Murphy: "I See A Path To 60 Votes" On Background Checks

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Is this wishful thinking on the part of Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, or an ominous sign that at least ten Republican senators are willing to “do something” on background checks, even if it’s not as expansive as the two gun control bills that the House approved earlier this year? In a lengthy (and fawning) profile of Murphy at POLITICO, the ardent gun control advocate says he’s been working the phones and slapping the backs of the GOP Senate caucus in the hopes of playing “let’s make a deal” on background checks.

“I’ve had a lot of very encouraging conversations with Republicans over the last few weeks. I do see a path to 60 votes,” he said, adding that he told GOP colleagues he has “no interest in this issue becoming a permanent political cudgel” against them.

Among the Republicans whom Murphy called was Indiana Sen. Mike Braun, who recalled listening to Murphy’s case but was hesitant to accept a broader deal.

“Anything that’s going to make it more difficult for law abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment [rights], that’s not going to go anywhere,” Braun said.

Braun said that he’d be open to a narrower attempt but not the kind of comprehensive legislation Democrats want. The Indianan described retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) as an anomaly for his past openness to bipartisan work on background checks.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), whom Murphy cited as a potential partner given their past collaboration on improvements to background check systems, also said he’d consider the idea of a narrower bill. Cornyn added that he appreciated the “sort of quiet conversations” he’s having with Murphy “to see where we can find common ground.”

The problem isn’t how narrow or broadly defined the background check bill is. Any attempt to try to require background checks on private transfers of firearms is a waste of time if we’re trying to prevent violent crime. It’s a red herring. There are much more productive (and constitutionally sound) things we can and should be doing instead.

POLITICO notes that Murphy still doesn’t have the support of Joe Manchin, though we know from Manchin’s own past that he’s open to the idea of requiring background checks on transfers of firearms at gun shows and online (which opens up a huge can of worms in terms of its scope and enforceability, as well as Fourth Amendment issues). Still, Murphy says he’s “hoping for a workable bill” within a couple of months, but that if no compromise can be found, then he’s in favor of bringing the House bills to the floor for a vote, even if it loses.

It’s probably time for us to remind our Senators that the House background check bills are ineffective and constitutionally suspect efforts aimed largely at those who want to be legal gun owners, not those who are committing most violent crimes. They will establish a new federal offense punishable by up to a year in prison for the invented crime of transferring a firearm without going through a background check. These charges are not only most likely to be used as a plea bargaining chip to reduce sentences for offenders, but they will also likely be disproportionately used against young black and brown men who are caught possessing a gun without a license in places like New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

I’m opposed to these background check bills not only because they’re an affront to the right to keep and bear arms, but because they won’t fix the problem they’re supposed to address. “Compromise” on a background check bill still takes us in the wrong direction when there is so much that can be done to effectively target the various aspects of “gun violence”; be it suicide, gang violence, domestic violence, street crime, or those rare and random twisted individuals who decide to transfer their own self-loathing onto innocent victims. We can successfully put in place strategies and tactics to reduce each and every one of these categories without putting any new gun control laws on the books, and that’s what the GOP should be advocating for; both publicly and in their private conversations with Sen. Murphy.

May 16, 2021 8:30 AM ET