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Sen. Murphy says gun reform deal could lead to vote by July 4

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut
Senate Democrats, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut

For nearly a decade in the U.S. Senate, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy has pushed for federal gun reform, with the memory of the Sandy Hook shooting in his former Congressional district as just one motivator. Over the weekend, Murphy announced the framework of an agreement that he says carries crucial Republican support. Although bills are still being written, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York says the package will make it to the floor for a vote.

As we speak, what is in the deal?

Well, it's a substantial package, a lot more than many advocates of changing our gun laws thought we would be able to achieve, especially with 10 Republicans announcing their support. inside the package is support for states to pass and implement red flag laws. These are laws that allow law enforcement in courts to temporarily take away weapons from people who are threatening suicide or threatening to shoot others. The bill includes the closure of something called the boyfriend loophole. Right now in federal law, if you commit assault against your spouse, you are prohibited from buying a gun. But if you commit assault against a girlfriend, even if you have a restraining order against you, you can still buy a gun. We're closing that loophole; that'll save a lot of lives. We have a new federal criminalization of gun trafficking and straw purchasing that's going to help stop the flow of illegal guns into our cities. And we have a different treatment of buyers of guns under 21 years old. I would love to just outlaw the sale of assault weapons. But what we're doing as part of this compromise is having an enhanced background check, which would result in a kind of waiting period for 18- to 21-year-olds so that, you know, especially for those kids in crisis, they can't walk out of the store with a gun immediately, as happened in Uvalde. It's really a breakthrough package. We haven't passed anything like this in 28 years in Congress. And while it's not to the finish line yet, I'm confident that we're going to be able to get this done.

The Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, says he will support this deal. Does that mean that you're well across the threshold you would need to overcome a possible filibuster?

We announced the agreement on Sunday with 10 Republicans. Now that, of course, requires us to get all 50 Democrats to support this. I'm hopeful that we'll learn support for my Democratic colleagues. But Senator McConnell’s support likely indicates there are more Republicans who will end up joining this package. Now we still have to write it. The devil is always in the details. But I'm hopeful that this growing momentum for this deal is a good omen.

Is the timeline that has been discussed to have something passed before the Fourth of July realistic?

It's a very aggressive timeline. But I think there's a sense of urgency out there in the American public. I mean, I've never seen parents and kids, families as scared as I've seen in the last three weeks. There's, I think, an urgency that is being translated from Americans and from kids and families to us to get this done. So I don't want to waste time. We're going to be working late into the night tonight to try to get a bill drafted. And our hope is that we can pass it next week.

You know, America, sadly, has mass shootings all the time. What made the difference this time in the Senate to actually get a bipartisan group together?

I do think it was mostly that imperative from the public. No matter whether you live in a Republican leaning state or a Democratic leaning state, the message was being sent after Uvalde and Buffalo to members of the Senate: This time, you can't do nothing. And I was really impressed with a number of members of Congress on both sides that were earnestly trying to work towards a result. The anti-gun violence movement is also just a lot stronger now than we were 10 years ago. And the cumulative impact of all of the work of thousands of activists all across the country led to this moment. And we also had some key players in negotiations. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Thom Tillis, Republican Senator from North Carolina, they had not been part of these talks in the past. They were incredibly constructive and they helped us get a deal done.

Many of those advocates come from Connecticut and many of the strongest gun reform groups were born out of what happened at Sandy Hook. Are they satisfied with this deal in your conversations with them?

I don’t want to speak for every advocate in Connecticut but you know, groups like Connecticut Against Gun Violence and Sandy Hook Promise, Mothers United Against Violence, which is a group born out of tragedies in Hartford, they are all very supportive of this framework. And I think it's impressive that you know, as far as I can tell every single major anti-gun violence group in this country supports this framework despite the fact that, you know, everyone acknowledges it's not everything that we want. I just think people know that progress is important. And often, when you take that first step, it allows you to take future steps as well. That's how the civil rights movement worked. That's how the marriage equality movement worked. And I think that that will be true for the cause of anti-gun violence as well.

Some of the criticism of this package from gun reform advocates touches on something that you mentioned earlier, which is that 18 or 21 age threshold to buy a high-capacity weapon. How come that was not able to be raised as part of these talks?

There certainly was Republican support for raising the age to buy a weapon to 21. Important to note right now, if you are under 21 years old, you can't buy a handgun, can't buy a pistol. You can buy a long gun a rifle, an assault rifle. Many states are raising the age through state laws. But I support changing it at the national level. We spent the last couple of weeks counting votes. And we came to the conclusion that right now we do not have 60 votes, which is what you need in the Senate to pass legislation, for raising the age to 21. But we didn't give up. And that was the miracle of these negotiations. We said what do we have 60 votes for? Well, we think we do have 60 votes for an enhanced background check on these under 21-year-old buyers, that would result in that waiting period. Often these are kids in crisis, these mass shooters, you know, just pausing that sale for a couple days in Uvalde, probably would have made the difference. At the very least school would have been out and the school would not have been a target for that shooter, maybe his crisis would have passed. So we found a compromise. And that's what good legislating is all about.

Now, you've described this as a good compromise and a good first step. But you also acknowledge that Congress has done virtually nothing on gun reform for three decades. So what's your message to people who say, well, this might be the only time when the political realities line up to get something done, and it should be more.

I just don't think we should, you know, forsake the chance to save lives. And we haven't talked about the mental health piece of this bill. We're going to spend billions of dollars in this bill to fix a very broken mental health system. And so that's going to save lives as well. All I know is that looking back over history, the change movements have to accept the first success in order to get a second success. As I mentioned, you know, the ’64 Civil Rights Act was preceded by the ’63 Civil Rights Act, allowing gay couples to adopt eventually led to full marriage equality. If you study history in this country in particular, you have to acknowledge these moments where, you know, power is shifting, and you accept progress knowing that it's going to lead to more progress. Listen, I'm not going to claim that it solves the problem of gun violence in this country. But I am going to make the claim that this will allow us to more easily pass better and good legislation.

And is it your understanding that President Biden is ready to sign whatever the Senate approves?

He is supported the deal that we announced. I have spent a lot of time on the phone with President Biden keeping him updated on these negotiations. I went over and met with him during the middle of the talks. Obviously, the president reserves the right to see what the final bill is. But my belief is that he's very supportive of this bill. And as long as we get the framework that we announced in bill text, then he will be enthusiastically signing this legislation.

Lastly, agreements and frameworks have fallen apart in the past. What are you doing as this bill is being written furiously to keep your coalition together?

You know, I'm spending every minute trying to get this to the finish line. I was speaking to our Democratic caucus this morning to brief them on the framework. I've been texting all day with my Republican colleagues in the Senate, we’re going to be meeting later today as a group to hammer out any final text issues. This is a this has been my mission for 10 years, right? This is what I've woke up thinking about for the last decade since Sandy Hook. I have just been on a crusade to try to get a bill like this done, to show that we can break the logjam and we have a long way to go. There's reason why we haven’t passed anything like this, anything of this scope in 28 years. It's hard. It's difficult, because it's a lot easier for both sides to stay in their political groups. Politics is and always has been the art of compromise. And this is good, life saving compromise. I am hopeful that we're going to be able to get this done to the Senate floor next week.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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