On the day four students were shot to death at Oxford High School in Michigan, Sen. Chris Murphy ranted in the Senate against Republicans who defend “the sanctity of life” in the context of abortion, but not gun violence in schools.
“Do not lecture us about the sanctity, the importance, of life when 100 people every single day are losing their lives to guns, when kids go to school fearful that they won’t return home,” Murphy said.
His live audience two weeks ago was modest, but the two-minute, 51-second video clip he posted on Twitter that night had been viewed 3.6 million times by nightfall Monday, the eve of the Sandy Hook school massacre anniversary.
Monday, Connecticut’s two Democratic senators, Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, stood with gun-safety advocates for a brief remembrance outside the state Capitol in Hartford, trying to stoke hope and outrage.
Before the event, Murphy acknowledged a degree of calculation in the outrage expressed two weeks ago in the Senate: He simultaneously is trying to discomfit Republicans, yet coax them back into talks about universal background checks.
“We have to be playing the long game, and playing the long game requires people maintaining their sense of outrage,” Murphy said. “The biggest worry that I have is this all becomes normalized, and people give up on movement because they just they come to believe they need to accept mass shootings as as a way of life.”
Driving home tonight, I thought about Republicans’ floor speeches today on the “sanctity of life”.
And how this concern for “life” apparently doesn’t extend to the kids who were shot today in a school in Michigan.
So I turned the car around, and went to the Senate floor. pic.twitter.com/yJ8FthS0nE
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) December 1, 2021
The 20 children killed as Sandy Hook first graders nine years ago would have been in high school this year, contemporaries of the four students shot to death two weeks ago at Oxford High School.
“Today’s a hard day, and tomorrow will be even harder,” said Po Murray, one of the speakers outside the Capitol.
Murray is a founder of the Newtown Action Alliance, one of the grass roots groups founded after Sandy Hook. Her children attended Sandy Hook, though the youngest was 11 and had moved on to intermediate school by Dec. 14, 2012.
The death toll was 28 that day: 20 children, six educators and their killer, the latter by his own hand, at the school; Nancy Lanza, the owner of the AR-15 used in the attack, had been killed by her son at their home.
The weapon used in Michigan had been purchased by the parents of the accused killer, as was the case in Connecticut. Murray said the majority of school shootings involve weapons not securely stored by their owners at home.
No one spoke of gun control Monday. The emphasis has long shifted to gun safety, with laws addressing safe storage, background checks of purchasers, and seizures of firearms from those deemed to pose a risk of violence.
In District of Columbia vs. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a broad ban on guns in Washington D.C. in 2008 and affirmed a constitutional right to possess firearms in the home for protection.
But the decision did nothing to upend more common, if less restrictive, gun regulations, nor did it suggest that universal background checks would be unconstitutional.
They just have been difficult to pass, at least in Congress.
Murphy was optimistic a year ago about getting a floor vote in 2021, which has not happened. Blumenthal insisted in March –after a mass shooting in Boulder, Colo., the start of Joe Biden’s presidency and Democrats’ winning control of the Senate — that times had changed.
“This time feels different,” Blumenthal said then. “The dawn of a new era with a president completely committed to gun violence prevention. And I know from having heard him privately and publicly that he shares this passion; so do majorities, now, in the House and the Senate.”
Blumenthal said Monday it did feel different. “And it still feels different,” Blumenthal said. “I think we are building a movement, we’re moving forward.”
“I’ve long argued that this is going to go down in American history is one of the great social change movements, not unlike the civil rights movement or the fight for marriage equality,” Murphy said. “Movements take time to build and to achieve ultimate victory. But the cause that we are advocating is so righteous that we can’t fail. We have no choice but to persevere.”
But Murphy acknowledged that once-promising talks with two Republican senators, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas, failed to deliver votes.
“We didn’t finish the deal,” Murphy said. “But we are very close, even in a 50-50 Senate, to being able to get something that can that can pass.”
Murphy noted that neither Graham, nor Cornyn were supporters of a more limited background checks bill fashioned by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., in 2013. In that, he said, he saw reason for hope.
“We got closer,” Murphy said, “because Republicans are gradually coming to the conclusion that it’s better off to get something passed than to fight this movement perpetually.”