Remarks by Vice President Harris in a Moderated Conversation with Angela Ferrell-Zabala and Xochitl Gomez on the Impact of The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act

Southwest Career and Technical Academy

Las Vegas, NV

12:46 P.M. PDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Hi, everyone.  (Applause.)

Good afternoon, everyone.  Good afternoon. 

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  Hello, everybody.  We ready to go?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Yes.  (Applause.)

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  All right.  Let’s get this started.

So, I first want to thank Attorney General Ford, who is here with us, and Representative Titus for joining us today.  (Applause.) 

And thank you so much, Madam Vice President.  So, good to see you again.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Good to see you again.  And it’s —


THE VICE PRESIDENT:  — great to be back in Las Vegas.

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  Yes.  So, I want to talk about the fact that you travel around this country connecting with communities and young leaders.  And, in fact, just this past fall, you did the “Fight for Our Freedoms” college tour, where I hear you engaged with over 15,000 students on college campuses across the country on the most urgent issues before us — in particular, the fight for our most fundamental freedoms.

One freedom that you’re focused on is the freedom to be safe from gun violence.  And tragically, we know all too well how important this issue is because our communities have faced it firsthand right here in Nevada.

You’ve been a leader on so many issues throughout your career, including this one.  So, it’s no surprise that you were named to oversee the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.  (Applause.)  That deserves claps.

So, my question is: What can we do to end this senseless violence that is harming our communities?  And what is the administration doing to lead on this issue?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  And, Angela, I want to thank you for your leadership.  Moms Demand Action, the work that you — there is Students Demand Action, just the whole group — for years, you all just show up and remind people of the real impact of gun violence in America on parents, on students, on children.  And so, I thank you for your leadership.

Xochitl, it’s so good to see you again.  And thank you for being here and being a part of this —

MS. GOMEZ:  Thank you.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  — and using your voice in such a courageous way. 

And it is wonderful to be back in Nevada and here in Las Vegas.  So, thank you all for being here.

So, you know, I just actually met, before I came on stage, with three students who survived the December shooting at UNLV.  And they’re so courageous, these young leaders.  And their stories, sadly, are the stories of so many young people in our country and the stories that I heard continuously during the college tour.

And their stories reflect a very tragic fact, which is that in America today, the number-one cause of death of our children — the number-one cause of death of the children of America is gun violence — not car accidents, not some form of cancer.  Gun violence. 

Today in America, one in five people has a family member that was killed by gun violence.

And, you know, it doesn’t have to be this way.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

During the college tour — and it was — it was universities, it was colleges, it was state colleges, it was trade schools — college-aged young leaders.  And I would ask every — in every room that I went, I would ask, “Please raise your hand” — I’d look at the students, the young people — “Please raise your hand if at any time between kindergarten and 12th grade, you had to endure an active shooter drill.”

In fact, I’ll ask the students right now.  Anybody who’s here, if at any point between kindergarten and 12th grade, did you have to endure an active shooter drill? 

I’d like the older adults and the press to look at what we’re seeing — the number of hands that go up. 

When I would talk with young people — I talked with one particular younger student and — on the subject of active shooter drills, and that student said to me, “Yeah, I — that’s why I don’t like going to fifth period.”  And I said, “Why, sweetheart?  Why don’t you like going to fifth period?”  “Well, because, in that classroom, there’s no closet to hide in.”

The idea that our children and our young people are sitting in a room where they are supposed to be enjoying the wonders of the world and exploring with enthusiasm all that there is to learn and that any part of their mind is also concerned that someone might bust into the classroom — so, this issue is tragic on every level.

I was just recently in Parkland, Florida, and I met with the parents and family members of the victims of that horrendous mass shooting.  I also — they’ve — they’ve preserved the school, the building where it happened.  It’s going to be destroyed soon.  But they’ve — they’ve preserved it in a way that it has stopped at a moment in time.

And so, I walked through the hallways and into the classrooms where that shooting took place, which was maintained as — as basically a crime scene.  And I will — I want to spare anybody here the — the image of what I saw, but I’m not going to, because I think people have to understand the significance of this.

It was a moment frozen in time.  So, there was blood in the hallways.  There were sheets of homework that were spewn around the classrooms, chairs and desks that were upturned.  There wa- — backpacks.  Th- — it happened Valentine’s, and so Valentine’s wishes. 

This is what we’re talking about.  And it doesn’t have to be this way. 

On this issue, we have within our grasp, within our means things that we can do that can mitigate against, that can reduce the likelihood of these things happening. 

I don’t need to tell Nevada this — 1 October, the tragedy of that.  But thankfully, the leaders of Nevada, starting, I would say, with so many of our young leaders — Moms Demand Action and others — pushed for things like safe storage laws, saying we can put in place some smart rules to reduce the likelihood of gun violence.

And let me just be clear: Part of what I think has bogged this situation down and has not allowed for the kind of smart policy that we know can happen is because people, some, are pushing a false choice which suggests you’re either in favor of the Second Amendment or you want to take everyone’s guns away.  I’m in favor of the Second Amendment, and I believe we need assault weapon bans.


