Senator Chris Murphy speaking
Senator Chris Murphy speaks at a press conference in 2016

The Unit­ed States Sen­ate may be on the verge of tak­ing some small but impor­tant steps to pro­tect Amer­i­cans from the scourge of gun violence.

Sen­a­tor Chris Mur­phy of Con­necti­cut announced today that a bipar­ti­san group of twen­ty sen­a­tors has agreed in prin­ci­ple to a pack­age that does the fol­low­ing:

  • Major fund­ing to help states pass and imple­ment cri­sis inter­ven­tion orders (red flag laws) that will allow law enforce­ment to tem­porar­i­ly take dan­ger­ous weapons away from peo­ple who pose a dan­ger to oth­ers or themselves.
  • Bil­lions in new fund­ing for men­tal health and school safe­ty, includ­ing mon­ey for the nation­al build out of com­mu­ni­ty men­tal health clinics.
  • Close the “boyfriend loop­hole”, so that no domes­tic abuser — a spouse OR a seri­ous dat­ing part­ner — can buy a gun if they are con­vict­ed of abuse against their partner.
  • First ever fed­er­al law against gun traf­fick­ing and straw pur­chas­ing. This will be a dif­fer­ence mak­ing tool to stop the flow of ille­gal guns into cities.
  • Enhanced back­ground check for under 21 gun buy­ers and a short pause to con­duct the check. Young buy­ers can get the gun only after the enhanced check is completed.
  • Clar­i­fi­ca­tion of the laws regard­ing who needs to reg­is­ter as a licensed gun deal­er, to make sure all tru­ly com­mer­cial sell­ers are doing back­ground checks.

“Will this bill do every­thing we need to end our nation’s gun vio­lence epi­dem­ic?” Mur­phy asked rhetor­i­cal­ly, answer­ing: “No. But it’s real, mean­ing­ful progress.”

“And it breaks a thir­ty year log jam, demon­strat­ing that Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans can work togeth­er in a way that tru­ly saves lives.”

Con­sid­er­ing that the Sen­ate has done pret­ty much noth­ing to pro­tect Amer­i­cans from the scourge of gun vio­lence for decades, this is indeed a break­through. It is far from enough, but it is a start… and we have to start somewhere.

As unpalat­able and unsat­is­fy­ing as incre­men­tal change can be, some­times it’s the only prac­ti­cal alter­na­tive to the sta­tus quo. Democ­rats don’t have a fil­i­buster proof major­i­ty in the Sen­ate nor fifty votes to reform the fil­i­buster, and won’t until Jan­u­ary 2023 at the ear­li­est. This bipar­ti­san agree­ment is the coun­try’s best hope for fed­er­al lev­el action on gun safe­ty this year. Sen­a­tor Mur­phy deserves enor­mous kudos for get­ting ten Repub­li­cans, who usu­al­ly say no to every­thing, to buck the gun lob­by and back some mod­est gun safe­ty ideas.

It is worth not­ing that here in Wash­ing­ton, we’ve suc­cess­ful­ly used an incre­men­tal strat­e­gy to secure stronger gun safe­ty laws since 2014.

We did­n’t pass every­thing we’ve now got on the books in one go. We start­ed with expand­ed back­ground checks in 2014 (Ini­tia­tive 594). Then, we passed extreme risk pro­tec­tion orders in 2016 (Ini­tia­tive 1491). Then, we raised the age to buy firearms like the AR-15 to twen­ty-one in 2018 (Ini­tia­tive 1639).

More recent­ly, the Leg­is­la­ture has final­ly got­ten engaged by pass­ing bills to ban bump stocks, ghost guns, and high-capac­i­ty mag­a­zines, plus bar the car­ry­ing of guns at the Capi­tol, local gov­ern­ment meet­ings, and elec­tion sites.

And we’re not done. When the Leg­is­la­ture next recon­venes, it needs to pass an assault weapons ban, which our polling shows most vot­ers strong­ly sup­port.

Repub­li­can-con­trolled states aren’t like­ly to pass *any* of the gun safe­ty laws I just ref­er­enced, which makes the fed­er­al pack­age that Mur­phy nego­ti­at­ed espe­cial­ly impor­tant. The gun safe­ty laws Wash­ing­ton has enact­ed aren’t like­ly to be adopt­ed in Ida­ho, for exam­ple, any­time in the near future.

Pres­i­dent Joe Biden wel­comed the work of Mur­phy’s group, urg­ing swift follow-up.

“I want to thank Sen­a­tor Chris Mur­phy and the mem­bers of his bipar­ti­san group—especially Sen­a­tors Cornyn, Sine­ma, and Tillis — for their tire­less work to pro­duce this pro­pos­al. Obvi­ous­ly, it does not do every­thing that I think is need­ed, but it reflects impor­tant steps in the right direc­tion, and would be the most sig­nif­i­cant gun safe­ty leg­is­la­tion to pass Con­gress in decades,” said the President.

“With bipar­ti­san sup­port, there are no excus­es for delay, and no rea­son why it should not quick­ly move through the Sen­ate and the House. Each day that pass­es, more chil­dren are killed in this coun­try: the soon­er it comes to my desk, the soon­er I can sign it, and the soon­er we can use these mea­sures to save lives.”

“This frame­work rep­re­sents progress — and con­tains real mea­sures that can help save lives,” agreed Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray, who recent­ly appeared with the Alliance for Gun Respon­si­bil­i­ty to call for action. “It’s not every­thing we need to end gun vio­lence, so I will con­tin­ue to fight and press for gun safe­ty reforms like uni­ver­sal back­ground checks and an assault weapons ban. But I have said I would work with any­one to pass any­thing that may keep our fam­i­lies safe from gun vio­lence, and I look for­ward to work­ing with my col­leagues on both sides of the aisle to get this frame­work passed and then I’ll keep fight­ing to do more.”

“This deal would not have been pos­si­ble with­out a House under the lead­er­ship of Speak­er Pelosi, with­out a Sen­ate under the lead­er­ship of Sen­a­tor Schumer,
and of course Pres­i­dent Joe Biden,” said activist Fred Gut­ten­berg. “Our votes from the last two elec­tions mat­tered. If you wish for more, VOTE in November!!!”

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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