According to the Gun Violence Archive, nearly 900 people have been shot and killed in the U.S. since the mass shooting October 1 in Las Vegas. U.S. Senator Chris Murphy along with Senator Richard Blumenthal and others introduced legislation on Wednesday that would expand federal background checks.
Federal law only requires background checks for guns purchased by a licensed gun dealer. The new proposal would also require background checks for private gun sales -- for instance guns purchased at gun shows, or in online transactions.
According to a Quinnipiac University Poll released in June, 94 percent of American voters support the idea of universal background checks for any gun sales.
WNPR spoke with U.S. Senator Chris Murphy about the legislation.
WNPR’s Ray Hardman: Before we get into the specifics of this legislation, let me ask you - in the wake of the worst mass shooting in the U.S. does Congress seem more willing to do something to curb gun violence in this country?
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy: There continues to be a political imbalance here in Congress in which the gun lobby still has more power than the anti-gun violence movement. There certainly has been the first crack in the armor of the gun lobby. They have shown a willingness to move on a very narrow issue which is these bump stocks which allow you to convert a semiautomatic weapon into an automatic weapon which is what the shooter in Las Vegas used. What there's still resistance to is the legislation I'm talking about -- legislation that would require that any gun sale in the country go through a background check.
Let's go back a bit. It seems that after Las Vegas there seemed to be consensus on banning bump stocks. I personally haven't seen or heard much since. Where is that effort right now?
Well, Republicans all showed a willingness to take a look at the issue but then not a single one of them was willing to put in a piece of legislation. And normally that wouldn't be a problem because back when the Senate actually functioned, anybody could bring up an amendment before the Senate and have a debate and a vote on it. And if we brought up legislation, even if it didn't have Republican authorship of banning automatic weapons through this conversion device, it would pass.
But because Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader has essentially shut down any legislative debate in the Senate, we're not able to get that vote. So yes, Republicans I think are willing to vote for it. They're just not willing to lead on it again because they seem pretty afraid of the gun lobby. I think that's probably a bad call on their part because ultimately they're going to have a lot of constituents mad at them and if they cross their constituents to placate the NRA (National Rifle Association) that might not work out so well for them at the ballot box.
Senator Murphy, tell me about the legislation introduced today.
Well, such a simple piece of legislation. It basically mandates that any gun sale in this country go through a background check and it has common sense exceptions too. If you're transferring a weapon to a family member, or if you're loaning a gun to a friend to go hunting, you don't have to get a background check.
But if you're selling a gun, whether it be at a gun store online or at a gun show, you have to make sure that the person that's buying it isn't a criminal, isn't someone that's seriously mentally ill. You know that's the law in Connecticut and it's worked.
Many times the response from people opposed to gun restrictions is that gun laws are ineffective. Are they ineffective?
They're not. The data is absolutely overwhelming in states that have tougher gun laws. There are less gun crimes in states that have fewer guns. There are less gun crimes, and let's just take a look at one specific piece of research on this issue. Researchers looked at states that have universal background checks and states that don't.
And then they looked at the number of women that are killed by guns through domestic violence. The numbers are absolutely stunning -- 47 percent less women are killed by their intimate partners with a gun in states that have universal background checks. Why? Because domestic abusers, once they get a record, can't go buy a gun in states with universal background checks. So there's just no doubt that these laws work.
And though it's a favorite talking point of the NRA to say that you can't legislate evil. We're not trying to get rid of every single gun crime we're just trying to reduce the number of people who are killed by guns and laws like this would do that.
Senator Murphy, some 90 percent of all Americans -- and this includes lawful gun owners -- support this idea of universal background checks. Can you explain the politics at play that make most lawmakers unwilling to support it?
I will go even deeper than that. The polling suggests that 70 percent of NRA members support universal background checks.
What's going on here? The reality is the gun industry has changed and that means the gun lobby has changed. They need to whip up this paranoia about government that it's coming to take your weapons so as to incentivize the very small number of Americans who buy large numbers of very expensive weapons.
Three percent of Americans own 50 percent of the weapons -- that's the new model for the gun industry. And by opposing every single change in gun laws, it speaks to this desire to promote a paranoia that by passing background checks it's just a slippery slope to gun confiscation. That's of course not true.
But that kind of rhetoric is really important to the gun industry these days. That's the reason the NRA opposes this legislation. And that's the reason that many members of Congress are afraid to support it, because they don't want to cross a very powerful political organization.