Connecticut’s senators are pushing new legislation to create a permanent office within the U.S. Department of Justice to focus on a “coordinated government response” to gun violence prevention and help implement the bipartisan gun safety bill passed by Congress last year.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost, D-Fla., introduced the Office of Gun Violence Prevention Act on Monday to promote collaboration between administration officials, gun violence survivors, public health officials, mental health providers and other stakeholders involved in the issue. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., co-sponsored the bill.
The sponsors of the bill say it will establish a centralized place within the federal government to address gaps in research, offer policy recommendations, enhance the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and give Congress an annual report about gun violence.
As he works to help enact parts of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that passed last June, Murphy said, he realized the challenges of doing so without such an office since multiple federal agencies are involved.
The Murphy-led bill strengthened background checks for those buying firearms under age 21 and incentivized states to pass “red flag” laws that permit a court to temporarily prevent someone from buying a gun if they are a threat to themselves or others. It also provided substantial funding for schools and mental health services.
“It’s dizzying to understand how many different offices, how many different federal officials are involved in just implementing this one bill — a bill that doesn’t solve the whole problem,” Murphy said. “But nowhere in the federal government is there one office dedicated every single day to coordinating the effort of addressing gun violence.”
“We need one office at DOJ that is tasked with making sure that every office in the federal government has the resources it needs to coordinate between the federal level and the state level to best implement this bill,” he added.
While Murphy and Blumenthal have been working on gun safety for years from Congress, Frost made his legislative debut on Monday with the introduction of the House version of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention Act. He is the youngest member of Congress at 26, and prior to his election in November, he served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, an advocacy group that formed after the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Standing outside of the U.S. Capitol, the three lawmakers were joined by gun safety advocates including survivors of mass shootings. Po Murray, chairwoman of Newtown Action Alliance, and Nicole Melchionno, co-chair of Junior Newtown Action Alliance and a survivor of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, both urged the passage of this bill and gun safety legislation to make school lockdowns a “relic of the past.”
The bill’s announcement comes as the Connecticut-based group prepares for a Friday rally — Generation Lockdown — with other gun safety groups in Washington, D.C. Jackie Hegarty and Jordan Gomes, who both survived the Sandy Hook shooting, are slated to speak at the rally as members of Newtown Action Alliance.
Since the start of the new session of Congress, Murphy and Blumenthal have been active on other gun safety legislation, including the reintroduction of the federal assault weapons ban and legislation to promote the safe storage of firearms called Ethan’s Law. The bill is named after Ethan Song, a teenager from Guilford who accidentally shot himself in 2018 with an unsecured gun at a friend’s house. A version of that was signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont in 2019.
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.
But without enough support from lawmakers for these measures, President Joe Biden is going it alone to address additional gun safety reforms in the absence of additional legislation. He announced executive orders last week that would seek to further expand background checks.
While the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was a rare bipartisan effort on the issue of guns, Congress has been mostly gridlocked on passing other reforms such as the prohibition of assault weapons and universal background checks. Any bill on that issue, including the Office of Gun Violence Prevention Act, will need Republican support in both the House and Senate.
Republicans have been largely resistant to such legislation, and any gun-related bill will face more legislative hurdles now that the House is narrowly controlled by the GOP.
When asked if any of the 15 Republican senators who voted for the bipartisan gun safety bill would support this new effort, Murphy said he has had “early conversations” with GOP co-authors of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. He said he is hopeful for their support because they have seen firsthand “the need for resources and focus and direction.”
The Democratic lawmakers acknowledged the challenges of passing more legislation responding to gun violence, but they argue the creation of a central office focused on the issue has more of a chance of getting through a divided Congress.
“Any time that you’re talking about legislation in the same sentence with gun violence, it’s an uphill battle,” Blumenthal said. “It may be uphill, but this is a lot more in the realm of possibility than some of the other stuff that we’ve been talking about doing.”
The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.