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Senators Murphy, Blumenthal Detail Background Check Bill

Connecticut U.S. Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal this week detailed legislation mandating universal background checks for gun purchases. The Background Check Expansion Act is Murphy’s first bill of the 116th Congress.

The Democrats joined representatives from a variety of gun reform organizations, like the Newtown Action Alliance and Moms Demand Action, to outline the legislation Monday. Calling them common sense measures, Murphy says background checks are popular because they work.

“Every single day, 90 people in this country die from a gunshot wound," says Murphy. "90 different families spiral into trauma every single day in this country. And every single one of those gun deaths is preventable.”

Under the bill, which accompanies legislation backed by House Democrats, all gun purchases would require a check through sources like the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a process Murphy says takes about 90 seconds. Senator Blumenthal notes that the bill does not prohibit gun transfers or inheritance between family and friends.

“Listen carefully: no check, no sale. No check, no sale. No check. No sale,” says Blumenthal.

Currently, federal law mandates background checks only for guns bought from licensed firearm dealers. According to Murphy, two out of five guns are bought via private sellers, on the internet or at gun shows. While some states, like Connecticut, have passed their own universal background check laws, Blumenthal says the lack of a federal mandate offsets those actions. 

“Connecticut is at the mercy of states like South Carolina and Georgia, and other states where there are no background checks," Blumenthal notes. "Here’s a newsflash: guns have no respect for state borders.”

A similar version of the bill introduced by the senators last year stalled in the Republican-led Senate. While Republicans kept the Senate in November’s midterms, many House Republicans lost their seats to Democrats supporting gun control. Murphy is optimistic the new Democratic-controlled House will pressure his peers to help reach the 60 votes the bill needs in the Senate.

“The House has never taken a vote on background checks," says Murphy. "And so, I just think you can’t count votes in the Senate until you have had this vote in the House and had a chance for Republican senators to look at what happens to their Republican colleagues who vote the wrong way.”

In 2016, Murphy conducted one of the longest filibusters in Senate history to force debate on gun violence in the U.S. He also co-sponsored the Fix NICS Act with Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas to strengthen NICS reporting. Senator Blumenthal says what he calls “real change,” like safe weapons storage and a red-flag statute, will become difficult for politicians to deny – even for those backed by the National Rifle Association.

“I think the NRA is going to have to deal with reality: that they are not gonna be able to give their members an ‘F’ for respecting the political realities here," Blumenthal says. 

NRA spokesman Lars Dalseide on Tuesday sent the following statement to WAMC: “These so-called universal background checks will never be universal because criminals don’t follow the law. Instead of looking for solutions that will deal with root cause of violent crime and save lives, anti-gun politicians would rather score political points by pushing ineffective legislation that doesn’t stop criminals from committing crimes.”

Jesse King is the host of WAMC's national program on women's issues, "51%," and the station's bureau chief in the Hudson Valley. She has also produced episodes of the WAMC podcast "A New York Minute In History."
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