WASHINGTON, D.C. — Moments before a shooting in California, Connecticut’s two U.S. Senators took to the Senate floor Thursday to scold their Republican colleagues for refusing to take a vote on expanded gun background-check legislation.
Their remarks were made almost at the same moment multiple people were injured, at least two fatally, in a shooting at a Southern California high school.
Sen. Chris Murphy asked for unanimous consent to pass the legislation dubbed the “Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019.” It’s the legislation the Democratic-led House passed 240-99 in February.
“As I speak on the floor right now, there is a school shooting,” Blumenthal said, after he was handed a note about the California shooting. “How can we turn the other way, how can we refuse to see that shooting in real time, demanding our attention, requiring our action? We are complicit if we fail to act. It is not just a political responsibility, it is a moral imperative,” he said.
But Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Republican from Mississippi, blocked the Senate from immediately taking up the legislation.
“Legislation that would affect the rights of American citizens under the Second Amendment should not be fast-tracked,” Hyde-Smith said.
She said any truly bipartisan effort on the Second Amendment should have to go through the regular process.
“Many questions need to be answered before it’s forced upon law abiding gun owners,” she added.
Debate on the legislation stalled in the Republican-led Senate — in part because President Donald Trump has waffled on his support for tougher gun control laws in recent months.
The National Rifle Association opposes the bill, saying it would lead to a national gun registry. The NRA also says the legislation would “make criminals out of law-abiding gun owners for simply loaning a firearm to a friend or some family members.”
Murphy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the president’s vacillating support for gun control measures since he took office in 2017 was no reason for Senate inaction. They said the Republican majority has the responsibility to debate the issue.
Murphy, a staunch advocate for stricter gun control measures, noted that 100 people die from gunshot wounds in the United States each day “and this (the Senate) does nothing about it.”
Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said Connecticut’s two Senators need to stop grandstanding.
“Today we have families that have lost children in a so-called ‘gun free zone’. Neither senator is calling for corrective legislation to deal with these types of failed of a policies,” Wilson said.
He said it wasn’t the current background check system that allowed the teenage shooter in California to gain access to the gun.
Before Murphy, Blumenthal and other Democratic senators tried to force a vote, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said gun background checks are “overwhelming supported by the American people.”
“Republicans just block, and block and block,” Schumer said, referring to the more than 200 bills that the House has passed that have not come up for a vote in the Senate. Schumer referred to the Senate as a “legislative graveyard.”
Murphy said at the very least the measure was “owed a debate” and that the Senate should stop “twiddling its thumbs on the issue.”
Trump has previously voiced support for gun control measures such as expanded background checks only to walk back that support following meetings with members of the gun lobby.
At a recent rally in Louisiana, Trump told supporters “They’re after your Second Amendment.”
It was a marked shift in tone from just a few weeks earlier.
After two mass shootings, one in El Paso, Texas, and one in Dayton, Ohio, in August, the president shared the nation’s dismay over the violence and said he wanted tighter background checks on gun buyers. He said he planned to release a proposal for new laws this fall.
“Very meaningful things can happen,” he promised then.
At the time, he was responding to a demand for stricter gun laws. Most people in the U.S. believe the laws should be tougher in order to combat the violence, according to Pew Research.
The issue has been a major concern throughout the Trump presidency, which coincided with some of the worst mass shootings in US history: Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland and El Paso. The president brought Republican lawmakers to the White House last year after the shootings at a school in Parkland, Florida, saying he would work with Congress: “It’s time that a president stepped up,” Trump said then.
But after the impeachment inquiry into his presidency began, the president seemed to lose interest in gun laws. The president’s aides say Trump is not planning any announcements on gun legislation in the near future.
Murphy isn’t letting Trump off the hook, either. He pushed back on the administration’s blaming impeachment for lack of action on gun violence.
“The White House can’t say that impeachment is stopping a debate on background checks from happening. I’m ready to talk,” Murphy said.