The Fourth of July is coming, and if all goes well — crossing many fingers — before Congress leaves town to celebrate, the House and Senate will have passed the first substantial gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years.
Yeah, the last big reform was in 1994. People were watching the pilot episode of “Friends” on TV, Jeff Bezos was founding Amazon and American kids were hearing about a great new invention called PlayStation.
Chris Murphy was in college, just turning 21. “I bought my first beer legally,” he said in a phone interview on Wednesday. Moving onward and upward, Murphy is now a member of the Senate from Connecticut and the lead Democratic negotiator on gun safety legislation.
And there’s actually a real bill! Or at least a bipartisan agreement for what ought to be in a bill. Our job for today is to decide how we feel about it. Three choices:
A. Awful! They don’t even have a ban on the sale of assault weapons to 18-year-olds.
B. Not great! They keep putting all this power in the hands of the states when we all know how crazy some of the states are.
C. Hey, they’re actually doing something — stop the negativity! Otherwise, you’ll be the kind of perfectionist nobody wants to be standing next to while grilling holiday hamburgers.
Yeah, I think we ought to go with C.
“No bill I’ve ever been involved in has been perfect,” said John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown For Gun Safety, who’s certainly been involved in his share. “But look at the big picture. You’ve got bipartisan support for a gun safety bill.”
Well, 10 Republican senators publicly signed on, which is exactly the number you need to get past the inevitable filibuster motion. That’s 20 percent of the party’s members.
But once again, we need to think positive. Murphy told me that in 2012, when a young gunman with an assault rifle killed 20 small children and six staff members in his district’s Sandy Hook elementary school, only “one single Republican was willing to sit down and talk” about possible legislation — Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Ten is better than one. The plan they’ve come up with would make it easier to disarm domestic abusers, provide a lot of new money for community mental health programs and school security, and expand the background checks on gun buyers under 21.
“We couldn’t have gotten an agreement on any single one of those items a month ago,” Murphy said.
Even Mitch McConnell seems to be coming around. The Senate Republican leader has always been pretty proud of his record on weapons legislation, which it’s fair to summarize as anti-gun safety. But now he’s given his blessing to some sort of reform. Perhaps he’s seen the error of his ways. Perhaps he’s seen the public polls.
If something’s going to get done before the Senate goes off on its holiday recess, things have to happen pretty fast in a chamber not known for its speediness. “It took them five weeks to write an infrastructure bill. We have four days,” said Murphy.
It’d be nice to see a lawmaker throw himself into a righteous cause and come out a winner, wouldn’t it, people? There’s even been a little talk about Murphy as a possible presidential contender, should Joe Biden decide not to run for re-election. “Nononononono,” the senator responded instantly when asked about the idea.
What do you think? All I know is that once we get past this year’s elections, everybody is going to start speculating about 2024, and we really need to collect some post-Biden options. You do not want to be at a holiday party next winter with no names to throw into the debate.
But about the gun bill. The first — and let’s face it, easiest — priority is to complain that Washington isn’t rising to the occasion. “It’s not enough,” said Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, after he rather grudgingly acknowledged the new Senate agreement represented some success.
You can understand why Illinois is particularly touchy on this issue. At the N.R.A. convention in Houston last month, speakers tried to skip over the mass shooting of Texas schoolchildren days earlier by talking about how many people get gunned down every year in Chicago. Mainly with weapons imported from other states, of course, although that part didn’t really come up.
The horror of those murdered children persuaded a lot of politicians to dodge that N.R.A. gathering entirely. Although not Donald Trump, a politician who actually had no idea he had any strong feelings about guns until he noticed how much cheering they got at Republican gatherings. In Houston, Trump helpfully suggested responding to the Uvalde school shooting tragedy by arming teachers.
Right now our priority has to be rooting for the gun bill negotiators in Congress to get the job done before everybody goes home. “We’ve got to work through some pretty sticky wickets,” said Murphy.
The wickets are, in fact, multitudinous, but at least things are moving along. “Victories beget victories,” insisted Murphy.
There’s a lot of territory to cover before we get to anyplace sane on the gun front. To anyplace near where surveys tell us the American people would like to go. But it’d be nice if, on July 4, we could celebrate with more fireworks and less gunfire.