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Sen. Chris Murphy talks gun control in advance of President Biden's Friday visit to CT

Jackie Hagerty, survivor of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, looks on as US Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) speaks during the 10th Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence at St. Marks Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, on December 7, 2022.
Brendan Smialowski
AFP / Getty Images
Jackie Hagerty, survivor of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, looks on as US Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) speaks during the 10th Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence at St. Marks Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, on December 7, 2022.

President Joe Biden will be in Connecticut on Friday for a national gun safety summit at the University of Hartford. Sen. Chris Murphy will be hosting the National Safer Communities Summit. It marks the one year anniversary of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first major gun safety bill passed by Congress in nearly 30 years. Murphy, a Democrat, talked with Morning Edition’s Lori Mack about the event.

Lori Mack: You were very instrumental in getting this federal legislation passed. First remind us what actually passed in the Safer Communities Act?

Sen. Chris Murphy: Well, this was the first major gun safety bill in 30 years that has passed Congress. Even with the opposition of the NRA and the gun lobby, we were able to get Republicans and Democrats to finally come together and do something meaningful about this epidemic of gun violence. It's not everything we need to do. But boy, it's a really good start. Included in this bill is $15 billion for mental health, school safety, community safety – that's a lot of money, that money will save lives. It creates a waiting period and a new enhanced background check for young buyers who are buying assault weapons. It makes gun trafficking a federal crime for the first time, it helps states like Connecticut pass and strengthen red flag laws, and it takes guns away from all domestic abusers. Whether you get convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, you can't have guns, if you have been convicted of a domestic violence crime. All those things are groundbreaking. None of those could have happened just three or four years ago, but the movement has become strong enough that we were able to get this passed last year.

Mack: As you mentioned, this bill didn't accomplish everything you wanted. But talk about how you were able to get this legislation passed.

Murphy: It's really a story about the strength of the gun safety movement. The fact of the matter is, when Sandy Hook happened, there really wasn't a gun safety movement. The NRA was really strong, they blocked everything that tried to pass Congress. For 10 years, we've built up moms and dads, kids, and community members to tell Congress inaction is not acceptable. Finally, last year after Uvalde, that movement really sent a clear message to my Republican colleagues that, if you're going to do nothing this time, you're not coming back to Congress. And luckily, a group of Republicans reached out and said let's get something done. I am really proud of the bipartisan product we produced. I'm grateful for the role that President Biden played. He was instrumental in getting it passed as well. You can't get a gun safety bill passed without a President who is willing to sign it and I'm glad that he's going to be joining us.

Mack: I know you'd like to see more in the way of gun violence prevention. I'm sure you hear from people all the time who are appalled that it's taken this long to even move the needle on any meaningful gun legislation. As you've pointed out, many Republicans believe there should be certain types of gun restrictions, but they also know if they support gun control and then go back to their states, they're likely to be voted out, so realistically, how is this going to change?

Murphy: I actually don't think that that is true. I think increasingly, if you vote against these common sense measures, you're going to lose your race. And I think the reason that Republicans joined us last year is that they are coming to the conclusion that they are better off politically being with us instead of against us. Universal background checks, which have yet to pass, I hope that's the next thing we vote on, that's supported by 90% of Americans. That is true in red states and in blue states. So we just have to continue to build our political movement, we have to continue to get voters to prioritize this issue when they cast their votes, and I really believe that what we did last year is just the beginning. I think over the course of the next five to 10 years, we're going to be consistently passing measures that are going to strengthen our nation's gun laws and we're going to do it in a bipartisan way.

Mack: Connecticut has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. President Biden has chosen to come to our state to talk about this issue. What will Biden focus on during the summit?

Murphy: There's still far too much gun violence, even in a state like Connecticut, but Connecticut has one of the lowest gun violence rates in the nation. We're right up there with states like Massachusetts and California. And the reason that we have less gun violence is because we have tougher laws. We make sure that dangerous people, people with serious mental illness, don't get guns in Connecticut. We don't sell those assault weapons. And so we're really proud to host this summit in Connecticut and have President Biden join us because we're proof that if you tighten your laws as a state or as a nation, you will get results. I think President Biden will talk about Connecticut's law. I think he will talk about the progress we've made with the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, and I think he'll very clearly say, it's not enough, pass an assault weapons ban, pass universal background checks, I think he'll probably deliver all of those messages tomorrow.

Mack: What are you hoping to accomplish at this summit?

Murphy: I want people to know that we've made a difference. I think sometimes in this movement, people do get discouraged, but we did something really important last year. There's some preliminary data from the first five months of this year suggesting that gun violence rates are coming down, all across the country. We'll see if that's a blip or whether it's a real trend but it could be that the law is making a difference already. So I want people to feel good about the fact that their advocacy, their membership, is part of this movement, their decision to call their member of Congress or join a gun violence prevention group is actually making change possible. So we'll highlight what we've done. We'll talk about how they can get involved and make sure that their communities get some of this funding. We’ll obviously be inspired by the President and hopefully, we'll end this summit with people having more information about how to make sure this law works for them, but also feeling empowered to continue to stay part of this fight.

This interview has been edited. Connecticut Public Radio's Jeni Ahrens contributed to this report.

Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.

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