(UPDATED 7 a.m.) In the closing moments of a nearly 15-hour filibuster, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, announced early Thursday morning that Senate Democrats received a commitment from Republicans to schedule votes to close the terror gap and expand background checks for firearm purchases.
Murphy began speaking at 11:21 a.m. on Wednesday, delaying Senate business on the Departments of Commerce and Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations bill, and said he wouldn’t relinquish the floor until Republicans agreed to hold votes on the two measures. Murphy announced the agreement and concluded the filibuster at 2:11 a.m. Thursday, 14 hours and 50 minutes after beginning his speech.
Under the rules, in order to maintain the filibuster Murphy had to stay standing the entire time and could not sit or leave for any reason. He could drink water — though his staff says he had mostly just had cough drops.
Senators spoke throughout the day about the victims of gun violence in their own districts, with many speakers stressing the idea that stricter gun control legislation had now become a national security issue, and Murphy closed his filibuster saying that the issue is “personal” to all of them. And he spoke about 6-year-old Dylan Hockley, one of the 26 victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
Murphy put up a poster of Dylan and talked about the boy’s personality — his autism — and said he idolized his older brother, Jake, and also Anne Marie Murphy (no relation to the senator). Mrs. Murphy was Dylan’s personal aide and special education teacher at Sandy Hook. Their bond was so tight that he had a picture of her on the refrigerator, along with his class. He would point the picture and say, there’s my class, and there’s Mrs. Murphy.
“It meant something to him to have that relationship, and he loved going to school in large part because he knew he had someone there that loved him back,” Murphy said.
“When Nicole Hockley was standing in or outside the firehouse, when she came to the slow, awful, crippling realization that her boy wasn’t coming back, she had a moment where she thought to herself that maybe Anne Marie would come back and tell me what happened to my little boy. But then she had a second thought, that Anne Marie probably wouldn’t leave Dylan if he was in danger.
“When Adam Lanza walked into that classroom, and aimed his military style assault weapon, with clips attached to it holding 30 bullets, Anne Marie Murphy probably had a chance to run, or to hide, or to panic. Instead, Anne Marie Murphy made the most courageous decision that any of us could imagine. Instead of running, instead of hiding, insteading panicking, Anne Marie Murphy found Dylan Hockley, and embraced him.
“Know why we know that? Because when the police entered the classroom, that’s how they found Dylan Hockley, dead. Wrapped in the embrace of Anne Marie Murphy.”
Murphy concluded his filibuster stating: “It doesn’t take courage to stand here on the floor of the United States Senate for two hours or six hours or 14 hours. It doesn’t take courage to stand up to the gun lobby when 90 percent of your constituents want change to happen. It takes courage to look into the eye of a shooter and instead of running, wrapping your arms around a 6-year-old boy and accepting death as a trade for just a tiny little, itty piece of increased peace of mind for a little boy under your charge. And so this has been a day of questions. And so I ask you all this question — if Anne Marie Murphy could do that, then ask yourself, what can you do, to make sure that Orlando or Sandy Hook, never ever ever happens again?”
Murphy started the filibuster saying the time for condolences and moments of silence were over, and he called for action — specifically, Murphy and his fellow Democrats sought votes on two amendments: one to expand background checks on all private sales of guns, and another to ban gun sales to people on the terrorist watch list as well as other various government watch lists.
“Our heart breaks collectively in this country for the citizens of Orlando and as in particular in Connecticut,” Murphy said. “Our heart breaks for the people of Orlando because we know in a very real way the pain that exists there today, but we also know how that pain is really never ending, how the ripples of that pain are unceasing and unrelenting and they span generations. Newtown is still putting itself back together, probably will be for a long time, and Orlando the same. But this is a different moment today than it was at the end of last week. There is a newfound imperative for this body to find a way to come together and take action, to try to do our part to stem this epidemic of gun violence, and in particular this epidemic of mass shootings that plagues this nation and no other industrialized nation in the world.
“It won’t surprise you to know that for those of us that represent Connecticut, the failure of this body to do anything — anything — at all in the face of that continued slaughter isn’t just painful to us. It’s unconscionable. I can’t tell you how hard it is to look into the eyes of the families of those little boys and girls who were killed in Sandy Hook and tell them that almost four years later we’ve done nothing, nothing at all to reduce the likelihood that that will happen again to another family,” Murphy said.
