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Southeastern Connecticut's congressional delegation reacts to Texas school shooting

The region’s congressional delegation expressed heartbreak, anger, resolve and frustration after 21 people were killed Tuesday by a lone gunman at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen of the dead were children.

“I think for almost everyone in Connecticut, it’s a pretty stomach-turning reminder of Sandy Hook, which I think still haunts this state,” U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said Wednesday. “This is such a brutal situation. Every mass shooting is, but this one involved babies. Another sort of moment where you have to ask yourself, what will it take for us as a country to get serious about trying to deal with a cascade of mass shootings?”

Tuesday's incident came on the heels of the reported racist killing of 10 Black people in a May 14 shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y.

During a joint, virtual news conference Wednesday evening, Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy said they are working on a bipartisan compromise.

"If the horrific shooting of these young children doesn't crystallize your conscience and outrage, you're putting guns above children," Blumenthal said. "I'm hoping that we can get to a consensus and really uphold the faith of voters."

Murphy said he and Blumenthal have worked with Senate leadership to get 10 days to try to hammer out a bipartisan deal with Republicans "on red flags, background checks, security measures." Murphy and Blumenthal said there are six to 12 Republicans who have expressed interest in being part of these discussions.

"But we're not going to be in negotiations for months," Murphy said. "If Republicans say no, as they have in the past, then we gotta put some votes on the Senate floor to show the American people where their members of the Senate stand, so they can then make educated decisions when they get to the polls."

Murphy noted the Senate does not have the numbers to pass a ban on assault weapons, but he argued that incremental steps could loosen the gun lobby's grip on Republican politicians.

"On this, and many other divisive issues, Americans are frustrated with the two extremes holding up common sense solutions," Republican state Rep. Mike France of Ledyard, who is running against Courtney in November, said in an emailed statement Wednesday evening. "That is why I will champion a bipartisan legislative package that addresses gun violence in all its forms."

France accused Murphy of dismissing mental health as a factor in such shootings, saying, "Let me be clear: any representative, from either party, that dismisses mental health in this conversation is not fit to be in the room to find a bipartisan solution."

In response to conservatives' calls for increasing school security, that alone "is inadequate to the task," Blumenthal said. "We want to avoid turning schools into armed fortresses."

"We should definitely make schools safer with security measures that limit access into that space," Courtney said. But he noted in the Buffalo shooting, an armed security guard attempted to stop the shooter and was overpowered with even more firepower. In addition to strengthening security, he said, we need to "get to the source of people getting weapons that are not constitutionally protected."

Courtney mentioned two House measures, House Resolution 8, which would implement universal background checks, and H.R. 1446, which would close a background check loophole that a white supremacist used to carry out a 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, S.C.

According to a 2019 national poll, about 90% of Americans supported universal background checks. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona continue to stand in the way of efforts by their party to get rid of the filibuster to pass gun reform over Republicans' opposition votes.

Age of purchase is another gun control measure Congress could consider. "Both Buffalo and Texas involved 18-year-olds," Courtney said. He referenced a bill introduced by Rep. Ted Deutch, who represents the district in Florida where the Parkland High School mass shooting took place in 2018, to raise the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21. "Certainly for the more lethal weapons like assault weapons and other firearms that are clearly not for sport shooting," Courtney said.

On the state level

At a news conference in Hartford on Wednesday, Democrats Gov. Ned Lamont, U.S. Reps. Jahana Hayes and John Larson, gun control advocates and others lamented a lack of gun control throughout the country.

"Here we are again. What you saw happened in Texas yesterday, almost 10 years to the month that it happened at Sandy Hook, and there are too many eerie similarities," Lamont said. "You saw what happened in Buffalo ... I look at these crimes, I look at these mass shootings, they're somewhat uniquely American. I love America, but this should not be our curse."

He noted the state legislature passed mental health and criminal justice measures this spring but regretted that Republicans  pushed back on proposed gun control measures, including banning ghost guns, during the session.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski said in a statement Wednesday that he hopes Republicans and Democrats can compromise.

"Mass shootings have become tragically routine in America, but the targeting of children hits us hardest of all. To have any hope of solving this, we need both parties to spend less time pointing fingers at each other and more time working together to solve problems and keep our communities safe," he said in the statement.

He said that "Connecticut has the strongest gun laws in the entire country, and that's the way they should stay." If elected governor, he said, he would use his platform "to urge federal action in Congress on comprehensive solutions that protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners."

Stefanowski also said he would roll back the police accountability law passed last year in the wake of the 2020 police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis: "I will support law enforcement and increase funding to police to fill the dangerously high vacancy rates that have resulted in increased violence in Connecticut."

'Work with us'

Murphy had spoken on the Senate floor Tuesday evening in a widely shared and emotional moment.

“Just days after a shooter walked into a grocery store to gun down African American patrons, we have another Sandy Hook on our hands. What are we doing?” he said. “There were more mass shootings than days in the year. Our kids are living in fear every single time they set foot in the classroom because they think they're going to be next.”

“What are we doing? Why do you spend all this time running for the United States Senate?” he continued. “Why do you go through all the hassle of getting this job, of putting yourself in a position of authority, if your answer is that as the slaughter increases, as our kids run for their lives, we do nothing?”

He implored his Republican colleagues to “Work with us to find a way to pass laws that make this less likely.”

Themis Klarides, who will run against Blumenthal in November if she wins the Republican primary in August, did not respond to a request for comment but did post a statement on her official Facebook page Tuesday.

“I am horrified to learn of the tragic shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas this afternoon. Mass violence is always horrific, but never more so than in a school,” she said in the statement. “The epidemic of school shootings is absolutely unacceptable in our society. These children have been robbed of their futures, never given a chance to live out their potentials. While I am still gathering the details of exactly what happened, I share my deepest condolences with the families involved and sincere appreciation for the heroic actions of teachers and law enforcement on the scene.”

Peter Lumaj, who is competing against Klarides in the Republican primary, did not respond to a request for comment.

On the floor Tuesday night, Blumenthal criticized Republicans' inaction. Beyond expanded background checks, he urged his colleagues to support bans on ghost guns, or firearms without serial numbers, and assault weapons, safe storage requirements, community violence intervention programs and protections for domestic violence survivors, among other policies.

"We must match our thoughts and prayers with real action," he said.

s.spinella@theday.com

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