Sen­a­tors op­ti­mistic on back­ground check bill

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Dan Freedman

WASH­ING­TON — Con­necti­cut’s Demo­cratic sen­a­tors are ex­press­ing guarded optimism on new gun leg­is­la­tion in the af­ter­math of mass shoot­ings in El Paso and Day­ton, with Sen. Chris Mur­phy talk­ing to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Tues­day in a phone call that Trump de­scribed as “a very good con­ver­sa­tion.”

Mur­phy, who along with Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal has carved out a lead­ing po­si­tion on guns among Se­nate Democrats, talked to Trump about a path to re­viv­ing the 2013 back­ground­checks bill that stalled in the Se­nate just four months af­ter the mass shoot­ing at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School, ac­cord­ing to the New York Times.

Mur­phy won na­tional recog­ni­tion on the gun is­sue in 2016 af­ter hold­ing the Se­nate floor for nearly 15 hours to de­mand votes on leg­is­la­tion that Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R­Ky., had re­fused to

bring up. McCon­nell ul­ti­mately sched­uled the votes, but they re­sulted in de­feat for Mur­phy and the Democrats.

How much times have changed in three years is an open ques­tion. The House, now un­der Demo­cratic con­trol, passed two gun bills in Fe­bru­ary. All of Con­necti­cut’s five Demo­cratic House mem­bers voted in fa­vor of them.

In the Se­nate, how­ever, McCon­nell re­mains in charge. With the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion still a po­tent GOP backer, de­spite internal per­son­nel and fi­nan­cial prob­lems, McCon­nell had shown no ap­petite for bring­ing the House bills to the floor.

But all that may be chang­ing in the af­ter­math of the hor­rific El Paso and Day­ton mass shoot­ings ear­lier this month, which left a to­tal of 31 dead. McCon­nell has said the two Housep­a­ssed bills will be “front and cen­ter” when the Se­nate re­con­venes af­ter its sum­mer break.

The first expands back­ground checks to most pri­vate gun sales, in­clud­ing those at gun shows. Un­der cur­rent law, only fed­er­ally li­censed gun deal­ers are ob­li­gated to do checks on all sales. The sec­ond, in­tro­duced in the Se­nate by Blu­men­thal, would extend the dead­line for the FBI to com­plete checks from three days to 10.

“Look, it’s very sim­ple: There is no­body more pro­Sec­ond Amend­ment than Don­ald Trump, but I don’t want guns in the hands of a lu­natic or a ma­niac,” Trump told re­porters Tues­day.

Trump also said Wed­nes­day he be­lieves McCon­nell “wants to do some­thing,” as do many Re­pub­li­cans. But he added with­out fur­ther ex­pla­na­tion: “I don’t know, frankly, that the Democrats will get us there.”

In an in­ter­view, Blu­men­thal said that un­like the af­ter­math of Sandy Hook in which ex­panded back­ground checks stalled in the Se­nate and never got con­sid­ered in the House, things may be dif­fer­ent now.

“But that’s no guar­an­tee there will be real and ef­fec­tive ac­tion,” he said. “The Amer­i­can pub­lic is com­ing to re­al­ize that enough is enough.” Tak­ing ac­tion on guns is “now be­com­ing part of the Amer­i­can con­scious­ness.”

Jeremy Stein, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Con­necti­cut Against Gun Vi­o­lence, said that although he sees Con­necti­cut as a role model for state ac­tion on guns, it is not im­per­vi­ous to guns eas­ily traf­ficked from other states with weaker gun laws.

“You’re only as safe as your sur­round­ing states,” he said, point­ing to New Hamp­shire and Maine. “Get with the pro­gram, New Eng­land.”

The 2018 elec­tion brought vic­tory to Democrats in the House in part be­cause of the sharp con­trast on gun leg­is­la­tion. Both Blu­men­thal and Mur­phy have cited th­ese vic­to­ries in say­ing that un­like the past when Democrats in swing dis­tricts shoved the gun is­sue to the side, Democrats in all cor­ners of the na­tion are em­brac­ing new lim­its.

But the path to en­act­ment of new gun laws re­mains fraught with po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty and am­bi­gu­ity. Blu­men­thal said he is wary of po­ten­tially watered­down leg­is­la­tion, enough to please the GOP base and the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion but not enough, in his es­ti­ma­tion, to be truly ef­fec­tive. Any hint of cav­ing in to Re­pub­li­cans risks fur­ther alien­ation of the party’s al­ready dis­con­tented left wing.

Re­pub­li­cans also have their base to con­sider. NRA mem­bers and staunch Sec­ond­Amend­ment be­liev­ers con­sti­tute a sig­nif­i­cant part of the GOP coali­tion. Trump has in­sisted they will yield to him and his self­pro­moted in­stincts. But much like Democrats in re­verse, Re­pub­li­cans also are wor­ried about get­ting bam­boo­zled ­ and re­sult­ing neg­a­tive fall­out at the polls.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the NRA is dead set against both mea­sures. The New­town­based Na­tional Shoot­ing Sports Foun­da­tion, the trade group rep­re­sent­ing the firearms in­dus­try, is skep­ti­cal of the im­pact on li­censed gun deal­ers who would have to per­form back­ground checks for pri­vate trans­ac­tions.

“We have con­cerns for our re­tail­ers,” said NSSF spokesman Mark Oliva. “It sounds great in the­ory, but there are a lot of ques­tion marks.”

The gun laws passed by the Con­necti­cut leg­is­la­ture in the wake of the New­town mass shoot­ing in­cludes a universal back­ground­check re­quire­ment for all guns pur­chases within the state.

Con­necti­cut also re­quires per­mits for pri­vate gun trans­ac­tions, whether or not they take place at gun shows.

There is no data im­me­di­ately avail­able on its ef­fec­tive­ness. But Con­necti­cut’s gun homi­cide rate dropped sig­nif­i­cantly in the wake of the postSandy­Hook leg­is­la­tion ­ though the ex­act per­cent­age re­mains in dis­pute. Con­necti­cut is now among the top five in the na­tion for low­est per capita rate of gun mur­ders.

The ex­panded back­ground­check pro­posal fell six votes short in the Se­nate in 2013 — a time when the Se­nate was in Demo­cratic hands. Demo­cratic sen­a­tors from red states such as North Dakota combined with Re­pub­li­cans to de­prive its sup­port­ers of the 60 votes needed to over­come a fil­i­buster.

It re­mains to be seen how a sim­i­lar bill would turn out.

“We’ve seen this movie, but now hope­fully we can break the log jam and move for­ward,” Blu­men­thal said. “If we take com­mon sense steps, gun own­ers will be as­sured we are sav­ings lives with­out sac­ri­fic­ing gun rights.”

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