Connecticut senators behind 'most significant anti-gun violence bill in 30 years'
After years of failed attempts, Connecticut’s two senators believe a sweeping new gun reform package could pass Congress by this weekend. Both played a key role in making it happen.
"It is the most significant anti-gun violence bill in Congress in 30 years,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy. "Quite simply, this bill is going to save lives.”
Murphy was the lead negotiator with Republicans, who have defeated gun legislation for decades. Tuesday evening, 14 GOP senators voted to bring the bill to the Senate floor.
The move comes amid a public outcry after back-to-back mass shootings killed 21 victims at a school in Texas and 10 people at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act includes enhanced background checks for gun buyers under 21. Both shooters in Texas and Buffalo were 18 years old.
"That call to the police department in a place like Uvalde could have potentially stopped that mass murder,” said Murphy.
Other provisions include:
· $750 million for states to pass "red flag" laws letting judges remove weapons from people deemed dangerous. Connecticut passed the nation’s first law in 1999 after a mass shooting at Connecticut Lottery headquarters, and lawmakers recently expanded it.
· "Boyfriend loophole" closed. People in “serious dating relationships” convicted of domestic abuse will now be barred from buying guns. Currently, the ban only applies to couples who are married, living together or sharing a child. Those convicted of certain misdemeanors can get their right to own a gun back after five years.
· Clarified definition of “federally licenses firearm dealer”
· New federal offense for “straw purchases” and gun trafficking
The bill also includes approximately $1 billion for mental health programs and local anti-violence initiatives.
In a compromise with Republicans, it also beefs up physical security around schools, including more armed police officers.
"Hardening our schools -- stuff like that is way overdue,” said Holly Sullivan, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, which represents 43,000 gun owners across the state.
But Sullivan opposes expanding "red flag" laws. She says Connecticut’s law is often abused.
"We have zero meaningful penalty for perjury in this state, and the rest of America should not be subjected to that as well,” said Sullivan. “The individual who owns those firearms is not heard at all before the firearms are taken. It’s simply off of the word of the individual who has made that complaint.”
In Connecticut, a judge must find probable cause to seize someone’s firearms. Within 14 days, they must hold a hearing on keeping the weapons.
The National Rifle Association also opposes the bill. In a statement, the NRA said: “This bill leaves too much discretion in the hands of government officials and also contains undefined and overbroad provisions – inviting interference with our constitutional freedoms."
Some gun control activists aren't thrilled either. The bill does not include an assault weapons ban or universal background checks, both of which Connecticut passed after the Sandy Hook shooting. Connecticut’s Ethan's Law for safe gun storage, named after Guilford teenager Ethan Song, also didn’t make the final cut.
But Sandy Hook Promise co-founder Mark Barden, who lost his son 10 years ago, says it’s an important step.
"This is something; it's forward movement,” he said. “And the alternative is nothing. And we can't continue doing nothing.”
Murphy says the Senate could vote on the Safer Communities Act by Thursday, with final passage in the U.S House by this weekend.