Last month, Congress passed its first federal gun safety measures in nearly 30 years, a significant step forward on an issue that had long seemed unsolvable. One of the key players behind the legislation was Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who has been pushing for action on guns 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 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 crosses the state, chatting with voters along the way.
Senator Murphy had kayaked in the state on July 4 via the Housatonic River on the Massachusetts border and planned to complete his trek in New Haven four days later. After holding a town hall in Litchfield, he wanted to drive a few more miles before calling it a day. He invited me to join him as he drove down quiet roads next to ponds and public hiking trails. As we walked, unaccompanied by any staff, the senator spoke freely about guns, Congress, his future and that of America.
The following are excerpts from our conversation, slightly edited for clarity.
Why do you think Congress was finally able to pass gun safety legislation, after so many failed attempts? Was it just the horrific nature of the shooting at Uvalde Elementary School?
I think you are right. [Nineteen] elementary school kids getting killed at the same time is another type of cataclysm that drives people to action in unique ways. But I also think Uvalde happened at a time when politics was ripe to turn. We’ve been building a movement against gun violence for 10 years, since Sandy Hook, and we’ve grown stronger. And it is no coincidence that the NRA and the gun lobby have weakened. We got to this time because of Uvalde and Buffalo [the May grocery store shooting in New York]but it also coincided with a shift in political power that allowed us to convince 15 Republicans that it was better to vote with us than against us.
And, look, I think it was the proper leadership alignment. I think there was something unique about Sen. [Kyrsten] Sinema, senator. [Thom] Tillis, senator. [John] Cornyn and I in this room. Kyrsten and I hold very different positions within the caucus. Tillis and Cornyn are not the most obvious negotiators on this issue; they tend to be a bit more central in their caucus. It was a group that lent itself very well to a compromise that could sell well in the Senate.
Many Americans who believe strongly in the Second Amendment believe that all laws restricting guns are unconstitutional. What is your response to them?
There are many people who have an absolutist view of the Second Amendment. And, you know, there may be five members of the Supreme Court who have an absolutist view of the Second Amendment. But our founding fathers did not have an absolutist view of the Second Amendment.
Our founding fathers were very comfortable with gun regulations because there were many gun regulations in early America. There were rules about who could carry concealed weapons, there were rules about recording how much gunpowder you had, there were rules about who could own guns and who couldn’t. All of the regulation that I think is common sense today was common sense to the Founding Fathers who wrote the Second Amendment. I am 100% confident that the Founding Fathers would roll over in their graves to learn that people today believe the Second Amendment prohibits all gun regulation. They didn’t believe it.
What is the next step for you, legislatively? You’ve focused so much on gun safety over the past decade, but are there other issues you’d like to address?
Having gotten this big contract, I’m certainly drawn to the idea of continuing to build these bipartisan coalitions. One of the things I’m involved in right now, along the same lines, is an effort to reform the electoral system [Count] Take action to try to prevent another January 6th. And there are several members of the gun group who are part of this group, people I got to know better during the gun violence negotiations.
Part of the reason I thought crafting a gun violence bill was so important was to show the American public that democracy could still work on a politically important and politically tense issue. There is obviously a lot of contention about January 6. But if we could reform the underlying law that governs the transition of power in a bipartisan way, it might make people believe a little more that there is a common understanding when it comes to the future of American democracy. .
Polls suggest the midterm elections could be tough for Democrats this fall. Should Democrats get their message out to voters?
I think there are a lot of people in this country who think the Democratic Party is often too judgmental and [is] pressing for change in our country at a pace that is just too fast. Listen, I think we have to be aware that less than a generation ago, traditional members of the Democratic Party were voting for federal laws banning same-sex marriage. So, yes, the Democratic Party has undergone a very rapid transformation.
We expect the rest of the entire country to move at the speed of the Democrats on social issues at our peril. It’s not that we shouldn’t discuss what we think is right. But we have to understand that some people don’t want to move as fast as we are always ready to move.
There have been whispers about you as a potential presidential candidate in 2024. Is this a real possibility?
The short answer is that I am very confident that Joe Biden will run again and that I will be an enthusiastic supporter. The longer answer is that at some point in my life I might be interested. Although I have younger children, it is 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 for giving our team so much room 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, get people registered. So I have a lot of admiration for what Joe Biden did to give us the opportunity to get this deal done.
But maybe in the future?
Never say never.
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