Vice President Joe Biden joined Connecticut lawmakers Tuesday in Washington to reiterate and reaffirm the White House’s commitment to passing gun control legislation.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey and U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy joined Biden in Washington to discuss the gun control initiatives that were spurred by the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Blumenthal said he has “no question or doubt whatsoever that the administration is continuing with passion and commitment” even after the bill that would require universal background checks for gun purchases was struck down by the U.S. Senate in April.
“Anyone who doubted whether they would [continue their] efforts . . . got their answer today,” Murphy said.
The Senators said they are engaged in discussions with some of their colleagues who voted “no.” They said they are considering potential minor tweaks to the legislation that would flip some of the votes.
However, the Senators said they are not willing to go beyond minor changes to the legislation such as adding a “rural exemption.” However, Murphy said the definition of “rural” would only encompass a “small number of extremely rural areas, mostly in the western U.S.”
Other changes the lawmakers have discussed include clarifications that no national record keeping system will result from the bill and clauses ensuring mental health initiatives will be supported.
“But there will be no hollowing out of this bill,” Blumenthal said.
The first vote on background check legislation failed 54-46, but because Senate rules require a “supermajority” to pass, the bill was short six votes. However, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who favors the bill, voted “no” in April in a legislative maneuver meant to ensure the bill would stay alive. Sharkey said with only five votes to find, he was encouraged that public pressure would produce the necessary votes.
“I have noticed a change,” Sharkey said in a telephone interview. “There are political ramifications that are surfacing for those that have opposed these common sense gun safety laws in the past . . . They are seeing some negative results in their popular support because of their unwillingness to support these measures.”
The Senators did not say which of their colleagues they have been working with and so far, none of the senators who voted “no” have gone on record saying they will support it the second time around, but Blumenthal and Murphy are confident they will get the votes.
Blumenthal said there’s immense political pressure for senators to favor legislation that more than 90 percent of Americans reportedly support. He said at the end of the day, it isn’t the White House that’s going to convince a handful of Senators to change their minds.
“The voices that ought to be heard the loudest are the voices . . . from victims around the country,” he said. “The families [that have been] affected are going to be a pivotal point in the debate and conversation and moving votes.”
Many of the Newtown victims’ families traveled to Washington leading up to the initial vote on the legislation, and Blumenthal said they would be invited back again.
“They’ve been so impactful, so powerful,” he said.
Murphy said another vote on the legislation is not likely to occur until the fall.
The Senators’ meeting with Biden occurred the same day that President Barack Obama’s administration announced it has completed or made “significant” progress on 21 out of 23 executive orders the president has issued since January regarding gun violence.
Biden, who was tapped by Obama to spearhead gun violence reform after the Newtown murders, announced the administration made headway on expanding federal training for law enforcement officers, school officials, and first responders in situations that involve active shooters.
Biden said in a press release that the expansion includes “additional outreach, new online resources, improved training curricula, exercises with law enforcement at all FBI field offices, and . . . security briefings for 100 school districts across the country.”
Additionally, the press release said the U.S. Departments of Education, Justice, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services jointly released guidelines, which are available as of today, to schools and houses of worship regarding how to “plan and prepare for emergencies such as active shooter situations, tornadoes, and earthquakes.”
Murphy and Blumenthal applauded the progress, calling the executive orders “important,” even though they’re not an adequate substitute for legislation.
Blumenthal said Connecticut is leading the way in implementing school safety measures such as those outlined in the federal guidelines.
“In Connecticut, we’ve gotten very serious with the governor’s help when it comes to school safety, but this is a national issue and [the guidelines] will help save lives,” he said.
One of the two executive orders where the administration has not made progress is in addressing the inequity in insurance coverage for mental health issues. Sharkey said Biden did not address the issue or name any specific roadblocks, but he said the Connecticut General Assembly’s passage of a mental health reform bill to complement the state’s sweeping gun legislation was “critical.”
In April, Connecticut’s General Assembly passed gun legislation that forces insurance companies to make a decision about whether they will cover a mental crisis within 24 hours of the event.
The legislation also requires:
—insurance companies to inform consumers that they have the right to appeal a denial of care;
—the Insurance Department to evaluate and report on compliance with mental health parity laws, and;
—the health professional reviewing an insurance claim to have similar qualifications to the medical professional prescribing it.
State Healthcare Advocate Victoria Veltri has called the proposal a “very strong and bold piece of legislation.”