For gun control supporters, there has been little national progress since Congress defeated background check legislation close to a year ago. But Connecticut’s senators said Thursday they’re in it for the long haul.
At a panel discussion on firearm background checks in East Hartford, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal acknowledged a feeling of negativity among advocates of stricter gun laws but said he and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy did not intend to abandon the issue.
“We’re not going away, we’re not surrendering despite the current pessimism that a lot of people may feel, we are going to continue this effort. We’re committed over the long haul to do it,” he said.
That pessimism may stem from steady inaction in Washington on the issue of gun control. In April of last year, supporters saw a bill to expand background checks for gun purchases tank when it fell four votes short of the supermajority it needed to pass the U.S. Senate. In June, Murphy and Blumenthal said they were optimistic about a second vote on the bill but the vote never occurred.
Now, as the 2014 midterm elections approach, Democrats are in danger of losing their majority in the U.S. Senate.
On Thursday, Blumenthal and Murphy sounded as if they had tempered their expectations somewhat as they met to raise awareness of two recent studies suggesting that background checks for gun purchases save lives.
“When we get this bill back on the floor—we don’t know when that will be, whether it’s this year, next year, three years from now—we want to have built up a mountain of information, a mountain of data so that no one can say with a straight face that we shouldn’t expand background checks,” Murphy said.
National polling suggest that most Americans—close to 90 percent—support requiring a background check for all gun purchasers. That would mean closing a current loophole that allows the private sale of weapons and sales at gun shows. Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said about 40 percent of guns sold are purchased through that loophole.
Gross presented data compiled by the Brady Campaign during its 20 years of existence and expressed optimism about the prospects of adopting a new federal background check law. His organization helped pass a similar law in 1993 but it was permitted to expire in 2004. He said it took seven years to pass the original laws.
“That’s the context we have to look at. That’s the ‘marathon not a sprint’ context,” he said. “The vote… in April was looked at and portrayed by some as a big defeat but it was actually… to us a demonstration of the momentum we have.”
For the moment, Murphy said it was important to compile evidence that background checks actually work. To that end the senators heard from Daniel Webster, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who led a study of homicide rates in Missouri after that state repealed its own background check system in 2007.
Webster said gun murders in Missouri “shot up dramatically” after the law was repealed. After controlling for regional and national trends, researchers concluded that a significant portion of the increase could be attributed to the change in the state’s gun permitting system. They also observed a “two-fold increase” in the number of guns making their way into the hands of criminals.
“We feel like we’ve done a very systematic approach to rule out alternative hypotheses and connect this very large change, that … adds up to between 55 and 63 additional murders every single year since that law has been repealed,” Webster said.
Following the panel discussion, Blumenthal said he believed it was only a matter of time before the background check policy was adopted by Congress. He and Murphy began to make tightening gun restrictions a priority after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012. Connecticut tightened its own gun control policies in the aftermath of those murders.
“I think history is on our side. Whether it’s this session or next session or at some point in the future. We will prevail, no question in my mind,” he said. “…I hope that another tragedy isn’t necessary to provide additional momentum.”