Capital Hilton
Washington, D.C.

2:02 P.M. EST

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Good afternoon.

AUDIENCE:  Good afternoon.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And, President Schieve, thank you for convening us.

MAYOR LUCAS:  Thank you, Madam Vice President.  And say hello, Mayors, to the Vice President.  (Applause.)  (Laughs.)

We are delighted and honored to be with you, but we also discuss an important topic.  Following the onset of the pandemic and the nationwide protests after the murder of George Floyd, we saw a spike in homicides in cities across the country.  Innocent lives were being lost; communities were being shattered. 

But when you and the President took office, you immediately began to address the scourge of gun violence in our country.  The President issued several important executive orders, and federal agencies put policies in place to help reduce the problems of gun violence and to support local prevention and enforcement efforts.

And in 2022, Congress passed and President Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act — (applause) — for those who don’t know, the first piece of legislation to strengthen our gun laws in decades.

And last year, you and President Biden established the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.  Thank you on behalf of all of our cities.  (Applause.)

We have begun to see some progress.  And during 2023, many cities had significant reductions in homicides.  But make no mistake, gun violence remains a serious problem in our cities and in our nation.  But we’re seeing a glimmer of hope, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today.

This past fall, Madam Vice President, you met with over 15,000 students across the country on your “Fight for Our Freedoms” college tour.  What did you hear from them, and what was on their minds?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Good.  Well, thank you, Mayor Lucas.   It’s good to be with you today.  And to all the mayors who are here, let me start by thanking you for the extraordinary calling that you have answered to serve, in particular, at the local government level.  And as — as Tom said, I — I once served as — as District Attorney at the local level.  And so, I fully appreciate what your lives are like.

People recognize you as the face of government.  And they run into you at the grocery store, the gas station, at the — your children’s softball games, and it is you that they recognize as being responsible for and accountable for all of the concerns that they may have about their life and the world.  And you all rise to the level every day. 

And it takes a lot, in terms of personal sacrifice but also a deep commitment to service.  And so, let me start by thanking the U.S. Conference of Mayors and all of the members for the work that you do.  O- — (applause) — thank you to you.

So, on the issue of gun violence, let me start with this.  And back to the point about my previous service, I started my elected career as the elected District Attorney of San Francisco.  And I will tell — (applause) — well, and I will tell you that — and that was following a — a career of being a courtroom prosecutor, where, among the cases that I prosecuted — homicide cases.

So, I have witnessed and — and seen autopsies.  I know what guns do and gun violence does to the human body.  For so many of you, you too know what gun violence does to people, to a community, to families, to the psyche of a community, to the well-being and health of a community.

So, when we have this conversation among us, this is not some intellectual, academic discourse.  It is very real.  It is part of our lived existence.  And it is that approach that I bring, then, to my thoughts about this issue.

So, I started a college tour last fall because, you know, I have to tell you: I love Gen Z.  (Laughter.)  Yes, I know, but I love Gen Z.  And — and it will be a humbling fact to many of us when we realize that anyone who is 18 today, they were born in 2005.  (Laughter.)


THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Indeed.  Yes, wow. 

And this generation, for so many of these issues, it’s a lived experience.  Think about it.  For this generation of — who I call young leaders, they’ve only known the climate crisis.  In fact, they’ve coined a term “climate anxiety” to describe their fears about having children or buying a home for fear that it may be destroyed because of extreme climate incidents.

They witnessed George Floyd being killed.  They endured a historic pandemic where they lost also significant phases of their educational process.  They have, through their lives — and I would ask at the college tour them to raise their hand in these auditoriums: “Who of you, please raise your hand,” I would ask, “had to endure an active shooter drill anytime between kindergarten and 12th grade?”  Almost every hand went up. 

And, in fact, I’d say to the press that was always in the room and the older adults, “Please take a look and take account of this.”  Because I think so many older adults don’t really understand what our children — the children of our community — have been going through.

And so — and, also, they, at the height of their reproductive years, just witnessed the highest court in our land take a freedom from them to make decisions about their own body, such that they will have fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers. 

So, on so many of these issues, it was reinforced for me during this college tour that these are lived experiences and it has had a profound impact on their lives.  And they, therefore, think about these issues with a sense of urgency that the solutions that are often at hand be implemented.  And they are right to demand that we, in positions of elected leadership right now, do something about it with a sense of urgency. 

They are acutely aware of what we know, which is that gun violence is the leading cause of death of the children of America — leading cause of death — not car accidents, not some form of cancer — gun violence.  One in five Americans has a family member that was killed as a result of gun violence.

