Gun violence survivors and members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation are renewing their push for the U.S. Senate to vote on restoring the federal assault weapons ban as they prepare to mark 10 years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Speaking from the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, dozens of advocates and survivors came to Washington to implore lawmakers for additional reforms that did not make it into a gun safety bill that passed earlier this year. They are seeking both a ban on assault weapons and the implementation of universal background checks on gun purchases.
Po Murray, chairwoman of Newtown Action Alliance, said the gun violence survivors traveled from 22 states to ramp up the pressure on senators and specifically Democratic leadership to bring up the bill for a vote before the end of the year — even if it does not have the support required to pass.
“We’re here today to ask the Senate to do more. Specifically, we would like the Senate to schedule a vote to pass the assault weapons ban,” Murray said Thursday morning.
The room was largely silent as survivors went up to the podium one by one to share a photo and a story about a loved one they lost to mass shootings, suicides and gun violence. Many were somber and emotional as they asked the Senate to “pass the ban” to keep their families and communities safe.
Congress implemented a federal assault weapons ban in 1994, but it expired in 2004 and has not been restored despite pushes from some Democratic lawmakers and gun control advocates. The House passed legislation banning such firearms in July, but it has no prospects of clearing a split 50-50 Senate, where Republican votes are required to move most bills forward.
Democrats need buy-in from Republicans to pass legislation since most bills need 60 votes to move forward and overcome filibusters in the Senate. And while Democrats still hold a very narrow majority in the House, they are about to lose control as the GOP takes over next year.
While advocates have been disappointed about the lack of action on those reforms, Congress was able to pass the first major gun safety legislation for the first time in nearly three decades in the early summer.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., agreed that much more needs to be done beyond the bill he championed, including an assault weapons ban. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, among other things, strengthens background checks for those buying firearms under age 21 and incentivizes states to pass a “red flag” law that permits a court to temporarily prevent someone from buying a gun if they are a threat to themselves or others. It also provides money for schools and mental health services.
Murphy told the group on Thursday that he received a briefing last week from the FBI related to the background checks system. He said he saw a list of individuals deemed a danger to themselves or others who were stopped from purchasing a firearm as a result of the newly passed law.
“I understand that law is not close to enough but it is saving lives as we speak,” Murphy said. “And now we’re here to compel our colleagues to do the right thing and pass legislation that is widely popular in the American public.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., noted that because of the shooting at Sandy Hook, Connecticut has implemented some of the strongest gun reforms in the country. In the wake of the massacre, the state passed a bill that strengthened Connecticut’s assault weapons ban and required background checks for all firearm purchases.
But Blumenthal argued that without nationwide gun prevention measures, Connecticut and other states will not be as protected from gun violence.
“We know no state is protected unless all are protected because guns have no respect for state borders,” Blumenthal said. “They come across state lines, and that’s why Congress needs to do its job.”
Three of the five Connecticut members in the House — Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Rep. John Larson and Rep. Jim Himes — also attended Thursday’s event. DeLauro said that Rep. Jahana Hayes was back home for a “family emergency” and Rep. Joe Courtney had a bill on the House floor.
Many of the survivors rallying at the Capitol also attended the 10th annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence on Wednesday night. At a church in Washington, Jackie Hegarty, who was in second grade when a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School, introduced President Joe Biden.
“Ten years ago, this nation’s vigil was created here in Washington to pray for the souls of Sandy Hook and their families,” Biden said. “Ever since that time, this church has been opening its doors to more victims and more families of a violence that rips at the very soul of this nation.”