AP NEWS

Gun-safety vote brings Hayes and Esty together

February 25, 2019

HARTFORD — It was almost 11 p.m., but U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes picked up the phone.

to call Elizabeth Esty.

The House Judiciary Committee had just approved a bill that would require universal background checks for gun buyers.

It was the first major gun legislation to make it out of committee in decades, and Hayes wanted Elizabeth Esty, her predecessor representing Connecticut’s 5th District, to know.

“She answered and she said, ‘Did you dial me by accident?’ And I said the amendment just passed out of committee,” described Hayes, who became teary recounting the story at a news conference at the State Capitol Monday. “There was a long silence and then I could hear her crying on the other end of the phone.”

This week, the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, including Hayes, will vote on the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. They have also scheduled a vote on legislation that would extend the deadline for federal background checks from three business days to as many as 20, closing the so-called “Charleston Loophole.”

The bills are expected to pass largely along party lines with limited support from Republicans. Chances are very slim they will pass the Republican-controlled Senate.

But for Connecticut legislators and advocates who have pushed for federal gun reform since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, even passage by one chamber is a step forward.

Esty, who took office weeks after the school massacre, served on the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, but decided not to seek re-election in 2018 after widespread criticism of her handling of an abuse scandal in her office.

“I know she left this seat feeling like her work had not been done, that she left this seat feeling like she had not been your champion in Congress on this issue,” said Hayes. “She was so excited and she was so happy and so grateful [when the bill passed committee] because I know it was something that kept her awake at night.”

Esty did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Connecticut’s Congressional delegation has been vocal on the issue of gun violence, even though the state has some of the strongest gun laws in the nation. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said gun laws are only as strong as the weakest state’s legislation, because the weapons can move across state borders. He called the vote this week a “historic turning point.”

“We are at a moment of opportunity we need to seize,” he said. He hoped the more House members who vote for the bills, the more senators will back them.

emunson@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson