Ever since the horrific elementary-school massacre in Newtown, Conn., Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy has mounted an unusually strong push against the group he sees as the main driver against sensible gun reform — the NRA.
In the months since the Sandy Hook tragedy, Murphy — who represented the Newtown area in the House of Representatives until his election to the Senate last year — has ranted against the NRA’s “enemies list.” He has released multiple reports detailing what he calls the NRA’s “radical agenda.” And he has called on NASCAR to cancel the NRA’s controversial sponsorship of a race in April.
“I decided I’m not going to become one of these members of Congress who is afraid of taking on the NRA,” Murphy said in a recent interview with Business Insider. “They’re locked into the wrong side of history.”
Because of his status as a freshman Senator, Murphy’s strong display has made other Democrats take notice, putting him at the centre of the gun-control debate swirling in Congress. Murphy has been among the group stressing the need for passage of a new assault weapons ban, as well as limits on high-capacity magazines.
He also favours a bill to implement stricter, universal background checks, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last week by a party-line vote.
Murphy released a statement expressing disappointment on Tuesday that the assault weapons ban had essentially been gutted from the package of legislation, but he kept pressing on other aspects of the gun-control debate.
“While the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 is an incredibly important part of this debate, I continue to believe that a more targeted ban on high capacity magazines is an equally effective way to reduce casualties in episodes of mass violence,” Murphy said.
Murphy’s role at the centre of the gun-control debate has earned him praise among fellow Democrats and gun control supporters, as well as a status of Public Enemy No. 1 to those inside the gun industry.
For Murphy, the decision to publicly crusade against the NRA came after what he called an “unhinged” press conference from CEO Wayne LaPierre a week after the elementary-school massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“I was flabbergasted by his speech and his tone,” Murphy said. “This was a chance for the country to come together. The NRA made the decision to gain membership by ginning up fear and becoming even more radical.”
Over the past two months, Murphy has released four reports with the intention of chipping away at the NRA’s influence. One report taunted the NRA for its influence on the 2012 election, after the Sunlight Foundation found that less than 1 per cent of the NRA’s money went toward the organisation’s desired results.
Another report from Murphy used data from a poll conducted by Republican strategist Frank Luntz, which showed a disconnect between gun owners and the NRA.
“This issue is a longstanding interest for me. I think we have formed a great team,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a fellow Connecticut Democrat, told Business Insider of Murphy. “His interest and commitment to this cause — it’s a very important effort.”
With the support for Murphy has come detractors — none more so than the National Sports Shooting Foundation, which is widely considered the second most powerful gun lobby next to the NRA and happens to be located in Newtown.
Larry Keane, the NSSF’s senior vice president, told Business Insider that Murphy’s positions have made him a “denier of Connecticut citizens’ Second Amendment rights.” Moreover, Keane said that Senators like Murphy threaten Connecticut’s relationship with gun manufacturers.
“I’ve had one CEO tell me, verbatim, ‘I can move my factory for free, and I might,'” Keane said, refusing to identify the CEO in question. “When Senators say such derogatory things about guns, it’s deeply troubling and a bit insulting.”
Murphy maintains that the public is on his side in the debate. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll released last week showed that a majority of Americans back some of the most controversial possible new gun-control measures, including the assault-weapons ban.
For his part, Murphy questions those on the other side of the debate.
“Republicans are in deep trouble as a party,” Murphy said. “I’m not sure they want to be seen as gun industry apologists.”
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