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Revisiting The Political Challenge Of Gun Control


We are joined now by Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He announced Friday that he'll be introducing new gun control legislation. Thanks so much for being with us, Senator.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: President Obama made remarks Friday after the shooting in Roseburg, Ore., saying that the only way to pass gun control legislation is to animate American voters to become single-issue voters on gun control because that's what gives the other side so much power. Do you agree with that?

BLUMENTHAL: I agree totally and completely that the American public has to be galvanized, and that's what some groups are seeking to do - building grassroots organizations similar to what the NRA has done. So it's really a political challenge. And I think that Congress has to be motivated in this next election. I still am hopeful.

MARTIN: After the Newton massacre in your state in 2012, you pushed for gun control legislation. What changes were you proposing, and why did that legislation fail?

BLUMENTHAL: We proposed sensible measures such as universal background checks on all sales of firearms, not just federally licensed dealers, a ban on illegal trafficking and straw purchases, a prohibition against assault weapons, as well as high-capacity magazines and, of course, a mental health initiative and a school safety program, a comprehensive approach but a very common sense, even modest one.

MARTIN: What has changed? You are introducing new gun control legislation. How is this piece of legislation different than what you tried to pass after Newton?

BLUMENTHAL: This legislation is a loophole-closer. Right now background checks are required on all sales by federally licensed dealers. And unfortunately, the loophole is that sales can be made if the background check is incomplete after 72 hours. In other words, the sale can go ahead even if there's no background check as long as 72 hours have passed. That loophole should be eliminated.

MARTIN: Even if that passes, there are other loopholes that remain. The biggest that the private sellers, unlicensed dealers, can sell to anyone they want without any background check.

BLUMENTHAL: That is a huge gap in the present law. Another gap is that domestic violence protective orders do not necessarily require the domestic abuser to surrender firearms. Only permanent orders are covered by the federal statute. These are seemingly technical, abstract changes that can be very impactful in saving lives.

MARTIN: Some of your critics, after a shooting like we saw in Roseburg - the refrain is often - tighter gun control wouldn't have prevented this shooting. This is the kind of person who perhaps suffered from mental health problems, would've procured a weapon anyway.

BLUMENTHAL: They have a point. That is the reason that I have sponsored major mental health initiatives, not just for gun violence prevention but - because we can make America healthier and safer - the principle is we need to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Mental health initiatives are absolutely necessary, but alone, they will not solve the public health crisis that we face. It is a public safety emergency but also a public health crisis.

MARTIN: What are you hearing from your colleagues in Congress? Do you think you will get the votes you need to pass this new bill?

BLUMENTHAL: I'm realistic. I sense that my colleagues were deeply disturbed, angered, outraged, grief-stricken by what happened in Oregon, as we are with every instance of manslaughter. But the NRA is a very powerful force blocking legislation. The good news is we have elections in this country. Democracy can work. And I urge Americans to say to Congress, you can no longer be an aider and a better of gun violence and mass slaughter. We'll hold you accountable through the ballot box.

MARTIN: Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, thanks so much for talking with us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.