Hartford – US Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal said they believe there is an appetite among some Republicans to compromise with Democrats in the Senate on gun-related legislation, though time is running out, as a deal must be struck by next week.
They expect to debate and vote on a package next week with or without Republican support, but are welcoming GOP input.
The two Democrats were joined by Connecticut gun violence prevention advocates during a news conference Tuesday morning at the state’s Legislative Office Building. The event was a response to a shooting last week at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers. The advocates – some of whom were affected by the Sandy Hook school shooting that killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., In 2012 – implored lawmakers to address the mass shootings that take place in the US more than any other nation.
Murphy led off the news conference by criticizing Republicans who refuse to deliberate “on the question that is most fundamental to our human existence, our survival, our children’s physical safety.”
“I wish this country didn’t entertain a conversation around the issue of gun violence only after mass shootings,” he said. “There is a slaughter every single day in this country. … I wish this country was willing to step up and have a conversation about the epidemic of gun violence every single day. But the reality is these mass shootings are more charged when 19 children die at one time. For good reason, this country is shaken in a very specific and unique way. And we have to accept that it’s during these moments that the opportunity for change is the most attainable. “
Blumenthal listed several of the gun policies Senate Democrats are looking for middle ground on with their Republican colleagues, including red flag laws, expanded background checks and safe storage – known as “Ethan’s Law” after a Connecticut teen – among others. Murphy said Democrats are not seeking an assault weapons ban because they do not foresee any compromising with Republicans on the subject.
Blumenthal noted two House measures: House Resolution 8, would implement universal background checks, and HR 1446, would close a background check loophole that a white supremacist used to carry out a 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, SC
According to a 2019 national poll, about 90% of Americans supported universal background checks.
Murphy said he and Blumenthal “have been in dialogue with our Republican colleagues exhaustively throughout the weekend trying to find some common ground on changes to our gun laws to make sure that dangerous people don’t get their hands on dangerous weapons.”
Murphy said everything is on the table in negotiations with Republicans, including increased school security and mental health measures. But, he noted that he’d seen “too many kids of color be arrested inside our schools” to be comfortable with more police officers in schools.
He said he is realistic about negotiations on this issue and wouldn’t be surprised if they fell apart, “But make no mistake, we are going to have a debate in the United States Senate.”
“We are going to take votes in the United States Senate on tightening our nation’s gun laws, with or without our Republican colleagues,” Murphy continued. “Now, my plan is for them to be with us. My plan is for us to get a bill, a comprehensive bill, that will save lives. But if we can’t get that compromise, then we’re going to go ahead and put everybody on the record, show the American public who’s taking this threat seriously and who isn’t. “
Blumenthal said he met people during events throughout Memorial Day Weekend, and the most common comment he heard was: “Do something.”
“Americans are saying, ‘Do something.’ Inaction is not an option, ”Blumenthal said. “Inaction is complicity. So I say to my Republican colleagues, we are at a moment. It is a moment of opportunity. It is a moral moment. It is a political moment. It’s a put up or shut up time for the United States Senate. “
Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona continue to stand in the way of efforts by their party to get rid of the filibuster to pass gun reform over Republicans’ opposition votes.
“Part of our challenge is Senate rules that thwart majority rule, Senate rules that require a 60-vote threshold. I’ve long opposed those rules, ”Blumenthal said. “Part of making democracy work is adopting rules that enable majority rule … if my colleagues refuse to do their job, then they’ll have to answer to the American people.”
At the news conference, Blumenthal also criticized the police’s response to the Uvalde shooting – police reportedly did not approach the shooter for an hour. He said they waited far too long.
“I welcome a Department of Justice inquiry into how this incident was handled. The stories that I heard, the images that I saw, were heartbreaking and stomach-turning beyond words,” Blumenthal said. “The apparent law enforcement failure here, contrary to the protocols that Connecticut and other states have adopted, deserves the most serious and searching scrutiny.”
Advocates call for action
Co-Founder and Chairwoman of the Newtown Action Alliance Po Murray, whose neighbor killed the 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, said she was encouraged when she woke up Tuesday morning to the news that “Democrats would be voting on the Protect Our Children package of life-saving gun bills. “
“The omnibus package bill includes raising the purchasing age for semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, banning the import, sale, manufacture of transfer of high-capacity ammunition magazines, ban bump stocks and possession of new bump stocks for civilian use, amend the definition of ghost guns, and to require background checks for all sales “and” passing Ethan’s Law will be on the table, “Murray said, adding that she and others have been pushing for comprehensive packages like this one for 10 years.
Connecticut passed Ethan’s Law requiring proper storage of firearms in 2019. It is named after Ethan Song, a 15-year-old killed in 2018 while handling a gun at a neighbor’s home. His mother, Kristin Song, is asking Congress to pass the same legislation on the federal level now.
“The day I watched my beautiful boy Ethan be lowered into the ground, I made a promise to him. I promised him I’d fight to protect and save other children, ”Song said Tuesday. “Early this morning, Po Murray texted me, and I found out that Ethan’s Law would be part of a federal life-saving package that will be voted on next week in the House. And the first person I wanted to tell was Ethan. … So I drove to the cemetery in my pajamas this morning and I ran across the cemetery yelling, ‘Ethan, we did it. Your life-saving legislation will be heard and will be voted on. ‘
Mark Barden, CEO of Sandy Hook Promise, which he co-founded after his 7-year-old son Daniel Barden was killed at Sandy Hook, said December marks the 10th anniversary of that shooting.
“Can we start this conversation with, we all want to protect our children, we all want our communities to be safer? Because we can, it’s always been possible, ”Barden said. “It doesn’t have to inflict any kind of infringement on anyone’s rights to buy a firearm. Community-based violence intervention programs, and smart gun safety laws like we’re talking about here today. Universal background checks … red flag laws, secure storage … there are solutions that are available to us now. “
Hartford Reverend Henry Brown said it doesn’t make sense to be again discussing students and teachers who lost their lives.
“We see mass shootings in our community every day, we see people dying every day, in our communities, and we’re sick of it. Parents are sick of it. People who live in Hartford are sick of it, ”Brown said. “What we need to do is say … we will no longer tolerate this in America. … We need to do more. Use your voice. Get out. Go to people. Talk to people. We need to come together, all of us, so we can have a voice in Washington. And let the people know, either you do your job or we vote you out. “
Jeremy Stein, the executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, held up two pictures, one of an assault rifle, the other of the faces of the children who were killed in Uvalde.
“Who are we choosing? What are we choosing here? What are we choosing to protect? Are we choosing this? Is that what we want to protect?” Stein asked, raising up the picture of the gun. “Or are we going to do our job and protect our children? Nineteen children this time, 26 the last time, 17 before that. How many more is it going to take before this country wakes up and decides to protect our children, our mothers , our fathers, our brothers and sisters? “
Cindy Carlson of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was on the library staff at Sandy Hook at the time of the shooting.
“I identify deeply with the staff at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, and I wonder about their school librarian. I want to go shelve books for them so they can take time to grieve, ”Carlson said at Tuesday’s news conference. “I want to bear witness when they set aside 19 library cards just the way we put a rubber band around 20 library cards at Sandy Hook. I want to support them as they mark books lost in their catalog so the shattered parents don’t get automatic overdue notices … I want to suggest like we did a spreadsheet to keep track of all the funerals they want to attend. “