Blumenthal, Murphy Introduce Federal Gun Storage Bill

Connecticut’s congressional delegation, including anti-gun senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, have re-introduced a bill that mandates gun owners keep their firearms under lock and key when they’re not in use. This isn’t the first time that the legislation has been filed in Congress, but with Democrats now in control of both chambers as well as the White House, Blumenthal says he’s confident that the measure can pass the House.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal hopes that “Ethan’s Law,” requiring households with children under the age of 18 to lock all firearms, will be the first in a series of gun-safety measures that may become law now that both chambers of Congress and the White House are controlled by Democrats.

Other measures include universal background checks and red-flag laws to remove weapons from dangerous people.

“This political movement has really come of age,” Blumenthal told reporters during an online news conference. “To put it very simply, the grip of the gun lobby on Congress has been broken. We face a new day here when it comes to gun-violence prevention. This measure is the first in a series of common-sense steps, but it has powerful justification on its own.”

There’s nothing common-sense about the gun storage measure proposed by the anti-gun Democrats, which would make it a federal crime if gun owners did not lock up their guns with a “secure gun storage or safety device” if a minor is “likely to gain access to the firearm without permission, or if a resident of the dwelling cannot legally possess a firearm.”

Remember, in the 2008 Heller decision that struck down Washington, D.C.’s ban on handguns, the Supreme Court also ruled that the District of Columbia’s gun storage law was also unconstitutional because it precluded gun owners from using their firearms in self-defense.

We must also address the District’s requirement (as applied to respondent’s handgun) that firearms in the home be rendered and kept inoperable at all times. This makes it impossible for citizens to use them for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional. The District argues that we should interpret this element of the statute to contain an exception for self-defense. But we think that is precluded by the unequivocal text, and by the presence of certain other enumerated exceptions: “Except for law enforcement personnel … , each registrant shall keep any firearm in his possession unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device unless such firearm is kept at his place of business, or while being used for lawful recreational purposes within the District of Columbia.”

Since the Heller decision gun control activists have been trying to pass gun storage laws that aren’t substantially different from the one struck down in D.C., but contain just enough tweaks that they’ll withstand legal scrutiny. That’s why the federal gun storage bill introduced by Blumenthal, Murphy, and the rest of Connecticut’s anti-gun congressional delegation contains the vague reference to the likelihood of a minor gaining access as triggering enforcement of the law.

Beyond the legal challenges that the bill will undoubtably face if Joe Biden were to sign the legislation, there’s also a problem with enforceability. Safe storage laws can’t be proactively enforced without the police going into homes to check on compliance, and I don’t think even Chris Murphy or Richard Blumenthal are willing to publicly embrace that idea. Instead, this is a criminal charge that could be applied after the fact, which does nothing to actually prevent accidental shootings from taking place to begin with.

We don’t know many specifics about the proposed legislation because Murphy, Blumenthal, and their anti-gun colleagues held a press conference to promote the bill before the text of the legislation was even available for public review, but a similar bill filed by Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro in the last session of Congress would have imposed a five year federal prison sentence on those who violated the storage law if a minor or prohibited person gained access to a gun and used it to injure or kill another person.

A federally imposed one-size-fits-all storage requirement is a bad idea from both a legal and common sense perspective. If the anti-gun delegation from Connecticut really want to make a difference in terms of reducing accidental shootings, a much more proactive approach would be to work with gun owners and the firearms industry on voluntary efforts to reduce suicides and accidents involving firearms. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any interest on the part of Chris Murphy, Richard Blumenthal, Rosa DeLauro, or any of Connecticut’s other congresscritters to actually reach a hand across the aisle, unless it’s to slap legal gun owners across the face.

At the moment I’d say the bill faces longer odds in the Senate than in the House, but this is the type of legislation that “moderate” Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema could get behind. Gun control activists would still need 60 votes in the Senate to pass the measure unless they tried to include the bill as part of a broader measure or are willing to try to use reconciliation to approve the bill, but they may even be able to bring some Republicans on board by claiming the legislation is limited in scope. In reality, however, this proposal would impact tens of millions of gun owners and restrict their ability to protect themselves and their loved ones.

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Apr 16, 2021 10:30 AM ET