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Murphy-led gun deal deserves support despite limits

Credit Sen. Chris Murphy for not giving in to cynicism.

Murphy was finishing his time as the U.S. representative for Connecticut's 5th District, having just won his seat in the Senate, when the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in that district shocked the nation. A heavily armed shooter killed 20 first-graders and six adult educators.

Murphy spent hours and days after the mass murder comforting families who had lost children and loved ones and years after the event working with many of them to try to pass federal gun-control legislation. He became the leading Senate advocate for addressing gun violence.

Despite all those efforts, there was no significant progress. After many a mass shooting, so terribly commonplace in our nation, Murphy would renew his calls for his Senate colleagues to do something — to no avail.

Instead, Second Amendment advocates accused him of exploiting tragedy for political gain.

But after yet another gun massacre of children and educators — 19 students and two teachers murdered on May 24 in Uvalde, Texas — Murphy made an emotional plea on the Senate floor that any objective observer would recognize as genuine.

"What are we doing here?" Murphy asked, tears welling in his eyes. "This isn't inevitable. These kids weren't unlucky. This only happens in this country and nowhere else. It is a choice. It is our choice to let it continue."

"I am here on this floor...to beg my colleagues: find a path forward," he said.

Remarkably, given recent history, they did find a path forward. Aided by fellow Democratic Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, backed by national demonstrations demanding change, and assisted by willing Republicans, Murphy led talks that resulted in a deal.

It is not what the nation needs given the scope of the gun violence and the prevalence of mass shootings, yet it is significant.

What the nation needs is a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Short of such a ban, Congress should at least raise the age of possession of such weapons to 21. Also necessary, if the nation is to be truly serious about the gun-violence crisis, is a universal background check system and a federal red-flag law to stop dangerous, unstable people from buying or owning guns.

What the nation would get instead, if the legislation passes, is a federal criminal prohibition on gun trafficking and straw purchasing. It would give law enforcement greater tools to go after the traffickers who buy weapons in states with lax gun laws and sell them in other states and cities.

The deal also calls for a federal grant program encouraging states to create red-flag laws. Such laws work by allowing courts and police to temporarily take firearms away from people presenting a danger to themselves or others.

The compromise legislation would improve background checks for under 21 purchasers, requiring a search of juvenile records and checks to assure a teen is not in crisis. The mass killings in Uvalde and the murders of 10 people at a Buffalo grocery store, also in May, were both carried out by 18-year-olds.

And it would end a troubling inconsistency in federal law that prohibits those committed of assaulting a spouse from buying a weapon but has no such prohibition when the assault targets a girlfriend. That boyfriend loophole would end.

Finally, the deal calls for increased federal funding for mental health care and improved school security.

These are modest steps, but steps in the right direction that will save lives.

To obtain this deal it took a rare political alignment. None of the 10 Republican senators backing it are up for re-election in November. And 10 is the minimum needed to survive a filibuster threat.

Democrats, meanwhile, will have to prioritize progress on the issue over political calculus. Democrats would have more to gain politically by insisting on tougher gun reforms that Republicans would block, then pounding Republicans on the campaign trail for doing so.

In voicing his support for the deal, Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell recognizes that blunting gun reform as a campaign issue could benefit Republicans in some close races.

For all that, the deal could still collapse as lawmakers transcribe its concepts into detailed legislation.

Americans, who polls show want their elected leaders to do something about the gun violence, should support the proposed changes even if, like us — and like Sen. Murphy — they recognize the changes do not go far enough.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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