Murphy: No reason for lawmakers to fear NRA

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said Monday the National Rifle Association isn't as powerful as it used to be and Congress shouldn't fear going forward with a vote in favor of gun control.

Murphy said numerous polls demonstrate that NRA leaders are out of step with NRA members and Americans.

There will "probably be more (reports) to continue to make the case to lawmakers that they don't need to listen to members of the NRA, they need to listen to the American public and what gun owners really believe, not what the NRA tells Congress people believe," Murphy said Monday during a conference call.

Murphy said there are a lot of Democratic and Republican legislators "who want to do the right thing when it comes to passing gun legislation."

"They know the atmosphere changed after Sandy Hook and yet still are left with the political impact question of going up against the NRA," he said.

Some memebrs of the Connecticut congressional delegation are optimistic about implementing universal background checks and limits to high-capacity magazines. Whether any gun control legislation will pass through a Republican-controlled House is questionable. A representative of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen said Monday that Connecticut sportsmen don't think it's likely and that gun control should be done at the state level.

Recently, NRA leadership has changed its stance on background checks.

In 1999, the executive vice president of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, testified before the House Judiciary Committee and said, "We think it is reasonable to provide mandatory, instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone."

But last month when asked by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., whether he still supported mandatory background checks in all instances at gun shows, LaPierre said, "We do not, because the fact is, the law right now is a failure the way it's working."

He said those who try to purchase a gun and are denied are generally not prosecuted.

"They are walking the streets," he said.

However, there have been more than 100 million National Instant Criminal Background checks in the last decade, leading to more than 700,000 denials, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's website. The system is designed to prevent criminals and other ineligible people from purchasing firearms.

Robert Crook, an NRA member who is the executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, said instant background checks are normally done at gun shows in Connecticut. They take two minutes to two days, are processed by the state police and check multiple databases, he said.

"No gun is sold here at a gun show in Connecticut without instant gun (background) check approval, so we are tight," Crook said.

But there is room for additional tightening in Connecticut, Crook said, which he admits the NRA would be opposed to.

During a "casual sale" or a sale between two individuals, an instant background check is voluntary.

"One of our proposals is to make that mandatory," he said.

Crook said he would be in favor of universal instant background checks. However, he would question any additional background checks that might be more time-intensive, he said.

Crook said he is focused on what Connecticut needs and is not bound by what the NRA says.

Seventy-four percent of NRA members support criminal background checks for anyone purchasing a gun, according to a 2012 survey by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Just last month, the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health reported that 84 percent of gun owners supported universal background checks for all gun sales.

"After dozens of mass shooting the NRA (leadership) has moved to the fringe," Murphy said.

He said he thinks it is because of the increasing contributions from manufacturers.

Since 2005, 74 percent of the funds contributed to the NRA were from "corporate partners" such as members from the firearms industry, according to a 2011 report titled Blood Money by the Violence Policy Center.

Crook said there was nothing wrong with the gun manufacturing industry donating to the NRA. Any national organization is funded partially by the industry they represent, he said.

Although Crook and his organization disagree with the NRA when it comes to instant background checks for "casual sales," overall "they do a bang-up job in Washington," he said.

The job of the NRA leadership in Washington is to protect the Second Amendment nationwide, he said. From there it should be up to every state to determine what gun control laws it wants and doesn't want, he said.

On the federal level, Crook said he didn't think universal background checks, high-capacity magazine limits or an assault weapons ban would be passed.

"The assault weapons ban here in Connecticut, it has accomplished nothing, it has failed on the federal level. … Why pass another one?" he said.

The ban is not relative to crime, it keeps assault weapons out of the hands of law-abiding citizens and in the hands of criminals, he said.

Murphy said he was optimistic about universal background checks and limits on high-capacity magazines.

"If we pass a bill in the Senate … it will be difficult for those in the House to sit on their hands," Murphy said.

There is real political danger if they don't vote, he said.

For example, in the 2012 election cycle, of 16 U.S. Senate races in 2012, the NRA lost 13, according to one of Murphy's reports.

"You were better off to be against NRA than with it," Murphy said about the 2012 Senate races.

President Barack Obama has also listed concrete recommendations and there is no mystery to what he supports, Murphy said. In Obama's State of the Union speech, he said Newtown community members deserved a "vote" on gun control. "Commonsense reform" including background checks, preventing anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals and limits to high-capacity magazines are some of the proposals on the table, Obama said.

"The president and vice president aren't backing down," Murphy said.

Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to be at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury on Thursday to discuss the federal efforts to reduce gun violence.

j.somers@theday.com

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