THE VICE PRESIDENT:  We need background checks — universal background checks.  We need red-flag laws.  (Applause.)

But, you know — and then we — one of the things that I announced last week that we’re — we’ve been very proud to do — President Joe Biden, me, and our administration — is to close the gun show loophole.


THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, I was talking with my team about it, and I said, “You know, I’ve been working on this thing for a long time.”  They said, “What a- — what are you talking about?”  Well, they found the pris- — press clippings, because back in 2007 — I know half this room was not born then.  (Laughter.)  Back in 2007, when I was the elected DA of San Francisco, I was out at the place called the Cow Palace in San Francisco protesting the gun show loopholes.

And so, we’ve — so many of us — have been in this movement for a long time to — to close that loophole, which essentially is this: Gun dealers — registered gun dealers are required to do background checks. 

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  That’s right.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  But if a gun dealer is — is selling guns at a — let’s call it a flea market or a gun show, they bypass the requirement to do background checks.  And, of course, where do you think the bad guys are going to go to get their guns?  The place where nobody’s going to check into their background.  Right?

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  Right.  Right.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And so, we have finally closed that — that loophole.  And — and I say that to say also that those of us who are in this movement, we do see progress and, therefore, we cannot give up.  We cannot give up.  (Applause.)

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  That’s right.  We absolutely see progress.

Before I ask the next question, I just want to honor survivors that are amongst us —


MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  — and those that have been taken from us too soon.  You are the heart and soul of this movement and why we get up and put one foot in front of the other and do this work every single day.  So, thank you so much.

So, Madam Vice President, one important solution for gun violence prevention that doesn’t get enough credit or attention, which you spoke about, is secure firearm storage.  So, Nevada has passed a few secure storage measures into law over the past several years, which shows how communities and advocates and state and local leaders can prevent a tragedy that can strike when guns are not properly stored, whether it’s a child that finds a firearm and hurts themselves or someone else or someone that may take this firearm or steal it to commit a crime.

So, why is secure storage so important for gun safety and gun violence prevention, especially when we are thinking about the young leaders here today?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Secure storage is exactly what it suggests.  It’s about the responsibility that any gun owner should feel and have to secure that gun so that children, young people, those who don’t have the authority to use the gun don’t have access to it.  It’s just — it’s just that basic. 

Put it in a lockbox, because — especially if a young person is just curious or, you know, wants to, you know, play with a gun — let’s not make it too easy to get. 

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  That’s right.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And that’s what secure storage is about. 

You know, the — the numbers that I have seen suggest that as many as 75 percent of school shootings resulted from an — from a gun that was not secured.  Tragically, as many as 80 percent of youth suicide is a gun that was not secured.

So, I, again, applaud the leaders of Nevada for saying, “Hey, it’s — you know, just — I’m not saying I’m going to take your gun.  Just, you got a gun; lock it up.”

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  That’s right.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And, also, secure storage includes keeping ammunition separate from the gun, because we also want to just make sure that there would have to be some level of — of thought and reflection that goes into anyone pulling a gun out and thinking about using it.

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  That’s right.  Yes.  Thank you so much, Vice President.

MS. GOMEZ:  Madam Vice President, gun violence and so many other things in our lives cause trauma and impact our mental health.  This is especially true for young people like me and I’m sure a lot of the students in this room.  You know, our generation has grown up with active shooter drills and so much more, and I know this firsthand, sad- — sadly.  And I know that you care about this and have brought attention to the issue. 

So, I guess I want — want to know: What is the administration doing to help address this and better help and support our mental health? 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Xochitl.  We are talking about trauma and a profound amount of trauma that exists in our communities as a result of gun violence, whether it be the trauma that is associated with a child having to go to school and endure active shooter drills and always having on their mind, at some point, being nervous or concerned that their life might be in danger just by going to school.  

There’s the trauma associated with parents, who — many will say a silent prayer when they drop their kids off at school that that child will come home at the end of the day safe.

There is the trauma associated with everyday gun violence in America, which far too many communities are experiencing.

And a lot of that trauma goes undiagnosed and untreated.  And as I was — as I do talk with many survivors of gun violence, you know, trauma is — it’s on — it’s a big wound that is invisible to the eye but can be very present.  And we got to help people find productive ways of healing.

And so, mental health is about recognizing that the body doesn’t just start from the neck down when we talk about healthcare; there’s also the healthcare we need from the neck up, and that’s mental health care. 

And so, the work that we’ve been doing as an administration is to deal with this on a number of levels, and one is that in our Bipartisan Safe Communities Act that we got passed — the first meaningful gun safety legislation in 30 years, that President Biden and are proud that we could get passed with bipartisan support, which (inaudible) —

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  That deserves applause.  (Applause.) 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Yeah.  (Laughter.) 

And so, part of what we did there is we put a billion dollars into getting resources to public and — and — schools — to public schools to hire mental health counselors in public schools. 

