Connecticut politicians and activists are leading national gun reform efforts

Photo: Rep. Elizabeth Esty at a press conference just months after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in her district (Source: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)

Connecticut changed after the Sandy Hook shooting. Now its politicians and residents want to help change America.

Connecticut Democrats are stepping up their efforts to change national gun laws in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

In Washington this week, Sen. Chris Murphy and Rep. Elizabeth Esty — who represents Newtown, where Sandy Hook Elementary School is located — attended a televised White House meeting with President Donald Trump, during which they pressed him to bring members of his party to the negotiating table on universal background checks.

“Mr. President, it’s going to have to be you that brings the Republicans to the table on this because right now the gun lobby would stop it in its tracks,” Murphy said. Trump seemed flattered by his approach.

“I like that responsibility, Chris, I really do,” Trump said. “I think it’s time. It’s time that a president stepped up.”

Rep. Esty called the shooting in Parkland “a tipping point,” and Trump seemingly agreed.

“You know why we are? Because a week will go by, another week, another week, another week, and all of a sudden people are going to be on to other things. We can’t let that happen,” the president said.

Trump went on to ask Sen. Murphy to draft a “comprehensive” and “very powerful” bill expanding the FBI’s background check system. But Esty and Murphy said they remain skeptical about Trump’s willingness and ability to lead on this issue. They are working to keep the pressure on him to make sure he and their Republican colleagues actually follow through.

Murphy has since accused Trump of “trying to make this issue more complicated than it is.”

“Democrats want to pass common sense gun legislation,” Murphy told The Hartford Courant. “If Donald Trump wants to get Republicans on board, he can.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Esty is working on her own legislation to help reduce gun violence with a bipartisan piece of legislation called The Gun Violence Restraining Order Act.

The bill is inspired by Connecticut’s so-called “red flag” law, which allows a court to temporarily block a person’s access to guns when law enforcement or family members believe individuals pose an imminent threat to themselves or others.

In Florida, that might have given police the legal grounds they needed to seize the weapons used by Nikolas Cruz in the Parkland massacre after they and the FBI received tips that he might be a potential school shooter.

Esty’s bill would not create a national version of the same system Connecticut uses, but would provide grants to states that choose to establish similar procedures on their own. Currently, Connecticut is only one of five states nationwide that have similar laws.

However, Sen. Richard Blumenthal is also working on a bipartisan bill with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina that would create a national “red flag” law.

“When law enforcement has solid evidence that someone is in crisis — intensely and imminently a danger — there should be a process for protecting them and the public from the guns they possess or buy,” Blumenthal said.

Since a similar law is on the books in Indiana, where Vice President Mike Pence previously served both as governor and as a U.S. House representative, Sen. Graham hopes the bill will be able to attract broad support from members of his party as well — despite its traditional skepticism of gun control efforts.

“Senator Blumenthal and I disagree on many issues regarding the Second Amendment, but we strongly agree that restricting access to firearms from those who pose an imminent danger to themselves or others is a strong step forward in protecting public safety,” Graham said. “Our government encourages our citizens that if you see something, say something. We also need ‘do something.'”

And more than just legislators are getting involved in the national conversation.

Rep. Esty’s bill is supported by Mark Barden, whose son was killed at Sandy Hook. He co-founded the group Sandy Hook Promise and joined Esty at a press conference earlier this week to help advocate for the legislation.

Sandy Hook Promise was founded by several family members of children who died in their elementary school classrooms in December 2012. The group is also promoting the STOP School Violence Act, which will fund initiatives to help schools prevent and respond to school violence.

The bill is being sponsored by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and has attracted the support of other high-profile Republicans, including Marco Rubio.

Meanwhile, a group of Sandy Hook families suing Remington, the company which manufactured the AR-15-style weapon used in the Newtown massacre, is calling on the founder of outdoor retailer Bass Pro Shops to end his company’s sale of assault rifles.

A letter from the nine families sent by their attorney asks the company’s CEO John Morris to follow his convictions:

 “Conservation is at the heart and soul of Bass Pro Shops,” you’ve said. “It is of vital importance that we invest in the future.”

There has never been a better – or more urgent – time to act on those convictions, Mr. Morris. Conservation is not limited to lakes and streams; it is defined as prevention of injury, decay, waste, or loss; preservation. Your fealty to that ideal rings hollow while Bass Pro Shops continues to sell the weapons of war that are routinely used to commit mass murder.

The company operates two stores in Connecticut, but so far has not responded to the families’ request.

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