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Connecticut's U.S. senators strike a federal gun deal years in the making

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) debates gun control measures on the Senate floor. Murphy and colleague Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have advocated for federal gun reform since 20 children and six adults were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy says that on the day of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, he and Sen. Richard Blumenthal pledged to not rest until they changed laws to make it less likely that such a tragedy would ever happen again. The Democrats from Connecticut also wanted legislation that could break what they saw as a grip on Congress by the National Rifle Association.

“That day is finally here,” Murphy said Tuesday, hours after U.S. Senators advanced the bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

Federal lawmakers will vote in the coming days on the bipartisan gun control bill that includes reform championed by Murphy.

“We have finally reached the moment where we can pass serious lifesaving legislation in the Senate that will save lives and that’s what our legislation will do,” Murphy said in a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday.

It would, among other things, expand background checks for people under 21, offer federal funds to help states take away guns from holders at risk of hurting themselves or others, and give the federal government more power to tackle gun trafficking.

Murphy got some Republican colleagues in the Senate to support those provisions in exchange for $2 billion in funding for mental health and physical security resources for schools. He says that a sticking point in recent federal negotiations for gun reform was an attempt by Democrats to close the so-called “boyfriend loophole” that allows unmarried abusers to get guns.

“There was a long discussion about how you define a dating partner,” Murphy said. “We didn’t end up reinventing the wheel. We used a model state definition to define what a dating partner is.”

They settled on covering people in “serious relationships.”

Current law prevents felons from possessing a gun. It also prevents domestic violence misdemeanor offenders from purchasing one. But because of a gap in the law, victims are only extended protection if they are married to their abuser or if they share a residence or child with that person.

Blumenthal says the agreement may not close that loophole, but it will “substantially shrink” it.

“Hopefully the courts will be protective, and they will lean toward providing safeguards to women in the way that they implement it,” Blumenthal said.

Murphy says that also worked out in this bill is a “narrow path” for misdemeanor domestic violence abusers to have gun rights restored. A person has to have no prior offenses on their record and has to wait five years after sentencing, having committed no offenses during that time.

A vote is expected by the end of the week.

If passed, the senators say it’ll be the biggest breakthrough in federal gun reform in 30 years – since lawmakers enacted an assault weapons ban in 1994.

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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