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Giant Strides Needed In Gun-Control Measures, Blumenthal Says


And some students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been here in Washington in recent days, meeting with members of Congress about gun control. Yesterday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan tweeted out a photo of him talking with this group. In the tweet, he thanked them for sharing their stories. Then, Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Delaney Tarr tweeted back, quote, "we spoke, you listened, but it's now time for action. We hope to see you follow through." So what, if anything, will Congress do? President Trump has invited members of Congress to the White House today to talk about measures that could prevent gun violence. To talk about what is likely, we are joined now by Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut. He has co-sponsored more than one piece of legislation restricting access to guns.

Senator, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Thank you, Rachel. Good to be with you.

MARTIN: President Trump has talked about raising the federal age requirement for purchasing certain guns from 18 to 21. Let's talk about that in particular. Do you think that's likely?

BLUMENTHAL: It could happen, but it's really a baby step when we need giant strides. The students who met with Paul Ryan yesterday and others in the Congress are demanding action, more than just cosmetic or minor steps. And so raising the age limit may, in fact, do some good, but it has to be accompanied by other steps such as extending the background check system to all purchases - otherwise, there's no way to know what the age of a particular buyer is - and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and taking guns away from people who are a danger to themselves or others.

MARTIN: These are all...

BLUMENTHAL: ...As a result of a court order.

MARTIN: These are all things that you are proposing in some way, shape or form. Let's break them down one at a time. Let's talk first about a bill that you have proposed - bipartisan support here - that would force states and agencies to comply with the background checks that are already written into law. Explain why this is even necessary.

BLUMENTHAL: It's necessary because a lot of states are simply not reporting certain facts that would bar people from buying guns under the present background check system, including convictions. And one example is the Sutherland Springs shooter, who should've been barred from buying a weapon because of a conviction in the Uniform Code of Military Justice in a court martial by the Air Force. It was never reported. So that's one step that's necessary simply for the present background check system to work.

MARTIN: But how do you compel...

BLUMENTHAL: ...Limited as it is.

MARTIN: How do you compel that? I mean, if they're not being enforced now, how do you pass a piece of legislation today that would compel those states to enforce these laws?

BLUMENTHAL: Essentially, the measure provides incentives, and that's why a major revision of the background check system is necessary because there should be better reporting, and there needs to be more compulsory measures, not just incentives.

MARTIN: In recent days, you have called for a federal law that would allow law enforcement officials to take guns away from people deemed to be a threat by a judge. This is something that's been on the books in Connecticut since 1999. How would this work on a federal level?

BLUMENTHAL: On a federal level, a law enforcement officer, like the FBI, knowing that the shooter in Parkland was saying that he was threatening schools or individuals, would go to a federal magistrate - a judge - and seek a court order that would enable the gun to be taken away - some guns temporarily, others, perhaps, for longer periods of time.

MARTIN: It's worth noting, though, that this law was in place in Connecticut when the Sandy Hook shooting happened, so it's not a fail-safe.

BLUMENTHAL: It - there's no law that's a fail-safe, and there's no single measure that's a panacea. That's one of the lessons of all of these shootings - the mass shootings that have occurred in Sandy Hook and Parkland, Orlando, San Bernardino - but also, the 90 deaths every day that result from gun violence. There is no one solution.

MARTIN: Congress, I think it's fair to say, is unlikely to move on anything without strong presidential leadership here. Are you convinced that you have an ally in President Trump when it comes to passing some kind of legislation in this moment?

BLUMENTHAL: President Trump has been, at best, ambiguous and equivocal rather than providing strong leadership. And if there is an answer, in one word, to the present logjam when it comes to gun violence prevention, it is elections. In my view, elections will be necessary to enforce a real popular mandate. And there is popular opinion, obviously, in favor of background checks on assault weapons and other common-sense measures. It has to be expressed at the polls.

MARTIN: What do you think is going to happen now? I mean, you talk about an age restriction - an age requirement change, rather. Is that even likely? I mean, you call it incremental, but do you think even that has the votes to get through Congress?

BLUMENTHAL: There will be, in my view, probably some effort to do incremental change, perhaps the so-called FixNICS, which provides more information to the present background check system without...

MARTIN: It's a federal database - fixing that system, yeah.

BLUMENTHAL: And that could, in turn, involve a number of other steps, but they will all be, almost certainly, incremental.

MARTIN: Richard Blumenthal, senator, Democrat from the state of Connecticut. Thank you so much for your time this morning, Senator. We appreciate it.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.