After historic gun bill votes, Newtown-based leaders reiterate focus on safety

March 1, 2019

NEWTOWN — Advocates on both sides of the Second Amendment battle greeted news about Congress’ first action on gun legislation in 25 years with vows to fight harder to keep firearms away from children, criminals and the mentally unfit.

The passage this week of two background check bills in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives prompted calls for more vigilance by two Newtown-based gun violence prevention groups and the Newtown-based trade association for the firearms industry.

“This is an historic moment that two gun violence preventions bills have passed the House, and we know they will eventually become law because that is what the vast majority of Americans want,” said Po Murray, chair of the Newtown Action Alliance, during an interview on Thursday from Washington, D.C., where she was lobbying lawmakers.

The father of a boy slain in the Sandy Hook massacre agreed.

“It is incredible news that we are very excited about, because we have been trying to get background checks expanded for six years now,” said Mark Barden, a co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, whose son was among the 26 first-graders and educators slain at Sandy Hook School in 2012. “This is a huge win.”

A spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation said the industry shared the same safety goals as activists, but believed in different means.

“As the trade association that represents the retailers who are on the front lines of stopping sales to those individuals who should never have guns, our focus continues to be on improving the quality of the records reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS),” the NSSF’s Mike Bazinet said on Thursday.

“It was (our) FixNICS initiative that served as the model for the 2018 bipartisan legislation that passed the House and the Senate and was signed into law by President Trump,” said Bazinet, referring to a new law requiring agencies to fully report criminal and mental health records to the NICS database. “We need to focus on such real solutions to make our communities safer.”

For the moment, Newtown advocates are not focusing on fact that both House bills are unlikely to pass the Republican-led Senate. Even less are they concerned that President Donald Trump threatened to veto the bills.

Instead advocates said it was heartening that lawmakers were listening to their constituents.

One bill passed on Wednesday would require background checks for firearm sales over the internet and at gun shows. A second bill passed on Thursday would extend the background check waiting period from three days to 10 days.

“This is so important that Congress is finally acting on behalf of its constituents,” Barden said. “We need legislation like this that will have a positive public health outcome.”

rryser@newstimes.com 203-731-3342