But to the point of even just talking with the — the young leaders that I just spoke with from UNLV, we still have so much more work to do to make sure that mental health services are available to meet the demand.

One of the things I love about Gen Z — and I love many things about Gen Z — your generation is willing to talk about mental health and the need for support.  You know, older generations still kind of have a stigma about it.  Younger generations are so much smarter on this subject, which is they want to talk about it.  But when they talk about it, we — those of us who are in a position to do something about it — got to make sure the resources are there for them.

And so, there is still a lot more work to be done.  But it makes a difference, because it is about healing.  It’s about creating safe spaces where people can talk about their fears and not feel that they’re being judged.  And that’s very important. 

Everyone, I believe, has a right to feel and be safe.  And there are many ways we will get there, and one of them is to make sure people have the support they need to deal with the emotional impact of this.  Yeah.

MS. GOMEZ:  That’s — yeah.  (Applause.)

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  Yes, claps.

MS. GOMEZ:  Madam Vice President, you are an inspiration.  You know, personally — I’m sure like a lot of us here in this room — I look up to you.  You know, this room is full of passionate young leaders, and you have called on us to take charge.

So, I guess, I — we — we’d like to know: What advice would you like to leave us with today?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Oh, I’ve got plenty of advice.  How much time do you have?  (Laughter.)

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  Let’s hear it.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me start with a — a challenge that I would issue, and I did it — I started it during the college tour.  But for all the young leaders here who are thinking about your life and your — your role of leadership as you go on in life, I’m going to challenge you to consider a profession in the mental health — the mental health professions, of which there are many. 

But do think about that, because one of the most effective ways that we offer mental health is to do it based on peer support, which is people who have gone through something are usually best equipped to help people who are going through that thing.  And so, I would challenge you then.

Okay.  So, let’s see.  Let me start with this: Never allow yourself to be limited by other people’s limited ability to imagine who can do what.  Do you understand what I’m saying?  I see everybody nodding over there.  (Laughter.)  You know what I’m saying.

Don’t ever listen to people who look at you and say, “Ah, you’re too young.”  “Ah, nobody like you has ever done that before.”  “Ah, wait, your turn.”  “Ah, it’s going to be so much work.” 

Don’t you listen to that.  Don’t you ever listen to that.

I like to say I eat “no” for breakfast.  (Laughter.)  I don’t hear “no” until maybe it’s spoken the 10th time.

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  I’m going to use that now. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Oh, I eat “no” for breakfast.

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  I’m going to use that. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Remember your power right now.  You know, there’s something that’s been happening in our country over the last several years that I think is so unfortunate and — and very upside down, which is that some would suggest that the measure of your strength is based on who you beat down, instead of understanding the true measure of an individual’s strength, I believe, is based on who you lift up.  It — (applause) — right?  Truly. 

And if you ever question your strength as an individual, see what happens when you help someone — just one person — with anything and what that does for them.  That’s your strength, and it’s a superpower.  It’s a superpower to have some level of concern and consideration for the well-being of other people and then take it upon yourself to do something about that.

More advice?  Okay, yes.  (Laughter.) 

Don’t you ever let anybody tell you who you are.  You tell them who you are. 

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  That’s right.  (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  A piece of advice my mother gave me: You may be the first to do many things; make sure you’re not the last.  Okay?  (Applause.)  Okay.

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  I hope you’re taking notes, y’all.  I hope you’re taking notes.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, I think I’m going to end with that one.  (Laughter.)  I could keep rolling. 

But — but, you know, dream with ambition.  I say, to each one of you, dream with ambition.  Ambition is a good thing.  It’s good to believe that you can do something and then go for it.  Go for it, and know that you will have a community of people — sometimes you don’t see them, but you got to know it — that will applaud you as you go out there and go for it.

You know, and — and remember that there may be many times where you might be the only one in a room — be it a boardroom, a meeting room — who looks like you or who has had your life experience.  But I want all the young people to look around this auditorium to know that we will all be in that room with you.

So, never feel alone in a way that allows a circumstance to make you feel small.  Know that you have a community of people who applaud your ambition and want you to go out there and go for it.  Okay? 

Always remember that —

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  Thank you so much.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  — because our country will be the better for all that you guys do.

So, there we go.  That’s it.  Enough of that.  (Laughs.)  (Applause.)

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:   Yes, I appreciate you, Madam Vice President.  Thank you so much for your leadership.  And thank you for imparting such wisdom on these young students. 

I watch you all the time and follow you, and I see your passion for young leaders.  You understand how important it is to pour into them because that is the strength of this country.  Right?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  That’s right.  That’s right.


THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And the future of our country, starting right now.

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  100 percent, I’m with you. 

Well, thank you so much.  I appreciate it.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you.

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  Thank you, Xochitl.

MS. GOMEZ:  Thank you.  (Applause.)

MS. FERRELL-ZABALA:  Thank you, everybody, for being here. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, all.

END                1:09 P.M. PDT

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