“Gun deaths don’t happen in other places like [they happen] here,” Murphy said. “The reason we have epidemic levels of gun violence is because we allow people to have guns who shouldn’t be allowed to have them.”
Murphy’s actions caught the attention of Democratic presidential front-running candidate Hillary Clinton, who in her Twitter account, tweeted: “Some fights are too important to stay silent. Preventing gun violence is one of them.’’
Murphy also cited overwhelming support, nationally, for gun control measures.
“The only place where the issue of gun control is controversial, 50-50, is here in Washington, in these halls,” Murphy said. “Everywhere else it is 90-10 in favor of stricter gun control.”
Republican Dan Carter, who is running against Richard Blumenthal, said Connecticut’s senior senator and Murphy are using the shooting in Orlando to raise “blood money to fund their egotistical agendas.”
Murphy contends the American public supports their position, but Carter didn’t tackle the Second Amendment in his statement Wednesday.
“Today’s filibuster wasn’t about gun control, or terrorism, or the LGBTQ community, it was about fundraising and fear mongering,” Carter said. “We need to address the root causes of what happened this weekend and think both strategically and tactically about what can be done to prevent another radical Islamist terrorist from using any kind of weapon to harm innocent Americans.”
About three hours into the filibuster, Murphy said that not only does the United States need to tighten its gun control measures, but it also needs to take the fight to ISIS and double down on inclusion and tolerance at home.
Earlier this week Murphy was joined by Blumenthal and Democratic Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, D-5, at a news conference in Hartford, demanding that Congress take action on gun reform following the Orlando nightclub shooting massacre during which 49 people were killed and another 53 wounded. The perpetrator, 29-year-old Florida resident Omar Mateen, reportedly obtained the weapons legally in the weeks leading up to the shooting after having been on the terrorist watch list.
Both Murphy and Blumenthal have made stricter gun control measures their primary focus since the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where 20 children and six educators were killed by a mentally ill youth with an AR-15 assault rifle.
“Senator Murphy grieved with the families of the children and educators murdered at Sandy Hook and has been a steadfast voice for ending gun violence ever since,” Murphy’s press secretary, Laura Maloney, said. “He is leading his colleagues in demanding Senate action because they will accept inaction or half measures in the face of continued slaughter. Until private sales at gun shows and over the internet also require stringent background checks and unless suspected terrorists on the no-fly list are prohibited from legally purchasing guns, our lax gun laws will continue to allow terrorists and criminals to amass a weapons stockpile.”
Blumenthal said he and Murphy feel a special obligation to the parents of the victims in the Newtown school shooting.
“The Newtown parents have looked into our eyes and asked the question,‘Why can’t Congress act?’” Blumenthal said. He added that his colleagues also need to, “once and for all, deal with the issue that if you can’t fly, you can’t buy a gun.”
According to news reports on the Orlando shooting, in 2013 Mateen was interviewed twice by federal agents after co-workers reported that he made “inflammatory” comments about radical Islamic propaganda. The following year the FBI reportedly looked at him again because of ties with an American who traveled to the Middle East to become a suicide bomber.
Mateen was temporarily placed on the terrorist watch list. At the moment, U.S. law does not prohibit people who are on the list from legally purchasing firearms.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, said he supported Murphy’s decision to demand Congressional action on gun control. He said he agreed with Murphy’s assertion that “Congress has done nothing” to stop the numerous terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in recent years.
It wasn’t just politicians who supported Murphy’s actions — Erica Lafferty, whose mother was one of the 26 murdered in the Newtown shootings, spoke in support of the filibuster as well.
“For too long, the Congress has done nothing to prevent mass shootings and everyday gun violence — whether it was the murder of my mother, five of her colleagues and 20 first-graders at Sandy Hook School, the gun killings of nine worshipers at a black church in Charleston nearly a year ago, or the massacre of 49 people at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando,” Lafferty said. “Today, fearless members of our U.S. Senate are saying it is long overdue for our country to disarm hate — and I thank them.
“While these bills cannot bring back my mother, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, who was my idol and best friend — they can and will save some of the 91 people killed every day by gun violence. I will not rest until our whole Congress takes action to save American lives.”