Fresh off the first congressional victory for gun control advocates in decades, Connecticut’s U.S. senators tried Friday not to let historic rulings from a conservative Supreme Court temper a sun-baked celebration in Hartford.
Following the late-night passage of a bipartisan package of gun reforms in the Senate, U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal made their way back to Connecticut and joined gun violence prevention advocates and state lawmakers at Riverside Park in Hartford to celebrate the breaking of a “three-decade logjam” on gun legislation.
Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting nearly a decade ago and seemingly after numerous, subsequent mass shootings that have followed, the senators have pressed unsuccessfully to add new regulations to the nation’s firearm policies.
On Friday, Murphy told reporters that Thursday’s victory came at a crucial time for the movement.
“I think this movement was getting to the point where we needed to show success,” Murphy said. “I was clear from the outset I wasn’t going to support anything that wasn’t meaningful change but I think this is an important milestone for the movement and I’m confident it’s going to grow because now people aren’t going to see this movement as a lost cause.”
The bill, titled the “Protecting Our Kids Act” and which the House sent to President Joe Biden’s desk on a bipartisan vote around the time of Friday’s press conference, was a compromise negotiated by 10 Democrats, including Murphy and Blumenthal, and 10 Republicans.
Among its provisions are new stringent background checks for young gun purchasers, restrictions on gun ownership for people convicted of domestic violence, billions in federal funding for mental health services, and fiscal incentives for states to adopt red-flag laws that remove firearms from people believed to be suicidal or violent.
But as Congress was handing gun control advocates a victory decades in the making, the US Supreme Court was providing setbacks.
On Thursday, the court struck down a concealed-carry law in New York in a ruling that Connecticut’s attorney general predicted would inspire a “wave of litigation” challenging Connecticut laws. The court followed up Friday by releasing its long-expected decision reversing Roe v. Wade, the ruling that has made abortion legal nationwide since 1973.
Although neither decision is expected to have any immediate effect in Connecticut, both were on the minds of attendees at the mid-day celebration in Hartford.
Asked about the impact of the court’s gun law ruling, the senators said they were confident it would not undermine the newly-passed bill.
“It certainly doesn’t diminish the gravity of what we accomplished,” Murphy said. “I think we have a very rough road ahead when it comes to the Supreme Court’s view of the 2nd Amendment, but I’m confident and hopeful that everything we passed in this bill will be able to survive. I also know that what we passed, in the short run, is going to save lives.”
Blumenthal said he was fearful of the direction the court appears to be taking the country.
“Yesterday, the Supreme Court said people carrying firearms have nearly absolute rights. Today it decided that women making health care decisions have no rights,” Blumenthal said. “That is the most arrogant and distorted view of our constitution.”
Whatever the court decides in the future, this week’s decisions did not stop advocates from celebrating on Friday.
Nicole Melchionno, a 17-year-old representative of the Junior Newtown Action Alliance, was a second grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School on the day 26 of her classmates and teachers were murdered. She described the guilt and anxiety she felt after surviving the incident and the “lasting pit in your stomach never goes away.”
“The sounds of an AR-15 firing over and over again will forever haunt me,” Melchionno said. “We can’t let the next generation down. We need to continue to fight for them.”
Despite the court’s setback, Murphy said he expected more wins for gun control advocates in the near future because Republican legislators would see a political benefit from supporting such bills.
“[Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell wasn’t shy yesterday to talk about the fact that he got on board with this bill, in part, because he thought it was very good politics,” Murphy said. “Mitch McConnell didn’t think that 10 years ago. Mitch McConnell 10 years ago was very confident in loudly opposing changes in gun laws because he thought that was good politics for his party. Things have changed.”