Senators optimistic on background check bill
Trump describes call with Murphy as ‘a very good conversation’
The first bill 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.
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 last week, which killed 31 people. McConnell has said the two Housepassed bills will be “front and center” when the Senate reconvenes after its summer break.
The first bill 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 Tuesday 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 CT 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. 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 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 effect 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 spate of 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 would turn out.
“We’ve seen this movie, but now hopefully we can break the logjam and move forward,” Blumenthal said. “If we take common sense steps, gun owners will be assured we are savings lives without sacrificing gun rights.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, right, talks to Sen. Richard Blumenthal prior to a June news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. On Tuesday, the senators expressed guarded optimism after talking with President Donald Trump about new gun legislation after last week’s mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.
Jeremy Stein, executive director of CT Against Gun Violence, said Tuesday he sees Connecticut as a role model for state action on guns.
Officials from the National Shooting Sports Foundation in Newtown said the organization is skeptical of the effect on licensed gun dealers who would have to perform background checks for private transactions.