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Sen. Chris Murphy Calls for Reinstating Assault Weapons Ban & Breaking NRA’s “Vise Grip” on GOP

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The Florida Senate has voted to support a number of a new gun control measures following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead. Meanwhile, in Washington, Republican lawmakers said last week they’re moving on from the debate over gun control, after failing to pass a single bill on firearms in the wake of last month’s massacre in Florida. For more, we speak with one of the most vocal advocates for gun control in Washington, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Shortly after the Florida shooting, Murphy took to the floor of the Senate to call for action. “Let me just note once again for my colleagues that this happens nowhere else other than the United States of America, this epidemic of mass slaughter, this scourge of school shooting after school shooting,” Murphy said. “It only happens here, not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the Florida state Senate has voted to support a number of new gun control measures, following a massacre at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead. On Monday, the Republican-controlled state Senate voted 20 to 18 to ban bump stocks, to raise the minimum age to buy a gun to 21, and to impose a 3-day waiting period for any gun purchase. But the measures do not include a ban on the sale of assault rifles or limits on high-capacity magazines. The gun control measures were passed after lawmakers removed a provision to arm most teachers. The gun control bill now moves to the state House of Representatives.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in Washington, Republican lawmakers said last week they’re moving on from the debate over gun control, after failing to pass a single bill on firearms in the wake of last month’s massacre in Florida. The congressional inaction came as President Trump appeared to backpedal Thursday from his surprise announcement a day earlier that he supports comprehensive gun control measures.

Well, we turn now to one of the most vocal advocates for gun control in Washington. That’s Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. This is Murphy on the floor of the Senate just after news broke on February 14th about the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. As the students were being evacuated from the school, he took to the floor of the Senate.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: Let me just note once again for my colleagues that this happens nowhere else other than the United States of America, this epidemic of mass slaughter, this scourge of school shooting after school shooting. It only happens here, not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction. We are responsible for a level of mass atrocity that happens in this country with zero parallel anywhere else.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Chris Murphy. Well, yesterday, Juan González and I sat down with Senator Chris Murphy, on Monday. I began by asking him about the debate over guns in Washington, and President Trump endorsing comprehensive gun control and then taking it back.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: I think it’s important to remember that this country is talking about the issue of guns every single day. The media may only pay attention when there is a school shooting or a mass atrocity, but every single day 90 people die from guns. There is a mass shooting, meaning four or more people being shot, in this country, on average, every single day. So, in Chicago and in Hartford and in Bridgeport, we’re talking about the consequence of gun violence 24/7.

So, listen, I can’t tell you where the president is on this issue today. Clearly, his gut political instinct tells him that his party cannot avoid the fact that 97 percent of Americans, in the latest poll, want universal background checks. But, of course, he has this longtime affiliation with the NRA, and they want none of these changes to happen.

I don’t think that the issue is dead, as your lead-up suggested. I think that Mitch McConnell is willing to bring a series of votes to the floor—not this week, but perhaps in the coming weeks. And if he does that, if he actually allows us to have an open debate about the future of gun laws in this country, I think he’ll find a bunch of his Republicans willing to vote with Democrats to do things like expand background checks or make sure that every state has a law like Connecticut has to take guns away from dangerous people when they start to show signs of danger. That open debate is what we’re asking for, and hopefully that will happen sometime this month.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Senator, your reaction to what’s been happening in Florida with the Legislature over the weekend, and even in the face of this enormous public upsurge of calls for change, the Florida Legislature instead votes to basically arm teachers?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: Well, the NRA’s dream is for people to believe this mythology that places with more guns are more safe. There were 30 studies done on this question that all said the same thing: Places, communities, states with more guns are less safe places, not more safe. The data is in. That evidence started to mount, such that the NRA actually got a law passed in Congress shutting down that research, banning certain federal agencies from continuing that research. What we know is that places that have guns are less safe, not more safe. You are more likely to be the victim of an accidental shooting than you are of a school shooting. Teachers don’t want to be armed. Parents don’t want their kids to be going to school in a place that are flooded with guns. And it’s disappointing that the Florida Legislature essentially did the bidding of the gun lobby. I hope we don’t make the same mistake here in Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain how the NRA works and how it has so many politicians in their pocket for so long, despite the polls that show, across the board, gun owners, non-gun owners, folks who are anti-gun—across the political spectrum, people overwhelmingly support more gun control efforts? I wanted to turn, as you respond to this, to Emma González, who gave that remarkable 11-minute address in Fort Lauderdale a few days after she and the other children and teachers survived the massacre that killed 17 of their fellow students and teachers. This is Emma González.

