New Haven’s Congressional delegation joined more than 100 anti-gun violence advocates on the steps of the New Haven Police Department Friday morning to call on federal lawmakers to support what they say are common-sense gun policy reforms, including a ban on bump stock devices and expanded background check rules.
Just before that event, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy visited the WNHH studio to talk about gun control, Iran and North Korea, and the response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico to create a picture of the ways in which the current administration is “truly and frighteningly groundbreaking” in its handling of challenges and crises.
The rally comes in the wake of the latest mass shooting to shock the nation, this time in Las Vegas, where the death toll has risen to 58. It also comes in the wake of the National Rifle Association, which in previous shootings has doubled down on its pro-gun message, seeming to loosen its stance in support of bump stock regulation.
U.S. Sen Richard Blumenthal said that those who support responsible gun use should not be fooled into believing that the NRA has changed its position.
“The NRA statement is a deceptive and dangerous dodge,” he said. “Regulation is a path to delay not action. There must be a ban on bump stocks. People in Las Vegas might well be alive today if bump stock were illegal and access was barred because the shooter there was able to mow down many people because the machine like weapon that he converted…with bump stock.”
Blumenthal and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy have submitted legislation that would ban bump stocks, which modify semi-automatic weapons to make them essentially automatic. In 2010, Murphy explained on “Dateline New Haven,” the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) visited the question of the legality of bump stocks and found that the statute was “ambiguous.” Without a clear directive from the law, the ATF allowed them to continue to be sold. “The problem is the statute does not make it clear that these modifications of semi-assault weapons should be illegal, and so we should make it perfectly clear that they are illegal,” Murphy said.
That the NRA is not calling to clarify the law illustrates the nature of the “dodge” Blumenthal mentioned. “I think they [the NRA] know that the ATF doesn’t believe the language is clear,” Murphy said on WNHH, “so the ATF won’t do it” — that is, institute a ban. “So the NRA is setting up a potential circle of inaction here.”
“But the very fact that they didn’t issue their traditional response, which is ‘no changes, no changes whatsoever,’” Murphy added, “does suggest that the ground is subtly shifting. The anti-gun violence movement is getting bigger and stronger and people are less willing to accept inaction as an answer, and my read on this is that the gun lobby understands that and has to take a slightly different position today than they did in the wake of Sandy Hook, when they said, ‘we will not support a single change in our gun laws.’”
Murphy has also introduced legislation that would close what has become known as the “Charleston loophole,” which refers to the shooting of nine people in a church in that city and the law that allows federally licensed dealers to sell firearms after a 72-hour wait-period for a background check.
Blumenthal said at the rally that in the wake of these shootings, the NRA is losing its grip on Congress and the American people.
“Ninety percent or more want these common-sense measures,” he said. “We are at a tipping point now. We may not do it in the next month but we have reached a tipping point in this country where people will say that enough is enough. Hearts, and prayers, condolences and sympathy are not enough. We must honor the victims with action.”
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro called the many moments of silence that politicians have participated in after the latest shooting are empty moments in the face of zero votes on gun reform.
“We have not been able to vote on legislation in the House of Representatives,” DeLauro pointed out. “Why do we serve if not to respond to the people who put their faith and trust in us to carry their message? If we don’t do it, they have an obligation to turn us out and find people who will listen.
“We debate and we vote in the Congress.,” DeLauro added. “I’ll take my chances. Bring up some of this legislation. I believe that we will win and would win overwhelmingly. And yet they will not allow us to vote. We need to vote and we need to vote now.”
A Nuclear North Korea
“Maybe there is a narrow path to a diplomatic agreement, but we simply don’t have the ability with this current administration to get that deal done,” Sen. Murphy said on “Dateline New Haven” about defusing the tense situation regarding North Korea’s acquiring nuclear weapons.
It is possible that North Korea’s nuclear weapons are more of a defensive than an offensive gesture. “You can create a rational paradigm — that looks nothing like our paradigm — but you can create a rational paradigm inside which the North Korean regime is operating, through which they have made a decision to pursue a nuclear weapon in order to make sure that they are protected,” Murphy said.
But that isn’t something that we can take for granted, given North Korea’s treatment of its own citizens and the sometimes erratic outbursts of its own leader, Kim Jong Un. “There are all sorts of things that this leader has done that are irrational,” Murphy said. “Which is the reason why many of us are very concerned about the words that our president uses. It’s one thing to make the North Korean regime know that we have a military option. It’s another to call him names and to poke a stick in his eye. Because if it turns out he’s not a rational actor, then why on earth would you do things to prompt him to maybe take a catastrophic path?”
The friction between Trump and the State Department doesn’t help. “I think that we risk normalizing everything in this administration, but the least normal thing happening in this administration is the open war between the President of the United States and his Secretary of State,” Murphy said, referring to the public statements both parties made last weekend in which Trump made clear that he thought diplomacy with North Korea was worthless, while the State Department made clear that, nonetheless, it would continue to negotiate.
“We’ve never seen anything like it. It obliterates our credibility,” Murphy said. “It means that when Rex Tillerson is representing the United States overseas, no one believes that he is representing the administration.”
“It’s important to know when Donald Trump did this,” Murphy added. “Donald Trump did this when Rex Tillerson was in China negotiating with the Chinese on the question of North Korea. And so it was purposefully done to undermine Tillerson at one of the most important meetings of his time as secretary of state.”
The question of Trump’s relationship with the rest of the government he leads extended to relief efforts in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico — on the heels of similarly punishing weather in Texas and Florida.
“The president actually put someone in charge of FEMA who was competent and who could do the job, and they are overseeing the administration of lots of competent people,” Murphy said. “So FEMA, I think, is doing as good a job as they can being stretched incredibly thin. The problem is that we have other resources that, in a situation like this, would normally be brought to bear in a place like Puerto Rico to supplement FEMA that have not.”
Namely, the U.S. military. “Why are we paying all this money for the U.S. military if they aren’t on call for disasters like this?” Murphy said. “It’s not that they can’t do it. It’s that they didn’t get the order. The President of the United States simply did not choose to send the military into Puerto Rico like President Obama sent our military into Japan or Haiti after their natural disasters.”
“Everybody knew very quickly what had happened on Puerto Rico. It was not a mystery that this was outright, complete devastation, and it was also not a mystery that Puerto Rico was not in a great place to handle this,” Murphy said. Its economy had been in recession for years, and the island’s infrastructure, especially its electrical grid, had been neglected. “Everybody knew” a “massive response” would be needed. “The fact that the President didn’t mobilize the Department of Defense — and still, by the way, largely declines to mobilize the Department of Defense at the level they could be mobilized — it’s really impossible to understand, and the Puerto Rican community here in Connecticut is absolutely furious about that…. And when he came after the mayor of San Juan [Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto] just because she had the temerity to suggest that maybe there weren’t enough resources on the ground — that does have an effect on the entire morale of the response.”
Here a comparison arose between Trump’s response to Cruz and George W. Bush’s response to a similar outcry by then-New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin after Hurricane Katrina flooded that city in 2005. “You could never imagine George Bush ... launching a personal tirade of attacks against Ray Nagin. Despite how incompetent the response to Katrina was, he did understand that it was his job to try to lift people up and make this better,” Murphy said.
To hear the full interview with Sen. Murphy, click below.