HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who came to Congress representing Sandy Hook, begged his colleagues to finally pass legislation addressing the nation’s gun violence problem as the latest school shooting unfolded Tuesday in Uvalde, Texas.
A gutted Murphy took to the Senate floor and demanded lawmakers do what they failed to do after 26 elementary school students and educators were killed almost a decade ago in Newtown, Connecticut. Congress has been unable to pass substantial gun violence legislation since the collapse of a bipartisan Senate effort in the aftermath of that massacre.
“What are we doing?” Murphy demanded. The Democrat who represented Newtown as a U.S. congressman urged his colleagues to find a compromise.
“I’m here on this floor to beg — to literally get down on my hands and knees — to beg my colleagues. Find a path forward here. Work with us to find a way to pass laws that make this less likely,” he said.
“I just don’t understand why people here think we’re powerless,” Murphy later told reporters. “We aren’t.”
He said he was working with colleagues, particularly reaching out to Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, to see if they could muster any bipartisan support for gun violence legislation.
Even as the party of Democratic President Joe Biden has slim control of Congress, bills on gun violence have been stymied in the face of Republican opposition in the Senate.
Last year, the House passed two bills to expand background checks on firearms purchases. One bill would have closed a loophole for private and online sales. The other would have extended the background check review period.
Both languished in the 50-50 Senate where Democrats need at least 10 Republican votes to overcome objections from a filibuster.
Tuesday’s tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Texas appears similar to the Sandy Hook shooting, where a 20-year-old man shot his way into the locked school on Dec. 14, 2012, then killed 20 first graders and six educators with an AR-15-type rifle that was legally purchased by his mother. He killed himself as police arrived. Before going to the school, he fatally shot his mother at their Newtown home.
A report by Connecticut’s child advocate said the Sandy Hook shooter’s severe and deteriorating mental health problems, his preoccupation with violence and access to his mother’s weapons “proved a recipe for mass murder.”
In February, the families of nine Sandy Hook victims reached a $73 million settlement in a lawsuit against the maker of the rifle used in the shooting.
The case against Remington, filed in 2015, was closely watched by gun control advocates, gun rights supporters and manufacturers because of its potential to provide a roadmap for victims of other shootings to sue firearm makers.
The families and a survivor argued the company should have never sold such a dangerous weapon to the public. They’ve said their focus is on preventing future mass shootings by forcing gun companies to be more responsible with their products and how they market them.
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Erica Lafferty, daughter of Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, the slain principal of Sandy Hook, said the time to take action had long passed.
“Thoughts and prayers didn’t bring my mother back after she was gunned down in a hallway at #SandyHook - they also won’t bring the 15 murdered at #RobbElementaryschool back to life,” she tweeted.
Advocacy groups that formed after Sandy Hook also expressed dismay.
“For the past decade, we have warned all Americans, including elected politicians across the nation, that if a mass shooting can happen in Sandy Hook then it can happen anywhere,” said Po Murray, chair of the Newtown Action Alliance, in a written statement. She urged the strengthening of federal and state gun laws.
Murphy acknowledged the problem of gun violence won’t be solved overnight.
“I understand my Republican colleagues will not agree to everything that I may support, but there is a common denominator that we can find,” he said. “But by doing something, we at least stop sending this quiet message of endorsement to these killers whose brains are breaking, who see the highest levels of government doing nothing, shooting after shooting.”
Mascaro reported from Washington.