EMMA GONZÁLEZ: If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened, and maintains telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association. But, hey, you want to know something? It doesn’t matter, because I already know: $30 million! And divided by the number of gunshot victims in the United States in the one-and-one-half months in 2018 alone, that comes out to being $5,800. Is that how much these people are worth to you, Trump? … To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Emma González, speaking a few days after the mass killing at her school. That day, she had just taken AP government class, where the teacher was teaching about the power of the NRA, this entrenched power. You’re a senator. Talk about how it works behind the scenes and how you are fighting back.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: Well, let’s be clear: The NRA doesn’t have power over Congress. It has power over the Republican Party. Ninety percent of Americans, as I mentioned, want universal background checks, and 90 percent of Democrats in the Congress will vote for universal background checks. It’s the Republican Party that has stopped these measures over and over and over again.

And the explanation, yeah, certainly, has something to do with the amount of money that the NRA puts into these Republican candidates’ campaigns, but it’s much more about the fact that the Republican Party over the years has become essentially a party of one idea. That idea is less government, getting government out of every aspect of our lives. And so, if you want to be a Republican candidate, you have to prove how much you hate government. You have to hate government more than the other candidates in the Republican primary.

There is one organization that stands, more than others, for the pure hatred, antipathy for government, and that is the NRA. Why? Because the NRA stands for the ability of citizens to arm themselves in insurrection against their government. So, the Republican Party has formed this alliance with the NRA, because their stamp of approval is one of the things that’s necessary for Republicans to outflank other Republicans in their primaries. I know that’s a little bit down in the weeds, but it’s not as simple as the donations. It’s much more about what the NRA endorsement means to the Republican Party. The NRA doesn’t have influence over the Democratic Party. They have influence over the Republican Party.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Senator, I wanted to ask you about a topic that’s not even really under discussion right now, which is the assault bans—the ban on assault weapons. For 10 years, the United States did have a ban, from 1994 to 2004. From what I can tell, there was only one year during that period of time when more than 20 people were killed in a mass killing. But we’ve had now, in the last 14 years, 10 years where more than 20 people had been killed per year in mass killings. So, doesn’t it logically make sense that assault—that the lifting of the assault ban has only allowed these kinds of mass killings to proliferate even further? And why do you think that so many Americans still are resistant to the assault ban?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: Well, not many Americans are resistant to the assault weapons ban. The latest poll suggests maybe a quarter of Americans want assault weapons to continue to be legal. Double that number want assault weapons to be banned. So, again, you know, this idea that this issue is controversial out there is just not true. I mean, Americans have made up their mind: They want universal background checks, they want these assault weapons off the street. It’s only controversial here in Congress.

Listen, the gun industry’s business model is different today than it was 30 years ago. In 1980, over half of American households had a gun. And so, you know, as a gun company, you could sell one gun to a lot of people and do all right. Today that number is shrinking. Right now, you know, maybe one-third of American households have a gun. And so, in order to remain profitable, they have to sell more expensive weapons to a smaller number of Americans. And that’s where the assault weapon comes in.

Again, by and large, Democrats, you know, believe that these weapons should be made illegal. I’d encourage anybody to take a look at the testimony from doctors who treated people who were shot by these weapons in Parkland or in Sandy Hook. There is something unique that happens when a bullet enters your body from an assault weapon versus a revolver. Those bullets are traveling at a speed that’s three times that of something—of a bullet coming out of a handgun, and it rips your body to shreds. So, again, if we can break the NRA’s vise grip on the Congress right now, because of their vise grip on the Republican Party, we can have a conversation about getting rid of those weapons, as well. The American public supports it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain how it works. When you say the overwhelming number of people in the United States support an assault weapons ban, it was in effect. It clearly reduced the number of mass shootings. And yet that was allowed to sunset. But right now you have the students at Parkland organizing this March 24th March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. Your own trajectory, having been the congressman for the area of the Sandy Hook Elementary School, being elected just a few weeks before to become the senator from Connecticut. Talk about what’s happened in this five years that you’ve become senator and how you see an assault weapons ban possibly happening. Even the media, like CNN and MSNBC, which is clearly for gun control, when talking to the students when they talk about an assault weapons ban, they, too, have drunk the Kool-Aid. They, too, say, “Well, obviously, an assault weapons ban is not possible.” That’s the journalists on television speaking to the kids.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: Right. Well, I mean, if you want to sort of talk about the scope of the five years since Sandy Hook, though there has been no meaningful action here in Congress, let’s remember that many states have acted, and many lives have been saved. Several states have passed referendums strengthening their gun laws. Connecticut has passed some of the strongest gun laws in the nation. Evidence suggests that some of the laws that we passed before and after Sandy Hook has reduced our gun violence rate in Connecticut by 40 percent. That’s meaningful and significant. The anti-gun violence movement is growing and growing and growing. You know, Emma González now has more Twitter followers than the NRA does, and nobody knew who she was just three weeks ago. So, we’re getting stronger and stronger.

