Story By John Murray
One month after Chris Murphy was elected to represent Connecticut as the youngest member of the United States Senate, the trajectory of his life altered when 26 people (including 20 children) were gunned down inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
On December 12th, 2012, Murphy was serving out his third term in Congress and Sandy Hook was right in the heart of his district.
Murphy raced to the scene and was present in the Sandy Hook Firehouse when parents learned whether their children were dead or alive. Chris Murphy, age 39, became a crusader for gun reform that day.
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Massacre legislative efforts by Murphy and others to ban the sale of assault weapons and implement universal background checks were thwarted by Republican senators and the powerful lobby of the National Rifle Association.
Undaunted, after every mass shooting in America, Murphy took to the floor of the United States Senate to implore for gun reform. After a nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016 became the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, Chris Murphy took to the floor of the Senate and uncorked a 14-hour filibuster speech that forced Senate Republicans to agree to a vote on gun reform legislation. Murphy’s filibuster was the 10th longest in American history.
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy in Waterbury ten days ago. Photograph by John Murray
After the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Murphy unleashed an emotional speech in the Senate
“What are we doing? What are we doing?” Murphy demanded of his colleagues. “There are more mass shooting than there are days in the year.”
Murphy referenced the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, and then said, “Now we have another Sandy Hook on our hands.”
Emotional and angry, Murphy asked his fellow Senators, “Why do you spend all this time running for the United States Senate — why do you go through all the hassle of getting this job, of putting yourself in a position of authority — if your answer is that as this slaughter increases, as our kids run for their lives, we do nothing?”
And just like that Chris Murphy was thrust back into the national spotlight on gun reform. On June 6th, Murphy told Vogue Magazine, “When I look back on my time in public service, it will be this issue and my success or failure that probably determines whether I think that I measured up as a member of Congress. There’s a lot of times when I wish another issue had found me…but there’s also an opportunity right now. There’s a sense of urgency in the country.”
And this time it does appear different. In bi-partisan talks the past two weeks Murphy led the Democrats and John Cornyn of Texas led the GOP in gun reform negotiations. The group includes Murphy and Cornyn, and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Cory Booker (D- N.J.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Angus King (I-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
The group issued a press release at noon on Sunday, June 12th, 2022 announcing a breakthrough.
“Today, we are announcing a commonsense, bipartisan proposal to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country. Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities. Our plan increases needed mental health resources, improves school safety and support for students, and helps ensure dangerous criminals and those who are adjudicated as mentally ill can’t purchase weapons. Most importantly, our plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. We look forward to earning broad, bipartisan support and passing our commonsense proposal into law.”
The proposal includes:
Support for State Crisis Intervention Orders
● Provides resources to states and tribes to create and administer laws that help ensure deadly weapons are kept out of the hands of individuals whom a court has determined to be a significant danger to themselves or others, consistent with state and federal due process and constitutional protections.
Investment in Children and Family Mental Health Services
● National expansion of community behavioral health center model; major investments to increase access to mental health and suicide prevention programs; and other support services available in the community, including crisis and trauma intervention and recovery.
Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence
● Convicted domestic violence abusers and individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders are included in NICS, including those who have or have had a continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.
Funding for School-Based Mental Health and Supportive Services
● Invests in programs to expand mental health and supportive services in schools, including: early identification and intervention programs and school based mental health and wrap-around services.
Funding for School Safety Resources
● Invests in programs to help institute safety measures in and around primary and secondary schools, support school violence prevention efforts and provide training to school personnel and students.
Clarification of Definition of Federally Licensed Firearms Dealer
● Cracks down on criminals who illegally evade licensing requirements.
● Invests in programs that increase access to mental and behavioral health services for youth and families in crisis via telehealth.
Under 21 Enhanced Review Process
● For buyers under 21 years of age, requires an investigative period to review juvenile and mental health records, including checks with state databases and local law enforcement.
Penalties for Straw Purchasing
● Cracks down on criminals who illegally straw purchase and traffic guns.
Two hours before the announcement was made Murphy was on CNN’s State of the Union and said,”I’ve never been part of negotiations as serious as these. There are more Republicans at the table talking about changing our gun laws and investing in mental health than at any time since Sandy Hook.”
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy on CNN this morning before the agreement was announced.
Nothing in the proposal threatens the Second Amendment.
“We’re not going to do anything that compromises the ability of a law abiding American to be able to buy a weapon,” Murphy told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “What we’re talking about is trying to make sure that dangerous or potentially dangerous individuals don’t have their hands on weapons.”
And while these are incremental steps to staunch gun reform advocates, the agreement, if it passes in the Senate and the House, would be the most significant federal gun reform legislation in decades.
“We’re not gonna do everything I want,” Murphy said. “We’re not going to put a piece of legislation on the table that bans assault weapons, or we’re not going to pass comprehensive background checks, but right now people in this country want us to make progress.”