WASHINGTON — Encouraged by mid-term election gains, gun safety advocates say there will be action in the next Congress to enact “sensible” gun safety legislation that has eluded them since the slaughter six years ago of 20 first graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
“We will get a bill passed through the House,” Sen. Chris Murphy said Thursday morning flanked by some 50 victims and survivors of gun violence from as far away as California who had attended a National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence held Wednesday evening at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill organized by the Newtown Action Alliance.
When the next Congress convenes in January, Democrats will hold a majority in the House and many of their newly elected members campaigned in favor of universal background checks for gun purchases, bans on assault-style weapons, allowing police to temporarily remove weapons from people posing a threat to themselves or others, and limiting the number of cartridges a magazine can hold.
Those bills, which were ignored under a Republican majority, will likely get a vote in the House under a Democratic majority. Murphy, however, admits that, for now, there is not enough support in the Senate to pass gun safety legislation. Advocates would need 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles, and Republicans will remain in the majority in the Senate.
Still, Murphy is optimistic pointing to polling data and to gains in the House that demonstrate growing support among voters for gun safety legislation in the face of an onslaught of shootings that claim an average of four American lives every hour.
“There is no way to chart the modern history of the anti-gun violence movement other than to tell a story of our side getting stronger and stronger and the forces of status quo getting weaker and weaker,” he said. “This election was a referendum on gun violence and more people put themselves out there as champions of change.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who was at the press conference, said his first action in January will be to refile legislation he proposed this session with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to establish a national “red flag” law like the one Connecticut has to temporarily remove guns from people who present a threat to themselves or others.
“Let no one doubt that you are making a difference. You put gun violence on the ballot this election and we won,” Blumenthal said. “We have a social movement of undeniable force. It has a momentum that is unstoppable. There will be doubts and days of defeat … but the arch of history is bending toward this justice to stop gun violence in this country.”
Tommy Murray, co-chair of the Junior Newtown Action Alliance, came to Capitol Hill to encourage Congress to take action. A senior at Newtown High School, he was in the sixth grade when his neighbor, Adam Lanza, walked into his old elementary school and shot 20 children between six and seven years old as well as six adult staff members before taking his own life.
“I didn’t know what to think. It was just so shocking to see my old elementary school in the news for such a terrible reason,” he said.
Murray said Congress has not done enough to address gun violence.
“I think they have been kind of avoiding the situation and I don’t think this is a situation that should be avoided any longer. I think they should start to actually act on it.”
Murray says Congress needs to pass laws that prevent criminals or the mentally ill from getting their hands on weapons. He also says a ban on assault weapons is needed because they are not needed outside the military. He also wants laws about safe storage of guns. To opponents, he said, they should not see this as an infringement on their Second Amendment rights.
“We’re not trying to take away their guns,” he said. “The laws we are trying to pass won’t really effect them if they don’t have a criminal record or they aren’t mentally ill. It doesn’t really make sense for them to be against what we are trying to do. We are just trying to prevent bad criminals from getting their hands on weapons — not them.”
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, whose district includes Newtown, will not be in Congress when the next session opens but spoke animatedly about the need for Congress to address gun violence. Pointing to the victims and family survivors in the room, she noted gun violence has touched every community in America.
“This is what America looks like — black and white and brown and every color in between, sons and daughters, young and old, from every corner of this great country,” she said.
Esty also noted the struggle the last six years have been to get Congress to address gun violence but is optimistic that they are now close to getting results because voters have elected so many anti-gun violence lawmakers to Congress including Lucy McBath, a Georgia Democrat, whom she met at the vigil held five years ago on Capitol Hill.
McBath, elected to a seat once held by Newt Gingrich, campaigned as a gun-control advocate. Her son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed in November 2012 at a gas station.
“Things they are a changing,” Esty said.