And the only way we eventually really win here in Washington is by having an election in which a bunch of people who have been voting with the gun lobby and against their constituents lose. A lot of folks that have been voting against the will of their constituents, whether it be on assault weapons or on background checks, they say, “Well, you know, voters really don’t care about this issue. They say they want gun laws to change, but they are really voting more on, you know, other issues, like the economy, jobs, immigration.” This may be the first election, in 2018, where voters are going to say, “OK, if you’re not with me on background checks, then I’m not with you. If you’re not with me on assault weapons, I’m not with you.” And it’s going to take an election, I think, where people lose their seats because of this issue, before we really get change here in Washington. And I think the kids understand that. I mean, I’ve met with these kids. I think they want change this session of Congress, but I think they’re skeptical. They watch the way that Trump has bobbed and weaved, and they are preparing to become an electoral force.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And speaking of those young people, what do you think the impact of a huge march in Washington on March 24th would have? Clearly, as you say, the election in November will be the real decider, but what impact could this march have?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: Well, I mean, I hope that this march could convince some of my Republican colleagues to take up these measures, maybe vote for them. I’m skeptical. I think, you know, the lack of urgency that they’re showing, the fact that Trump does not look like he’s going to try to lead Republicans to water on this issue, means that this march is going to be much more about sending a clear message to Republicans: Fix this problem, or we’ll vote you out of office. And this march can be a galvanizing force for the fall. I know there’s a lot of efforts to do massive voter registration around these marches. And remember, there’s one march in D.C., there are 400 other marches on the same day all around the country. And if every single kid that shows up to those marches registers to vote, that might be the biggest impact that they have.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Murphy, I wanted to ask about that televised White House meeting that President Trump had with many lawmakers, that you were a part of, where he urged all of you to pass comprehensive gun control measures.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You have to be very, very powerful on background checks. Don’t be shy. Very strong on mentally ill. You have to be very, very strong on that. And don’t worry about bump stock. We’re getting rid of it, where it will be out. I mean, you don’t have to complicate the bill by adding another two paragraphs. We’re getting rid of it. I’ll do that myself, because I’m able to. Fortunately, we’re able to do that without going through Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Trump, at the end, talking about bump stocks, bump stocks which convert semiautomatic guns into automatic weapons. In the Las Vegas case, it was responsible for the deaths of so many scores of people. It wouldn’t have made a difference, a bump stock ban, when it came to the Parkland students. But this issue of bump stocks, you hear him saying, “I’m going to take control here. Even if Congress won’t pass the ban, I’ll do it through a rule change, through executive order.” Now, actually, though it looks like he’s taking charge, that’s exactly what the NRA ultimately called for after Las Vegas, when they saw that they couldn’t stop gun control measures from being voted on—although, ultimately, that’s exactly what happened: They weren’t voted on. They said that they wanted the bump stock ban not to be done through Congress, but through a rule change. That way, it could be easily rescinded. Your response?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: That’s one of the reasons they want it to be done in a rule change, but also because it’s really on shaky legal grounds whether or not the executive can get rid of bump stocks. The Obama administration did not get rid of bump stocks, even though they wanted to, because their lawyers told them that the administration actually cannot ban a certain type of device that converts guns into automatic weapons. That was only something that Congress could do, and that if the administration tried to do it, a gun rights group would easily be able to go to court and have the regulation struck down. And so that’s why the gun lobby wants him to do it by regulation, not necessarily because they think another Republican administration is going to get rid of it, but because they think they can get rid of it through the courts. That’s why the Legislature has to do this. And I hope we will.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think President Trump, being in his presence last week, seeing his vast, extreme turnaround just on this issue of gun control, is unraveling further than many have already talked about, what’s happening in the White House now?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: Yeah, I don’t know, you know, all the inner workings in the White House. I don’t focus on it like a lot of other people do. What I know is that, you know, being in that meeting with the president when he endorsed things that even some Democrats weren’t willing to endorse, I knew, walking out, that he was going to have to walk back some of the commitments that he made there. I think it’s important for Republicans to remember, though, that the president, for all of his flaws, deep flaws, has political instincts that sometimes plug in to the mood of the country on certain issues, and I do think he recognizes that on this issue of guns, Republicans are way out of step and are really jeopardizing themselves electorally. And while he’s, yeah, probably not going to be helpful in getting this bill passed, I do hope that Republicans listened to the political advice that he was dispensing in that meeting.

AMY GOODMAN: Might you filibuster again?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY: Well, I mean, it’s—let’s see if we get the votes.

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