Story By John Murray
Chris Murphy was limping slightly as he walked south along Route 63 in Watertown on his sixth hike across Connecticut. Murphy, 48, still one of the youngest members of the United States Senate, was wearing a UConn baseball hat, t-shirt, khaki shorts, and grey and red colored running shoes.
“I’m walking a little slower this year,” Murphy said, without explaining that he had undergone leg surgery last year to prevent nerve damage from an irritated tibia-fibular joint.
Murphy, fresh from leading the first successful gun legislation in three decades, started the day in Litchfield, and planned to walk through East Morris, Watertown, Waterbury and end the day in Naugtauck. It was a 20-mile walk broken up by a 90-minute roundtable conversation in Waterbury with U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra.
Senator Murphy chatting with a convenience store worker in Watertown.
In addition to receiving strong support for the recent gun safety legislation he helped craft in the U.S. Senate, the three most pressing issues that Murphy heard about during his walk were high gas prices, Supreme Court decisions, and the war in Ukraine.
“It’s going to be a long day,” Murphy said, “but I love getting out of the D.C. bubble to see this beautiful state on foot, and talk to my constituents.”
As Murphy described the first two days of his hike this year from Ashley Falls, Massachusetts to New Haven, his voice was drowned out by the whir of a riding lawn mower being operated by a middle-aged man across the street. Fifty feet further along Murphy heard a voice calling out to him from behind.
Murphy turned to see that the man had climbed off his lawn mower and was running across the street to engage him. Murphy stopped, and the man ran up holding his smartphone in his right hand to livestream the encounter.
“Why are we in Ukraine?” the man demanded. “It’s none of our business.”
Murphy began to answer and the man steamrolled him with questions. “Do you think Hunter Biden is a criminal? Why are we wasting so much time on the January 6th hearings? Do you think vaccines work?”
Climbing off his riding lawn mower along Route 63 in Watertown, this man (on right) peppered Senator Murphy with FOX News talking points.
The man was nervous and the hand holding the phone was shaking. He said he had never done anything like this before. Murphy, a skilled listener, tried several times to answer a question, but before he could finish a complete sentence the air waves were snatched back and a barrage of accusations disguised as questions were fired his way.
“Why are you trying to take my guns,” the man asked.
“I’m not trying to take your guns,” Murphy said. “We’re just trying to make the country safer.”
“You are trying to take my AR-15,” the man said.
“That’s a weapon of war,” Murphy said. “What do you need that for?”
“To protect my animals if a bear comes,” the man said.
“You don’t need an AR-15 to deal with a bear,” Murphy said.
“It’s my 2nd Amendment right to own that gun,” the man said, “and you’re trying to take that away from me.”
Murphy, a UConn law school graduate, calmly explained the origin of the second amendment and many of the complexities and issues that swirled around its creation in 1789.
The man was running out of gas and the interrogation ended a minute later with the two men shaking hands and agreeing to disagree.
Murphy resumed hiking south and said, “Well, there you have it. There are positive encounters out here and hostile encounters, and that’s part of the reason I do this.”
Murphy’s first day of his annual walk actually began in a kayak on the Housatonic River into Canaan, where he began walking to Litchfield to host a town hall meeting.
Twenty miles later Murphy reached the Litchfield Green and relaxed on a bench.
Murphy said when he organizes town hall meetings they are overpopulated with Democrats and like-minded people. “I’m under no illusion that the people who show up to my town hall meetings are representative of the state,” he said. “There are a lot of people who do not agree with me on energy policy or COVID policy. This guy was throwing every conspiracy theory at me that he could, but it’s important to have that conversation.”
Murphy knew no minds had been changed. “Maybe he didn’t know that during the time of the adoption of the Second Amendment that there were tons of gun regulations,” Murphy said. “Maybe that’ll cause him to go do a little research and might open his eyes to some new information.”
Listening to opposing points of view is invigorating to Murphy. “There are a lot of people in this state who wonder why we’re spending so much money in Ukraine” Murphy said. “There are people who are offended at how easy it is for Congress to pass $40 billion for Ukraine, and how hard it is to enact domestic policy that helps our people. I think that’s really important for me to hear.”
Sifting through the conspiracy theories Murphy said that man had told some truths; that you have to be careful about what you do, how much money you spend overseas, and make sure you’re doing the right thing at home.
Murphy enjoyed this confrontation and the jousting he found along his four-day, 65 mile walk.
“In most places in this world you don’t get a chance to speak like that,” Murphy said. “That is the essence of democracy. He was passionate, but he was respectful. He listened to some of what I had to say, and didn’t agree with much of it. But that’s the miracle of this country, these conversations get to happen here.” •
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