HARTFORD, CT — The gun lobby is weaker than it was in 2013 and the political power has shifted to groups like Moms Demand Action, Mothers United Against Violence and Hartford Communities That Care, but it’s still an uphill climb to get universal background checks for guns passed by Congress because their power lingers.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who reintroduced universal background check legislation this year, said the gun lobby is still powerful in Washington, but there are still politicians who refuse to change their position even though the winds have shifted.
“I think everyone knows your re-election is at risk if you continue to oppose these measures,” he said Monday at a press conference in the north end of Hartford.
But it sometimes takes a little while for these members to be defeated.
As far as expanding background checks, “it’s the most popular policy and it’s the most impactful,” Murphy said.
Still, he’s not letting his optimism run away with him.
He said 30 days before they passed the Safer Communities Act, no one would have believed the bipartisanship that was shown for the legislation. He called it the most “significant anti-gun violence legislation passed in 30 years.”
That bill passed in 2022 cracks down on criminals who illegally evade licensing requirements and clarifies which sellers need to register, conduct background checks, and keep appropriate records. It also adds convicted domestic violence abusers in dating relationships to the National
Instant Criminal Background Check System and creates a process for removal from NICS five years after the completion of the sentence.
“Things change fast in Washington,” Murphy said. “I understand it’s an uphill climb, but nothing is impossible.”
Murphy has been introducing expanded background checks in Congress since 2017 and this year he has 47 co-sponsors in the Senate.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said expanding background checks is really common sense and a majority of Americans want common sense gun laws.
“If 90% of Americans want universal background checks and the U.S. House of Representatives won’t put it to a vote they’re not listening to their constituents,” Bronin said. “Last year our police officers took more illegal guns off the street than ever before.”
Hartford Police Chief Jason Thody said there’s a misconception that guns used in crimes last year are stolen, but only 16% of the guns on Hartford streets are stolen.
Of the 367 guns used in crimes in Hartford 58 were ghost guns, the other 250 were purchased or transferred to a seller somewhere and ended up in Hartford in an illegal way.
Those 367 guns can come from 32 states that don’t have strict background check laws, Thody said.
Nicole Hockley of Sandy Hook Promise said 10 years ago she knew nothing about background checks.
“It seemed insane to me that we had to fight so hard for something like a background check,” Hockley said.
She said ”it’s inconceivable that in 2023 we still do not have background checks to ensure guns are sold appropriately.”
She said she hopes it’s the last time this bill has to be reintroduced.
“It is time politicians listen to the voice of the people rather than what’s lining their wallets,” Hockley said. “Background checks will not solve everything, but it is an important step to move forward and it would save so many lives so then we can focus on what more we need to do to keep people safe.”
Murphy said in 2013 parents like Hockley were lobbying for a universal background check requirement even though the guns at Sandy Hook were bought with background checks.
He said there were guns used in mass shootings that were sold outside of the background check system, but it’s not about that.
“It does not matter what the circumstances of the murder are,” Murphy said. “If you lose a loved one in a mass shooting or you lose a loved one on the streets of Hartford, you lose a loved one to suicide or an accidental shooting the pain is just as indescribable.”
He said the reason why they argue for these measures is to bring all gun deaths down and this is just one way to do that.
“This is just trying to make this country a safer place,” Murphy added.
While not completely confident that it will pass this year, Murphy said the political winds are blowing in the right direction and Senators from states considered friendly to guns are hearing from constituents that this is something they want.