I have traveled m- — most of your states over the last three years.  I have met with parents who say a silent prayer every time their child gets on the school bus or they drop them off at school that there’s nobody running around with an assault weapon, breaking into their school — the school of their child while they’re at a place where they should be fulfilling their God-given capacity to learn.

So, the young people of our country have lived through this, and they want a change.  And they understand what I think so many of us do: It is a false choice to suggest you’re either in favor of the Second Amendment or you want to take everyone’s guns away.

I am in favor of the Second Amendment.  But is it not reasonable that we would have an assault weapons ban, understanding that assault weapons were literally designed to kill a lot of human beings quickly and are weapons of war with no place on a — the streets of a civil society? 

They want and know — (applause) — they understand — they understand, like so many of us, the logic behind universal background checks, which is pretty simple.  You just 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.  It’s reasonable.

Same point with red flag laws. 

So, on this issue, it is a lived experience, and they are aware of the solutions.  And I think, frankly, when they start voting in their numbers, we’re going to see a sea change.

But I will also say, on this issue, I was just in — in North Carolina, and I met with a — a yo- — a group of young students.  They’re in middle school.  And I convened a group of them without the press — it wasn’t about the press — to talk with them because each one of them had experienced — personally experienced gun violence, either because they witnessed it, they had a family member, or they were there wh- — they witnessed it when — when someone was shot.

And the undiagnosed and therefore untreated trauma that results from violence of any sort and, in particular, gun violence is very real.

I would urge the mayors here — there’s a book that I — I’m very fond of.  It’s called “The Deepest Well,” and it was written by a former surgeon general and talks about the prevalence in our cities — urban, suburban, rural communities — of undiagnosed, untreated trauma and how that can then lead to a number of behavioral issues, obviously, but also physiological symptoms. 

And when we think about our youngest children through — and through adulthood witnessing this kind of violence and the impact it has, then, that becomes almost inherited trauma — not genetically inherited, but inherited from the environment — and what that results in, in terms of behaviors that are not productive for a community, much less harmful to the individual. 

So, all of these issues are the issues that you address as mayors.  So many of you have been leaders in a fundamental way around what we need to do around intervention, what we need to do around community approach, what we need to do around prevention. 

And, as Tom Perez said, the work that we have done through bipartisan work, thankfully — first time in 30 years on the — on gun violence — has resulted in federal dollars flowing to you.  And hope you got it.  Call Tom if you didn’t.  (Laughter.)  But to support the work that you are doing at a local level to address all these issues, including the issue of trauma and treatment and the need for more mental health services. 

During the college tour — and I’ll end with this — I also issued a national call to our young leaders to enter the mental health professions.  And I was thinking and had in my mind from decades earlier — remember? — there was a national call for people to become social workers.  Similarly, we know some of the best treatment that can be offered for anyone who needs assistance is — is peer-based.  And thinking about our young leaders, their learned experience, and then being able to be part of the solution in terms of the — the mental health counseling is also, I think, important. 

MAYOR LUCAS:  Absolutely.  Thank you for that.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)

MAYOR LUCAS:  Thank you so much.


MAYOR LUCAS:  On the topic of fundamental rights and freedoms, you’ve made clear — and I thank you for this — that every American has the right to live safe from gun violence. 


MAYOR LUCAS:  And let’s go back to what you just mentioned with North Carolina.  The administration is making historic progress, was — as was exemplified by your announcement in Charlotte last week —


MAYOR LUCAS:  — of an additional $285 million
to help hire and train school counselors across the country — $285 million for school counselors across the country.  That is just one way you are collaborating with mayors across the country.  But what is your recommendation to mayors as to how we can tackle this epidemic?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, so, you mentioned Charlotte.  And I want to thank Mayor Lyles.  I know you’re here because I just saw you a minute ago.  And we had a — we — so, what we did — Mayor Lyles convened a group of leaders in the community.  And they were teachers; they were schoolboard members; they were parents; they were also parents of — of children who had been killed because of gun violence; mental health providers.

And it was — it was a very productive conversation.  And Mayor Lyles just shared with me that — that the result of that conversation was even more work, which is always my intent. 

I have this saying, among many, which is: “We meet to do our job; our job is not to meet.”  (Laughter.)  I think all of you will appreciate that point. 

And so, that meeting, from it, actually, came more work, which is good.  And it was a — it was an opportunity, I think, for Mayor Lyles, if I can speak for her, to actually have an opportunity to bring folks together who are in some ways working in silos simply because they’re just trying to get through the days and nights with the — fewer resources than they actually need and allowing them to then think about how they can collaborate and work together. 

So, the convening power of mayors is extraordinary.  In addition to, of co- — and because, of course, you, then, as mayors, have the power to convene not only the community-based providers, but the — the folks from city agencies, folks from law enforcement, and — and to create these conversations where, invariably, ideas will come from and — and plans can be hatched to — to create greater synergy. 

