraged by young advocates that we can work toward a future free from gun violence.
What is the most difficult obstacle you see to reducing gun violence?
There are powerful special interests standing in the way of action on gun violence. We’ve introduced a number of common-sense gun safety proposals in Congress, like universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons, limits on magazine capacity and restricting people on the Terrorist Watchlist from obtaining firearms, but many of my colleagues are not convinced that we should pass some of these reforms. We need to keep the pressure on Republican leadership in Congress – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan – to bring common-sense gun safety measures up for a debate and votes. These Republican leaders control the calendar and they are preventing action.
What is your advice for how students my age can make a difference in terms of policy in any area of concern – not just school violence?
As students, one of the most important things you can do is to keep advocating at all levels of government, and get your fellow students involved. Stay vocal and don’t give up advocating for what you believe in. And when you turn 18, make your voice heard by voting in your local, state and federal elections.
What kinds of clubs/activities were you involved with in high school that led you to where you are now?
I played on my school’s basketball team all four years of high school. As a co-captain my senior year, I learned quite a lot about leadership and the importance of teamwork. My involvement in student government and service work in the local community helped inspire my passion for working with, and learning from, people of all types of backgrounds.
What would you say to a student who wanted to go into politics so that they could help change the world we live in?
If you can get involved in politics at any level, take that opportunity. Try and get involved with both campaigns and government. Volunteering for a candidate, running for office yourself or getting involved with local organizations are all possible outlets for exploring politics. It’s also important to know that you don’t have to be directly involved in politics to make a difference. You can engage in debates in your local community or organize people to get information out about specific issues you care about.
What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your job, and why have you chosen this path for yourself?
My father, Governor Casey of Pennsylvania, and my mother were both great sources of inspiration that helped me choose this path. The most rewarding part of the job is the opportunity to help people directly. Whenever given the privilege of serving your community, it’s important that you honor that commitment. I’ve been particularly proud of the work my team and I have done to assist Pennsylvania residents that encounter difficulties in dealing with federal agencies. Working to pass meaningful legislation into law, including the ABLE Act that has helped make life easier for individuals with disabilities and their families and the Campus SaVE Act, which has helped combat campus sexual assault, has been an incredible honor.
How do you take into consideration the beliefs and opinions of younger and soon-to-be voters?
These are my constituents whether they are of voting age or younger. I have a basic obligation to hear their voices and represent them to the best of my ability. In the past year I have held five town halls, done conference calls with student leaders on gun violence and have heard their feedback through letters and social media. When young people and students weigh in, it really makes an impact.