Kamala Harris photo

Remarks by the Vice President Prior to a Roundtable Discussion on Gun Violence Prevention in Charlotte, North Carolina

January 11, 2024

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you to -- very much, Secretary Cardona, and for all the work you've been doing. You've been traveling our country these last three years, not only lifting up the voices and the needs of our students but lifting up our teachers, our administrators, and all of the folks who are here at this table as leaders today. So, thank you.

And to all the leaders who are here, Mayor Lyles, I thank you for welcoming us and for the work that you are doing here in Charlotte.

I have traveled here from Washington, D.C., this morning because the work that you all are doing as a community of leaders is so critically important and a real example of what we can do as a country when we do truly see our children and listen to them and understand, yes, their God-given potential and understand what we can do, then, to assist in them actually realizing that potential, including the duty that we each have to ensure that they are safe in every way. Yes, physically safe. That they are safe to dream. That they are safe to learn. That they are just safe to be.

And so, that's why we have convened today.

Principal Denien, I thank you for welcoming us to this beautiful school.

I had the opportunity to -- to meet with some of the students before I came in. We met with no cameras or press in the room because the students have -- each of them who I met with had very tragic experiences with gun violence. And I wanted to talk with them in a way I could listen without them feeling the pressure of having to perform. And their words were the words of very wise people who are much older than these young leaders are; who have thoughts and ideas and a perspective about their rights and our responsibilities as the adults in their life.

And I think about what they shared with us, with the backdrop being that in the United States of America today the number one killer of our children in America is gun violence -- not car accidents, not some form of cancer. Gun violence is the number one killer of the children of America.

I think about this convening and -- and the leadership of everyone at this table in the context of the fact that one in five Americans has a family member that was killed because of gun violence.

And so, those numbers on their face are extraordinarily tragic and shocking.

And when we take the time to consider what those numbers mean, let's understand how many people in our country, including the children, are experiencing profound trauma. Trauma that manifests itself in so many ways, that are both in terms of the emotional impact and then the symptoms that manifest themselves based on behaviors. Not to mention how trauma affects individuals physiologically, which is well documented -- I've been working on this issue for years, back since I was district attorney of San Francisco -- and how that impacts, then, the ability of our children to -- to reach their God-given potential in terms of having the ability to learn and open up their minds and the big brains they have to all that their beautiful teachers are trying to share with them.

It's a serious issue that we are discussing right now. And we can do something about it.

As an administration, President Biden and I and the leaders of the President's Cabinet and so many others have been advocating for what we must do to have reasonable gun safety laws in America. We proudly passed some of the first reasonable gun safety laws in 30 years, but there's more we need to do.

When I was speaking with these young leaders, before I walked in here, they were talking about, "Hey, shouldn't we be looking at people's backgrounds before they can buy a gun?" "Yes, young leaders," I said to them, "you are absolutely right."

Oh, that they were members of Congress. (Laughter.) Because that's reasonable that you might want to know before someone could buy a lethal weapon if they have been proven by a court to be a danger to themselves or others. You just might want to know.

We talked about the need to -- to create safe places for our children so that they can have the room to talk about their feelings. Some of the work that's happening, Madam Principal, here and in this school district and with the leaders here -- the young people were talking to me about having -- having the space to -- and I wrote some notes -- to talk about "social and emotional lessons."

So, the young leaders told me about how, with their teachers, they will -- they find solace and support when they come to the classroom in the morning and the teacher asks them, "On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 to 10, how are you feeling today?"

Sometimes the teacher, they shared with me, will put up different emojis and ask the children to point to the emoji that best describes how they're feeling that day so that they, in the school, in the classroom, with their teacher, can have a safe place to talk about how they're feeling, which we know has everything to do with how they are experiencing life, how they will interact with others, much less how they will be able to learn.

And so, today, we are convening to talk about all of these issues and to talk about the trauma that is undeniable, how it manifests itself in children and young people who you may find want to sleep all day because they just don't want to get out of bed or deal with the realities -- of the hard realities -- of the violence and the pain they feel if they have personally witnessed or have a family member who has been killed or harmed by gun violence.

We've talked about trauma and how it results in young people. We talked about it with -- with the people who go to war -- PTSD, how they relive what is happening in a way that may cause them to act out. But undiagnosed and therefore untreated, what that might mean in terms of marginalizing these children because they just have not had the mental health counseling and attention that they need to heal and to more productively express their feelings.

So, we're here today to talk about many things -- including the need for smart gun safety laws, reasonable gun safety laws -- but the trauma and what we must do then to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of that trauma.

And for all of those reasons, I am proud to be here at this very school to make an announcement, which is that we are announcing $285 million as part of our administration's initiative to hire and train mental health counselors in schools.

In North Carolina, $12 million of those dollars will be received, Mayor, which will include the ability and resources to hire 332 new counselors; and nationally will help to hire over 14,000 mental health counselors for our schools, who can do the kind of work which is to lead in group counseling sessions, one-on-one therapy, and student mediation, social and emotional lessons every day, and just provide a place where those who are trained to do this work can allow the students and the children to check in and to heal.

So, with all of that, again, and our announcement previously of over $6 million for students at -- at schools in -- in communities with high rates of gun violence, we are putting the resources where they are needed. More resources are needed, no doubt.

But let's pay attention to this issue, because we can actually do something about it. And we have the opportunity, then, to address what we know will otherwise be generational and intergenerational trauma. Trauma is something that is not genetically inherited, but it is inherited in terms of if untreated, if there is no intervention, what continues to be trauma building up in communities.

And so, again, I thank everyone here for your courage, for your leadership.

And with that, I'm going to turn it back to Secretary Cardona to mediate and moderate our discussion.

Kamala Harris, Remarks by the Vice President Prior to a Roundtable Discussion on Gun Violence Prevention in Charlotte, North Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/369269

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