Hugh McQuaid Photo
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-CA, and Rep. John Larson, D-CT (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

The U.S. House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force held an offsite hearing in Hartford Friday where U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson and members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation said they’re still hopeful Congress will tighten the nation’s gun purchasing laws.

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The taskforce was established by the U.S. House of Representatives soon after the December shooting the left 20 first graders and six educators dead at a Newtown elementary school.

Friday’s field hearing was organized by U.S. Rep. John Larson’s office and held at Hartford High School.

Thompson, a moderate Democrat from California who was chosen in December by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to chair the task force, said he expects that expanded background check requirements for purchasing guns will soon be the “law of the land.”

Despite the defeat of an amendment in the Senate last month which would have required background checks for more firearms purchases, Thompson said he has co-authored a similar piece of legislation which has been amassing signatures of support in the Republican-controlled House.

“They will vote for it, but they just don’t want to be out in front. So if this bill were brought up, it would pass today,” he said, acknowledging that in order to pass, the legislation will likely need to first clear the Senate. “The fact that we continue to get co-authors provides more leverage for Senate to bring their amendment up [again].”

Thompson said field hearings like the one in Hartford help to keep a dialogue about expanding firearm background checks going.

But he acknowledged to the group of Hartford Law and Government Academy students that the dialogue was somewhat different here in Connecticut, where every member of the congressional delegation already supports stricter gun control regulations.

“It doesn’t do any good to call them, they’re already with you. You had them at ‘Hello.’ But you all have friends and you all have family that live outside your congressional district. A cousin who lives in another state. Someone you went to school with… Someone who lives in Georgia or Michigan or Wisconsin. Call them. Tell them to call their member of Congress,” he said.

During her remarks, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro highlighted some of the difficulties present in finding common ground on gun control in Congress.

“It’s not easy. We are 435 people, all with different backgrounds, coming from different parts of this nation, and it is about melding the ideas together,” she said, adding that Thompson has put together a bill with some Republican supporters.

Larson spoke highly of Thompson, who he said was elected to Congress the same year he was in 1998. He said Pelosi tapped him to chair the gun violence task force because of his “pedigree” as a military combat veteran, gun owner, and hunter.

“He owns and collects guns,” Larson said. “There is no fear that somehow background checks or dealing with military assault weapons or large capacity clips are going to take away the 2nd Constitutional Amendment rights of any American. So he has become the voice and the leader that is galvanizing people all across this country.”

Thompson strongly backed expanding background checks. He said it was “intellectually dishonest at best” to oppose background checks but claim to support keeping guns away from criminals.

However, his gun control priorities differed from members of the Connecticut delegation in some areas, like the effectiveness of banning certain types of weapons. He said efforts like expanding background checks and preventing gun trafficking will do more to protect the public than prohibiting military-style rifles.

“If I never saw another assault weapon in my life, I’ve seen too many. I suspect that most combat veterans feel the same way. But there is a reality to it, and the reality is there’s millions of military-type assault weapons. And if you start prioritizing what does the best for public safety, doing away with one particular type of firearms is pretty far down the list,” he said.