U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

HARTFORD, CT  –  A bipartisan agreement on national gun policies struck by Senate negotiators over the weekend could reduce the flow of illegal guns to Connecticut from states with less stringent laws, U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal said Monday.

The state’s U.S. senators provided the broad strokes of the agreement during a press conference in the Legislative Office Building. The package, negotiated in the aftermath of recent mass shootings in Texas and New York, has support from at least 10 Republicans, meaning it could meet the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster in the U.S. Senate and become the first major legislation on gun control in decades.

Murphy called the agreement a “breakthrough” moment for the Senate which has long been reluctant to debate changes to firearm regulations. 

“This bill will not end the epidemic of gun violence overnight, this bill doesn’t include everything that Dick [Blumenthal] and I support but it is substantial, it is significant, it will save lives and it will provide the momentum to be able to make further changes,” Murphy said.

If passed by Congress, the agreement would dedicate funding to support “red flag” laws in states like Connecticut which allow courts to seize weapons from people representing a danger to themselves or others. The deal would also close a “boyfriend loophole” by restricting the ability of people convicted of domestic violence to purchase guns. It imposes additional background check requirements on purchasers under 21 years old and would dedicate billions to fund mental health services around the country.

However, Murphy said a provision ramping up penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchases may have the greatest impact on reducing the number of illegal guns in states like Connecticut, which already have stringent firearm regulations on the books.

“Finally we are going to have federal tools to go after the traffickers who buy all their weapons in South Carolina or Georgia and bring them up to Hartford and sell them on the streets of this city,” Murphy said. 

The agreed upon changes would “elevate” existing penalties for gun trafficking as well as straw purchases, where one person purchases a gun for another person. Murphy said current law treats straw purchases more like “paperwork violations” than a serious gun charge.

“The penalty for that is never significant enough to get that individual to give up who’s behind the straw purchase and these straw purchasing rings are enormous. It’s how many of the guns get onto the streets of Hartford and Bridgeport and New Haven,” Murphy said.

Although neither senator would say Monday what penalties would be attached to the new straw purchasing policy, Blumenthal said the change would result in law enforcement agencies prioritizing the crime. 

“That iron pipeline of crime guns, lost guns, stolen guns from a bunch of states … we’re at the mercy of that iron pipeline here in Connecticut,” Blumenthal said. 

Rev. Henry Brown, from the Mothers United Against Violence, called the agreement the most significant step in more than 20 years. Gun violence has continued to impact urban communities throughout coverage of high-profile mass shootings, he said. 

“We get caught up in Uvalde, we get caught up in Newtown, but I want to remind you: Black and brown kids are getting murdered every day. It’s not going away and all these bills to change the laws, I’m grateful to that,” Brown said. 

Connecticut could also benefit from increased funding both for mental health programs and for raising awareness of the state’s red flag law. 

“We haven’t put out any numbers yet, but it’s safe to say we’re talking about billions of dollars in mental health spending,” Murphy said. “That is going to make an enormous difference and much of that money will be targeted to schools and underserved communities… It is not window dressing, this is a significant — a historic investment.”

While the agreement has support from the 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans who helped negotiate it, the senators said they would now have to convince another 40 lawmakers to support the resulting bill. Murphy said proponents were working to get the legislation drafted and passed before Congress recessed in two weeks but said it may be difficult to meet that deadline.

“We don’t have 60 votes yet, we have 20,” he said. “We still have to go and sell this to our Republican and Democratic colleagues. This framework is receiving lots of support but it is also receiving criticism from both the left and the right, as any good compromise should.”