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Conn. lawmakers say gun bills might actually pass

December 7, 2018

WASHINGTON — After nearly six years of disappointment following the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, Connecticut Democrats in Congress say there is a momentum shift on guns growing out of the 2018 election, and that new laws may pass not only the newly Democratic-controlled House, but the GOP Senate as well.

And when they get to Donald Trump’s desk, the NRA-backed president might actually sign them, said Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

“The kindest thing that can be said about Trump is he has no real convictions on this topic,” said Blumenthal on Thursday. “If enough Republicans join us, he’ll find a way to sign.”

Senate Republicans, who almost uniformly have opposed new gun proposals, may now reverse course, he said.

“I think this latest election has sent a clear message to my Republican colleagues: They cannot simply adhere to the NRA (National Rifle Association) line,” Blumenthal said.

Speaking at a meeting in Washington sponsored by Newtown Action Alliance, Blumenthal plus Connecticut’s Sen. Chris Murphy and Rep. Elizabeth Esty, all acknowledged that their new optimism is a marked contrast to the recent past, when Republicans dominated Capitol Hill.

Since the Newtown shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, took the lives of 20 children and six adult staff members, congressional Republicans and some red-state Democrats have effectively blocked the path on measures such as expanded background checks and barring terrorism suspects on the “no-fly” list from purchasing guns.

But those days are over, members of the Connecticut delegation confidently predicted to a crowd of gun-issue activists, many wearing Newtown Action Alliance’s signature green shirt.

“The American people voted and they voted strongly for gun sense,” said Esty, who did not seek re-election and will not be in office when the new Democratic-controlled 116th Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3.

Murphy noted that Democrats supporting new gun laws won House seats not only in the Northeast and the West Coast, but in unlikely places such as Texas, Florida and Georgia. He pointed to Lucy McBath, who won in a suburban Atlanta district once occupied by conservative stalwarts Newt Gingrich and Tom Price.

McBath lost her son in 2012 when a gunman shot him and friends as they sat in a gas station over the supposedly loud music they were playing. The case became a test of “stand your ground” laws in Georgia and other mainly Southern and Western states.

“This is a winning issue everywhere,” said Murphy. “What we know is we … are winning more and more and more.”

The high spirits on the gun-control side are in marked contrast to the blues on the gun-rights side.

The NRA is going through an uncustomary decline in income and membership. The nation’s premier gun-rights group even went so far as to take away free coffee from employees at their suburban Washington headquarters.

Gun sales, particularly of rifles and shot guns, have plummeted since Trump replaced President Barack Obama. Analysts attributed the drop to easing of tensions over Obama efforts to expand background checks and enact other gun-safety measures.

The Thursday morning gathering followed the sixth annual vigil at a church Wednesday night here, just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

The events have become something of a ritual in the six years since the Newtown shooting. Family members of gun-violence victims — and also a few survivors of gun-shot wounds — hold up pictures of lost loved ones, briefly tell their stories, and promise to “honor with action.”

If Congress does indeed pass new gun laws, “I would like to say next year, ‘we honored with action,’” Blumenthal said.

He promised to reintroduce a measure that would create a “red flag” process by which federal judges could issue orders to seize guns temporarily if evidence is presented that gun owners are a danger to themselves or others.

The bill is modeled on Connecticut’s 19-year-old risk warrant statute, passed by the legislature after a disgruntled accountant, Matthew Beck, killed four co-workers with the Connecticut Lottery Corporation in Newington before shooting himself in the head.

dan@hearstdc.com

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