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Closing gun background check loopholes may be ‘common cause’ for Democrats and Republicans, says Sen. Chris Murphy

Sen. Chris Murphy. D-Conn., has been one of the most vocal advocates for reforming gun laws since the Sandy Hook tragedy in his own state. As more becomes known about the man behind the massacre at a Texas church, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are looking at the background check system, which critics think is broken. Murphy joins Judy Woodruff to discuss reforms.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As more becomes known about the alleged shooter's troubled past, lawmakers are looking at ways to address what some critics call a broken background check system.

    Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, has been one of the most vocal critics for reforming gun laws following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in his home state in 2012.

    We spoke a short time ago, and I started by asking him what needs to happen now.

  • Sen. Chris Murphy:

    Well, it's an open secret that the existing background check system is broken.

    And people are waking up to the knowledge now that the Department of Defense has not been uploading lots and lots of records of people who shouldn't be able to get guns into the system.

    But the fact of the matter is, there are many states that upload almost no records to the background check system, leaving the FBI to go out and try to get those records through other means. That means there are hundreds of thousands of people who shouldn't buy weapons who are either seriously mentally ill or who have been convicted of serious crimes who walk into gun stores and are able to walk out with weapons, like the shooter in Texas.

    Hopefully, this may be one of the few areas of common cause. I talked today with Senator John Cornyn, one of the biggest NRA proponents in the Senate, and we committed to try to work together on tightening up the existing background check system.

    This guy should have never gotten a gun, and, hopefully, Republicans and Democrats can do something about that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Senator, you're suggesting that the loopholes in the background system were well known. If that's the case, why wasn't it brought to the public's attention before now?

  • Sen. Chris Murphy:

    Well, it has been brought to the public's attention. We have had legislation in Congress for multiple sessions to improve and strengthen the background check system.

    The House of Representatives passed funding a few years ago to give states more money to upload records to NICS. The Republicans in Congress have never been willing to move this legislation, have never been willing to fund states in order to put records online.

    In fact, they have been moving the opposite direction. Earlier this year, Republicans passed legislation that was signed by President Trump that took 75,000 people with serious mental illness off the list of people who are prohibited from buying weapons.

    It seems that, maybe in light of this tragedy, there is some willingness to finally close these loopholes and make sure that the background check system works, but everybody has known about this and many of us have been trying to fix it for years.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So do you think there is a genuine change of view on the other side?

  • Sen. Chris Murphy:

    Well, I know that Senator Cornyn has been the strongest opponent of many of the commonsense gun safety changes, like universal background checks, that we have tried the make.

    And, today, he and I talked seriously about working together to try the make sure that states are uploading this information about criminals and people with serious mental illness into the database. And that's not sufficient in order to protect Americans, in part because that only applies if you buy your gun at a gun store. If you buy it at a gun show or online, even if you're on the prohibited list, you will still walk out with a weapon.

    But it's a step in the right direction, if you can work together on this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you're prepared to work with Senator Cornyn and others on this?

  • Sen. Chris Murphy:

    I think you have the crawl before you can walk.

    And I am willing to do anything to try to show the American public that we are not just going to sit idly by and allow shooting after shooting to happen. I think, if Republicans can flex that muscle a little bit and tighten up our gun laws, maybe show a little bit of resistance to the gun lobby, they will find out that it's not that hard and they actually get a lot of applause from a cross-section of their constituents back home.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, just to clarify, the Air Force acknowledging that there was an error, you're suggesting it's more than just a single error?

  • Sen. Chris Murphy:

    It is much more than a single error.

    The data that I have seen suggests that, while the military is uploading information relative to people who have been given dishonorable discharges, those that have been bad conduct discharges are very often not put into the system.

    It doesn't look to me like this was an individual act of oversight. It looks to me like there's a much bigger systematic problem that we need to fix.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump, for the second day in a row now, he has commented on the shooting. Today, he is arguing again that it's fortunate that someone had a gun and was able to use it on the shooter outside the church.

    He's gone on to say more gun restrictions might have prevented this neighbor from doing what he did.

  • Sen. Chris Murphy:

    Yes, I don't know if anybody has told the president that 26 people died inside that church and that he was only pursued by civilians once he had murdered 26 people, including children and seniors.

    And despite the fact that Texas allows you to carry a concealed weapon almost anywhere, explicitly inside churches, this shooter, by using a military-style assault weapon, was able to engage in one of the worst mass shootings in American history.

    So, clearly, a good guy with a gun didn't stop a bad guy with a gun this weekend in Texas. It is part of this absurd mythology that the gun industry has tried to perpetuate in this country, which is never, ever true.

    Plenty of places that have lots of good guys with guns have mass shootings that are not stopped in that manner.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm sure you know, Senator, even some Democrats have this view. On the "NewsHour" last night, there was a Democratic congressman, Henry Cuellar, who pointed out that people with guns could help prevent things like this.

  • Sen. Chris Murphy:

    It's just not what the data shows. And it's not what the anecdotal evidence shows.

    There were plenty of people in Dallas with weapons when a sniper started firing from above the scene. There's the ability in Nevada to carry weapons in public spaces. They didn't stop that sniper. And, similarly, in Texas, some of the loosest gun laws in the world didn't stop him.

    If you own a gun, whether you like it or not, the data tells you that that gun is much more likely to be used to kill you than it is to be used by you to kill an assailant or an intruder. That's not my opinion. That's the facts.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Senator, the question of bump stocks, they got a lot of attention after the Las Vegas shooting. Where does that stand right now?

  • Sen. Chris Murphy:

    Well, Republicans say that they want to work on it, but we have not seen any willingness to put legislation forward.

    The problem is the existing statute is truly ambiguous. It is not clear-cut that the ATF has the ability to ban these after-market modifications by themselves. And they have told us that.

    Thus, it's up to Congress to make clear what we have always agreed upon, that people shouldn't have automatic weapons. The ATF likely can't do this by themselves. Congress has to do it.

    But Republicans who say they're open to it don't seem willing to actually put forward the legislation. We're going to try to hold them to it in the coming days and weeks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, thank you very much.

  • Sen. Chris Murphy:


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