PHILADELPHIA – Gun control has rarely been an issue in a presidential campaign, but with the help of some advocates from Connecticut, it is front and center at the Democratic National Convention.
A few speakers will touch on the issue today when a theme will be “Mothers of the Movement.” The day’s lineup of speakers will feature the mothers of Michael Brown, Sandra Bland and others who died in police custody or as a result of police action.
But it will be Wednesday night, when former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg – who has been spending millions of dollars to fight the National Rifle Association politically – and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., give their prime-time speeches that the issue will really come to the fore.
“I want people to understand the stakes of this election,” Murphy said. “It’s hard to get more extreme than the NRA on guns but Donald Trump has done so.”
Proof of that, Murphy said, is Trump’s support for allowing school personnel to carry guns, a proposal he says has had a “devastating” effect in Connecticut, where 20 first graders and six adults were killed by shooter Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
He said guns are an issue in this campaign because they are an issue with voters and a “core value” for Clinton.
“A lot of people thought she would stop talking about guns after the primary, but they were mistaken,” Murphy said.
Erica Smegielski, the daughter of slain Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung, also will speak to the delegates Wednesday evening. Smegielski was feaured in a 60-second television ad supporting Clinton that ran in Connecticut and Rhode Island during the primaries.
There’s a yawning gap this year between the GOP and Democrats on most issues, and guns represent one of the widest rifts.
The Democratic platform adopted by delegates on Monday is considered one of the most progressive in the party’s history. Meanwhile the policy statement adopted by Republicans in Cleveland last week tacked to the right.
When it comes to guns, the ideological gulf between the parties is huge.
The Democratic platform says, “to build on the success of the lifesaving Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, we will expand and strengthen background checks and close dangerous loopholes in our current laws.”
Gun control advocates, including Murphy and the entire Connecticut congressional delegation, are pressing for legislation that would expand FBI background checks of gun buyers to include those who make purchases at gun shows or from individuals over the Internet and bar those on a federal terrorism watch list from buying weapons.
The Democratic platform also calls for the repeal of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) “to revoke the dangerous legal immunity protections gun makers and sellers now enjoy; and keep weapons of war — such as assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines off our streets.”
PLCAA gives gun makers broad immunity from lawsuits like the one filed by several families of Sandy Hook victims against the manufacturer of the semi-automatic rifle used in the killings.
Murphy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., are the lead sponsors of legislation that would repeal PLCAA, a move supported by Clinton.
“She immediately welcomed it,” Blumenthal said of the repeal bill. “When I think back when most politicians were backing away from (gun control), for her to embrace it is revolutionary.”
Most Democrats in Cleveland agree that embracing gun control is a politically savvy move and say a rash of mass shootings has sensitized the public to gun violence.
Gov. Dannel Malloy said, “The needle on guns is being moved every day.”
But Republicans are looking at the issue though a much different political prism.
The GOP featured the NRA’s top lobbyist, Chris Cox, at their gathering in Cleveland.
The GOP platform calls for the support of “open carry” gun laws and offers a “salute” to the states that have passed them. It opposes “ill-conceived laws that would restrict magazine capacity or ban the sale of the most popular and common modern rifle,” the AR-15 used by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook and the shooter in the Orlando nightclub massacre.
The Republican platform also opposes Democrat-sponsored legislation to deny gun purchases to those on the terrorist watch list and “condemns frivolous lawsuits against gun manufacturers,” meaning the one filed by the Sandy Hook families.
Gary Rose, the head of the political science department at Sacred Heart University, said making gun control a campaign issue isn’t likely to win new support for Clinton or her GOP rival, Donald Trump.
“Even in Connecticut, the minds of voters are made up on this,” Rose said. “It’s something that will solidify their base but is not going to move voters.”
Nevertheless, gun control advocates held a rally in downtown Philadelphia Tuesday aimed at drumming up support for stricter federal gun laws.
Held by mothers who lost children to gun violence, the rally’s speakers included former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords; Rep. John Larson, D-1st District; and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. Giffords was gravely wounded by a gunman during a public event in Tucson in 2011.