Despite hurdles, Sen. Blumenthal is hopeful for a gun-safety vote next week

Photo of Ken Dixon

NEW BRITAIN — The next few days are crucial in the bipartisan talks on gun safety, but even if the Independence Day holiday deadline is missed, Republicans and Democrats can resume attempts later in July to possibly reach a deal that would get the necessary 60 votes in a sharply divided U.S. Senate, Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Friday.

Arguing over of what exactly is an unmarried romantic partner - and how they might appeal court rulings - has emerged as a major stumbling block surrounding so-called red flag warrants, which can allow state judges to temporarily remove guns from the possession of domestic abusers, who are almost always men.

“We are confronting some tough issues and we’re doing it in a very bipartisan, business-like way,” Blumenthal said at the Klingberg Family Centers social service agency. “I’ve been in touch literally this morning with several colleagues on several of the outstanding issues like red flags, or crisis-intervention emergency risk-protection orders. There is also the boyfriend loophole. There are a number of other aspects of the entire program that are unresolved, but we’re making progress and we’re doing it as quickly as we can.”

Blumenthal said the framework developed by five Democrats and five Republicans remains a major improvement from even two weeks ago.

Blumenthal said that negotiations are also including specific dollar amounts in the billions, and hundreds of millions in particular to support states that may want to adopt red flag laws, which Connecticut started in 1999. Connecticut’s risk warrant law allows family members, neighbors and acquaintances to contact police or state judges to report cases of people who might be in-crisis and threatening themselves or others, and take away their firearms for a year or more.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy is a key figure in the Washington talks, which earlier in the week won the public support of 10 GOP senators, enough to seemingly reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster that would kill a bill. The proposal includes support for behavioral health care and crisis intervention, school safety, training and counseling kids in schools.

“There is a provision for combating trafficking and straw purchases,” Blumenthal said. “For closing the boyfriend loophole; for extending and improving background checks; for encouraging red flag statutes in the 31 states that lack them now; and supporting with resources - real dollars and cents - the statutes that exist right now. Both sides of the aisle understand we need action and the American people have been telling us to ‘do something.’ The key measure is saving lives.”

The target date for a vote is sometime toward the end of next week, Blumenthal said during a noontime news conference on the hilltop complex of the Klingberg Family Centers, founded in 1903. Mental health professionals with the senator stressed the need for more funding and staff to assist troubled people before they might become dangers.

“There’s nothing that says we couldn’t come back after the break but our goal is to finish it before we leave for the work-at-home period with July 4th,” Blumenthal said. “A lot of Republicans are expressing interest if not support. We hope for even more than 10 Republicans.”

Jim O’Dea, vice president for behavioral health at Hartford HealthCare and Steven Girelli, president and CEO of the multi-service Klingberg Family Centers, who joined Blumenthal’s news conference, agreed that the mental and behavorial health problems that existed before the pandemic were exacerbated by it.

“We can save lives and money if we catch these problems upstream rather than allowing kids to go over the rapids and the waterfalls of crisis and possible violence,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal, citing the sections on mental health in the pending federal legislation, stressed the need to rid the stigma of mental illness to help people address their issues before the symptoms get worse and the results impact Connecticut families further.

“We have to be better at focusing our advocacy efforts,” O’Dea said. “We have an enormous opportunity now.”

The two health professionals said it is too soon to see how much new funding may be coming their way in the state budget that takes effect on July 1.

“There’s lot to unpack, because they did a lot,” said O’Dea of the three bills that were the centerpiece of children’s mental and behavioral health, including further state funding for community health centers. Low-income families will be able to take part in innovative ways to support children with more primary-care opportunities, he said.

Girelli said that recruiting and retaining a workforce has been a challenge. “That’s something that has really interfered with our ability to meet the growing needs of at least children and adolescents that have resulted from the pandemic,” he said.

“We need to do more to increase the opportunity for people to be committed to the behavioral health community, to do the work that we’re privileged to do,” O’Dea said. The pending federal legislation would benefit their programs as well.

“We are making progress hour-by-hour,” Blumenthal said under a large outdoor tent that on Saturday will become the refreshment center of the program’s annual antique car show featuring about 90 pre-World War II autos, many made in Connecticut and restored by high schoolers enrolled in the Klingberg Auto Restoration Program. Twitter: @KenDixonCT