So, I would encourage that.  And I would encourage you to, as often as you can, do what you do, which is be a voice for all those folks who must be seen and whose experiences must be known. 

I think there’s so much about the challenges that we face as a nation that end up being minimized through the — the political discourse in a way that really is about politics more than it is substance or policy.  And you all don’t have the luxury of doing that because of what you need to accomplish each day.  And your voices are so credible and important to amplify the experiences of your constituents. 

And I know it’s not easy to do, but it is very important when you do it.  And I thank you for that as well. 

MAYOR LUCAS:  Thank you so much for that as well.  I also want to give a shout-out.  We mentioned it before, but the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention is doing amazing work.  I had the chance to meet with them just a few weeks ago.


MAYOR LUCAS:  I know they have met with mayors, state legislators.  I encourage you — every city, large and small, working on gun violence prevention, reducing intimate partner violence —


MAYOR LUCAS:  — which is a significant issue for us —


MAYOR LUCAS:  — and doing important work. 

So, for my final question.  You have often put the — the fight for freedoms from gun violence in the context of — of more of our fights for freedoms. 


MAYOR LUCAS:  And we know that next week you will begin your “Fight for Reproductive Freedom” tour. 


MAYOR LUCAS:  And we welcome you to Kansas City as part of it. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)

MAYOR LUCAS:  And thank you for doing this tour.

In light of the Dobbs decision, what are the most important things for all of us to do to assure reproductive freedom in our nation?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  I’ll start with this.  I think we can all agree that one does not have to abandon their faith or deeply held beliefs to agree that the government should not be telling her what to do with her body. 

If she chooses, she will talk with her priest, her pastor, her rabbi, her imam, but that the government should not be telling her what to do with her body. 

And if we could perhaps frame the discourse around that so that we understand that this is not about trying to convert someone in terms of their beliefs.  It is simply saying that we respect autonomy and bodily autonomy and, frankly, that we trust women to know what’s in their own best interest.  (Applause.)  And everyone can say that.

So, that is it, in terms of — of a fundamental concept that is at play on the issue of freedoms.  But here’s the other thing about this issue.  And it’s — it — it is, again, an issue where we — we — especially those who serve in local office and — and have direct contact with your constituents on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis — understand —

You know, so, for so many of us — I’m going to judge that most of us — for our entire adult or conscious lives, Roe v. Wade was intact.  And, you know, many of us would, you know, start with, you know, “We are pro-choice; we must protect Roe,” but didn’t necessarily think it was ever going to go away. 

Well, it did.  And there has been a consequence of that that is very real to real people, who are silently suffering every day. 

We are a group of adults.  So, I’m going to just share with you what you may know. 

There are women in America having miscarriages in toilets.  There are women who have been denied emergency care because the healthcare providers at the emergency room are afraid that they may go to jail for assisting these women in giving them healthcare that they want to give.

I shared with you I was a prosecutor.  Well, many of you may not know why.  One of the reasons I became a prosecutor is my best friend in high school, I learned, was being molested by her stepfather.  And when I learned, I said to her, “Well, you — you have to come and stay with us.”  I called my mother.  My mother said, “Yes, she has to come stay with us.”  And she did.

And I decided I wanted to take on the issue of violence against women and children, and most of my career as a prosecutor was to do just that.

I bring that up to say: There are laws that have been proposed and passed that make no exception even for rape or incest.  Understand what that means.  We are saying to a survivor of a crime of violence, a violation of their body, that you don’t have the authority or right to make a decision about what happens to your body next.  That’s immoral.

So, on this issue, I would ask us all who have a voice to consider all those who are silently suffering.

The majority of women who have abortions in America are mothers.  God help her that she has paid family leave, paid sick leave, has a bit of savings to be able to afford a bus or train or a plane ticket to go where she needs to go to get the healthcare she needs if it’s not available in her own state.  Understand what this means. 

And there is a — it is occurring in an environment that also is laden with judgment, as though she’s done something wrong, something she should be embarrassed about.

And as all of us know, when we isolate people, we strip them of their power.  And it hurts our whole community.

So, on this issue, the President has been clear.  We are clear that when Congress puts back in place what the Court took away, President Joe Biden will sign back into law the protections of Roe v. Wade.  (Applause.) 

So, elections matter.  And we’ve got to get there.  We’ve got to get there.

MAYOR LUCAS:  Madam Vice President, on behalf of the United States Conference of Mayors, God bless you. 


MAYOR LUCAS:  Thank you. 

Ladies and gentlemen, the Vice President of the United States.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, all.  (Applause.)

END                  2:23 P.M. EST

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