TechnologyIn his own words: Senator Murphy on guns, democracy,...

In his own words: Senator Murphy on guns, democracy, and 2024

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Last month, Congress passed its first federal gun safety measures in almost 30 years, a significant breakthrough on an issue that had long seemed intractable. One of the key players behind the legislation was Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who has been pushing for action on guns ever since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a decade ago.

I met up with Senator Murphy on a gloomy day in northwest Connecticut. He was in the middle of his “Walk Across Connecticut,” an annual event where he literally walks across the state, talking with voters along the way.

Why We Wrote This

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut was instrumental in securing cooperation across the aisle on federal gun safety legislation. He shares why it worked and where he hopes to find bipartisan agreement next. Part 2 of 2.

After holding a town hall in Litchfield, he wanted to get a few more miles in before calling it a day. He invited me to join him. As we walked, unaccompanied by any staff members, the senator talked freely about guns, Congress, his future, and America’s. 

Regarding his next legislative focus, he mentioned “an effort to reform the Electoral [Count] Act to try to prevent another Jan. 6,” noting that “if we were able to reform the underlying law that governs the transition of power in a bipartisan way, that might cause people to have a little bit more faith … [in] the future of American democracy.”

Litchfield, Conn.

Last month, Congress passed its first federal gun safety measures in almost 30 years, a significant breakthrough on an issue that had long seemed intractable. One of the key players behind the legislation was Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, who has been pushing for action on guns ever since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut – a decade before the May shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

I met up with Senator Murphy on a gloomy day in northwest Connecticut. He was in the middle of his “Walk Across Connecticut,” an annual event where he literally walks across the state, talking with voters along the way.

Senator Murphy had kayaked into the state on July 4 via the Housatonic River on the border of Massachusetts, and planned to end his trek in New Haven four days later. After holding a town hall in Litchfield, he wanted to get a few more miles in before calling it a day. He invited me to join him as he traversed some quiet roads abutting ponds and public hiking trails. As we walked, unaccompanied by any staff members, the senator talked freely about guns, Congress, his future, and America’s. 

Why We Wrote This

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut was instrumental in securing cooperation across the aisle on federal gun safety legislation. He shares why it worked and where he hopes to find bipartisan agreement next. Part 2 of 2.

What follows are excerpts from our conversation, lightly edited for clarity. 

Why do you think Congress was finally successful in passing gun safety legislation, after so many failed attempts? Was it simply the horrific nature of the Uvalde elementary school shooting?

I think you’re right about that. [Nineteen] elementary school kids getting killed at once is a different kind of cataclysm that moves people to action in unique ways. But I also think that Uvalde happened at a moment when the politics were ripe to turn. We’ve been building an anti-gun-violence movement for 10 years, since Sandy Hook, and we’ve been getting stronger. And not coincidentally, the NRA and gun lobby have been getting weaker. We arrived at this moment because of Uvalde and Buffalo [the May grocery store shooting in New York], but it also happened to coincide with a shifting of political power that allowed us to convince 15 Republicans that they would be better off voting with us than against us. 

And, listen, I think it was the right alignment of leaders. I think there was something unique about Sen. [Kyrsten] Sinema, Sen. [Thom] Tillis, Sen. [John] Cornyn, and I in that room. Kyrsten and I occupy very different positions in the caucus. Tillis and Cornyn are not the most obvious dealmakers on this issue; they tend to be a little more in the center of their caucus. It was a group that lent itself very well to a compromise that could sell broadly in the Senate. 

Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor

Sen. Chris Murphy walks on a street in a wooded area during his “Walk Across Connecticut” on July 5, 2022. Senator Murphy is pursuing bipartisan reform of the Electoral Count Act, the underlying law that governs the transition of power.

Many Americans who feel strongly about the Second Amendment believe that any laws restricting guns are unconstitutional. What’s your response to them?

There are a lot of people who have an absolutist view of the Second Amendment. And, you know, it may be that there are five members of the Supreme Court who have an absolutist view of the Second Amendment. But our Founding Fathers didn’t have an absolutist view of the Second Amendment. 

Our Founding Fathers were very comfortable with the regulation of guns, because lots of regulation of firearms existed at the beginning of America. There were rules about who could carry concealed weapons, there were rules about registering the amount of gunpowder you had, there were rules about who could own weapons and who couldn’t own weapons. All the regulation that I think is common sense today was common sense to the Founding Fathers who wrote the Second Amendment. I’m 100% confident that the Founding Fathers would be rolling over in their graves to learn that people today believe the Second Amendment prohibits any and all regulation of firearms. They didn’t believe that.

What’s next for you, legislatively? You’ve been so focused on gun safety for the past decade, but are there other issues you’d like to address?

Having gotten this big deal done, I’m certainly attracted to the idea of continuing to build these bipartisan coalitions. One of the things that I’m involved in right now, along the same lines, is an effort to reform the Electoral [Count] Act to try to prevent another Jan. 6. And there are several of the members of the gun group that are in that group, folks that I’ve gotten to know much better over the course of the gun violence negotiations. 

Part of the reason why I thought it was so important to get a bill on gun violence done was to show the American public that democracy could still work on an issue this politically important and this politically fraught. There’s obviously a lot of bickering about Jan. 6. But if we were able to reform the underlying law that governs the transition of power in a bipartisan way, that might cause people to have a little bit more faith that there is some common understanding when it comes to the future of American democracy.

Polling suggests the midterm elections could be tough going for Democrats this fall. Do Democrats need to shift their messaging to voters?

I think there are a lot of folks in this country who feel that the Democratic Party is often too judgmental and [is] pressing for changes in our country at a pace that is just too fast. Listen, I think we have to be cognizant that, you know, less than a generation ago, mainstream members of the Democratic Party were voting for federal laws that banned gay marriage. So, yeah, the Democratic Party has undergone a very quick transformation.

We expect the rest of the entire country to move at the speed Democrats have on social issues at our peril. It’s not that we shouldn’t argue for what we think is right. But we need to understand that some people aren’t willing to move as fast as we are always willing to move.

There have been murmurs about you as a potential contender for the presidency in 2024. Is that a real possibility?

The short answer is, I’m very confident that Joe Biden is running again and I’m going to be an enthusiastic supporter. The longer answer is that, at some point in my life that might interest me. While I have younger kids, that’s a much more difficult proposition.

I don’t think it was easy for the White House, or [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer, or [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell to give so much room to our team to negotiate. There was a lot of pressure on the White House to step in and, you know, be a more direct facilitator of the talks. There was a lot of pressure on Chuck Schumer to call a vote and, you know, put people on the record. So I have a great deal of admiration for what Joe Biden did to give us the room to get that deal done. 

But maybe in the future?

Never say never. 

Part 1: Chris Murphy broke through the gridlock on guns. He’s not done.

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