(Updated Wed. 11:25 a.m.) U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy is trying to convince his former colleagues in the House and his new colleagues in the Senate that there won’t be any retribution from gun owners at the polls, particularly if they do the right thing and vote in favor of common sense gun control legislation.
During a conference call from Washington on Monday, Murphy cited numerous polls that showed regular gun owners, including some who self-reported being members of the National Rifle Association, aren’t in lockstep with the association’s lobby.
The most often cited poll was the one conducted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. That poll found 74 percent of NRA members support a requirement for a criminal background check on anyone purchasing a gun. Eighty-seven percent of non-NRA members support the same policy.
The poll was conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who went on CBS’s “This Morning” after NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre held a press conference in December calling for armed guards in schools, and suggested that the leadership of the organization wasn’t listening to the public.
“The public wants guns out of the schools, not in the schools, and they’re not asking for a security official or someone else,” Luntz said.
Murphy’s office aggregated Luntz’s poll along with polls from other organizations, which reach similar conclusions that there is widespread support for universal background checks and other measures such as bans on assault weapons and high capacity magazines with more than 10 bullets.
Jacqueline Otto, a media liaison with the NRA, said Wednesday that none of the polls claiming to include NRA members are credible because no one but the NRA has access to the membership.
An NRA poll conducted in January found that 92 percent of its members oppose a new federal law banning the sale of firearms between private citizens, 91 percent support laws keeping firearms away from the mentally ill, and 89 percent oppose banning semi-automatic firearms, often mistakenly called “assault rifles”.
As far as universal background checks go, Otto said a vast majority of gun sales are done only after a background check by a federally-licensed firearm dealer. She said the NRA’s position on universal background checks hasn’t changed over the years, but the conversation has changed. She said a universal background check would require the non-sale transfers of firearms to be included, which means if a father wanted to bequeath his hunting collection to his son a background check would be required.
She said the National Institute of Justice concluded that states would need a firearms registry to make universal background checks work.
Murphy said the NRA supported mandatory universal background checks in 1999, now “13 years later, and dozens of mass shootings later, the NRA no longer supports universal background checks.”
Murphy opined that the reason behind the flip-flop was related to their funding sources.
“They’re now much more reliant on contributions from the gun industry,” Murphy said. “Rather than contributions and support from their members.”
Before a House Judiciary Committee in 1999, LaPierre said, “We think it’s reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone.”
Last month, the NRA published a statement on their website outlining their current, opposite stance on the issue:
“NRA does NOT support universal background checks and is not working with [U.S. Rep. Joe] Manchin to implement this type of legislation. NRA opposes, and will continue to oppose, universal background checks and registration schemes.”
LaPierre outlined the issue even further in an editorial that ran in USA Today.
Mark Glaze of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group backed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, also was on the call Monday.
“The gun lobby is perceived as being exceptionally strong, both as a lobbying force and a political force,” Glaze said. “In fact, the perception of power is power, so the NRA does frighten some people, but much of that fright is ill-founded. If Congress wants to act — we believe that a majority in Congress clearly does — it can do that without significant political risk.”
Glaze said the NRA doesn’t represent the views of gun owners, but they also don’t represent the views of the NRA’s rank-and-file, which is a relatively new development. He said the Luntz poll proves that NRA members often disagree with the organization’s positions.
But passing gun control legislation is never easy.
If a bipartisan gun control bill comes out of the Senate it will be “very hard for the House to just sit on their hands,” Murphy said.
He said he thinks there’s actually more political danger in not voting on a bill.
During his State of the Union address earlier this month, President Barack Obama told a joint session of Congress that “Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek and Tucson and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence — they deserve a simple vote.”
In a way it seemed to be a concession that it may not pass, but it deserves a vote.
That’s not how Murphy interpreted it.
“The president and the vice president aren’t backing down on this,” Murphy said.
Vice President Joseph Biden will visit Connecticut on Thursday for a conversation about gun control. The event will take place at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury and will center on federal legislation.
Murphy said most of the discussion has centered around the changes the General Assembly is considering and he wanted a chance to discuss the proposed federal changes with a Newtown audience.