Following a mass shooting at a community college in Oregon, Connecticut’s delegation to the U.S. Senate has called for tighter restrictions on gun purchases.
Senators Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and Chris Murphy announced the “No Check, No Gun” bill at a Friday press conference in Hartford, scheduled before Thursday’s shooting. The bill would mandate a full background check before all gun purchases from federally licensed dealers, shutting down a loophole that currently allows gun purchases to proceed without a background check if the check has not been completed after 72 hours. The senators were joined by Rep. Elizabeth Esty LAW ’85, Connecticut Against Gun Violence Executive Director Ron Pinciaro, police chiefs from Connecticut towns and the Newtown Action Alliance.
“The simple fact is that our nation faces a public health crisis,” Blumenthal said. “There are common sense measures that can be taken, and the nation needs the resolve to meet this public health crisis just as it would a disease epidemic.”
Blumenthal described the bill as “common sense” and “fairly modest” throughout his remarks. Murphy echoed this sentiment, saying the bill, if passed, would pose a “tiny, small inconvenience” to a minority of gun purchasers — those with complex criminal records whose background checks would take more than 72 hours.
Blumenthal said 15,729 people who would otherwise have been prohibited from purchasing firearms have bought guns through the background check loophole.
The case of Dylann Roof — who killed nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina in June — is one such gun purchaser to whom the bill would have applied, Murphy said. Roof’s purchase was allowed to proceed even though he had not had a full background check because his complex multi-state criminal history made his check take longer than 72 hours.
Blumenthal noted that the bill is not comprehensive. Because it would apply only to federally licensed dealers, purchases at gun shows would be exempt. Despite this bill’s limited scope, Blumenthal said all purchases should eventually be made contingent upon a successful background check.
The bill Blumenthal plans to present to the Senate this week was introduced in the House by Rep. James Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina.
Miranda Pacchiana, a resident of Newtown, Connecticut who is affiliated with the Newtown Action Alliance, said she has seen the consequences of the current system firsthand. The current loophole in the law, she said, makes it all the easier for criminals to access firearms.
“We are willing to live with a little inconvenience when the alternative is handing over deadly weapons to would-be mass murderers who would otherwise be legally prevented from purchasing guns,” she said.
Murphy took a strong stance against Congress’ failure to act on gun control in light of the spate of highly-publicized mass shooting over the past few years. He said Congress’ inaction amounts to “quietly endorsing this mass slaughter.”
Esty, who serves as vice-chair of the Congressional Gun Violence Protection Task Force, expressed similar views.
“We are not powerless,” she said. “This is not a tragedy like an earthquake that we couldn’t predict and couldn’t stop. These are man-made tragedies, and they’re tragedies caused by the inaction of the United States Congress in taking steps.”
Pinciaro, who spoke after the officials, said Connecticut is “lucky” to have a congressional delegation fiercely committed to advancing gun control. He said Connecticut residents should support their congressmen in these efforts.
But not all Connecticut residents agree with the measures their senators have proposed. Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said senators should instead focus on mental health screening.
“I think that we have [had] years and years of gun control measures in the last 75 to 80 years, and I think that they’re really starting to reach into […] the wall of our Second Amendment rights,” he said.
Wilson added that “gun-free zones” in public areas cannot stem the tide of gun violence. A statement released by the CCDL after Thursday’s shooting described gun-free zones as “Utopian fantasies.”
Gun control reform is not the only measure Murphy advocated for in an effort to address mass shootings. He introduced the Cassidy-Murphy Mental Health Reform Act to the Senate in August, in partnership with Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican.
In a statement released by his office Thursday afternoon, Murphy said improving access to mental health care across the country can help reduce mass shootings.
“It’s long past time for Congress to make this issue a priority and pass a comprehensive bill to ensure Americans have access to the care they need before they become a danger to themselves or others,” Murphy said. “Last week’s tragic shooting in Oregon is a painful reminder of what can happen when individuals fall through the cracks.”
The Cassidy-Murphy bill is supported by a bipartisan coalition, with Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota as two of its proponents in the Senate.
Daniela Brighenti contributed reporting.