Murphy declines to temper optimism after Supreme Court expands stance on gun rights

Photo of John Moritz
Sen. Chris Murphy speaks to a rally of gun safety advocates Friday in Hartford, a day after helping the Senate pass the first major federal gun control legislation in more than three decades.

Sen. Chris Murphy speaks to a rally of gun safety advocates Friday in Hartford, a day after helping the Senate pass the first major federal gun control legislation in more than three decades.

John Moritz / Hearst Connecticut Media

HARTFORD — After working late into the night to help deliver the Senate’s first-in-a-generation compromise on gun safety legislation, Sen. Chris Murphy boarded a flight home to Connecticut around 10 a.m. on Friday to make it to a celebration on the banks of Connecticut River.

There, Murphy met with longtime gun safety advocates and survivors of the Sandy Hook School shooting — the crucible that turned Murphy from three-term congressman representing Newtown into the Senate’s most public champion of stricter gun control measures.

The atmosphere was upbeat as Murphy touted the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act as a “paradigm shifting moment” in the debate over guns. However, the timing of the vote just hours after the Supreme Court issued a broad expansion of the right to carry weapons in public forced Murphy and other speakers to confront the uncertain future of the movement built off of the tens of thousands of American lives lost to gun violence.

Murphy said on Thursday that his enthusiasm for having helped pass the gun safety measure through Congress was not diminished by the ruling, saying he did not want to “sit around and worry about what the Supreme Court’s going to do.”

“Is there a chance that they’ll come back a couple years later with another bad ruling? Sure,” Murphy said. “But I think there’s no question that the country is a lot safer today.”

The new legislation, which was sent to President Joe Biden on Friday following a swift vote in the House, adopts several of its policies to strengthen background checks and limit domestic abusers from owning weapons from existing laws in place in states like Connecticut, meaning that few of the changes will be felt at the state level here.

The law does include millions of dollars in additional funding to states for community anti-violence initiatives and improved mental health services, which advocates praised as a vital tool for diffusing gun violence in Connecticut’s cities.

“We’ve been looking for hope for a long time,” said the Rev. Henry Brown, a gun violence survivor-turned-advocate from Hartford. “Now, this is a signal of hope for people in our communities, Black and brown people.”

Legal experts, meanwhile, have warned that the Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday to strike down New York’s pistol permit law could broadly threaten Connecticut's rigid gun control laws and make them targets for conservatives attorneys and gun-rights groups.

Nicole Melchionno, a 17-year-old from Newtown who was student at Sandy Hook the day 20 of her schoolmates and six adults were killed, said that her celebration of the new legislation was undercut by the Supreme Court’s decision on guns, as well as its subsequent ruling on Friday to end constitutional protections for abortion.

“Pro-life, relating to being able to go to school without being shot in your classroom, I think they are very similar,” Melchionno said. “So it saddens me that within such a short amount of time we took one step forward and then it seems like we’ve taken so many steps backwards.”

Refusing to temper his optimism, however, Murphy told reporters that it could be a decade or more before the court decided to take up another Second Amendment case, while its ruling yesterday did not directly infringe on any Connecticut laws or measures included in the new gun safety bill.

In order to prevent the court’s ruling from snowballing into a larger attack on state-level gun restrictions, Murphy added, the gun control movement needed something to show politicians that supporting modest gun safety measures could prove popular.

“When a movement gets to be seven or eight years old without a big victory at the national level, it sometimes becomes hard to stay in,” Murphy said. “I think this movement was getting to the point where we needed to show success.”