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Politics & Policy

Senator Murphy Demonstrates Why Gun-Control Advocates Are Mistrusted

Sen. Chris Murphy at a Capitol Hill press conference, October 3, 2017. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut released this statement on Twitter today:

This is pretty strong stuff. And yet I’m left unclear as to what exactly Murphy is talking about. As the New York Times has confirmed, the shooter in Texas used a shotgun and a .38-caliber revolver — and nothing else besides. Moreover, because he was 17-years-old, he was ineligible to purchase a gun either privately or commercially, and thus had no contact with NICS background-check system that Murphy wants to expand. What, precisely, did “Congress” fail to do here? What perverted signal did it send? What “endorsement” did it provide?

If his public statements are to be believed, Senator Murphy does not want to ban shotguns or .38-caliber revolvers, which is why he has made no effort to convince Congress to do so. Per Murphy’s website, the senator favors “universal background checks, cracking down on straw purchasers and illegal weapon sales, and limiting access to high-capacity magazines and military-style assault weapons.” In addition, he hopes to secure “legislation to close loopholes in our background check system; to make it illegal for those on the FBI terror watch list to buy a gun; to end the ban on gun violence research at the Center for Disease Control; to encourage licensing requirements for handgun purchases; and to help keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.” None of these provisions intersect with today’s incident. Which means that if, as Murphy claims, Congress is to blame for not having taken steps to stop what happened today, then Senator Murphy is, too. He cannot have it both ways. If today’s murders were the result of congressional inaction on shotguns and revolvers — if, to borrow his unlovely phrase, a “green light” was shown to the killer — then he must share in the responsibility. And if he isn’t responsible, then nor is anybody else.

I am sometimes asked why so many conservatives do not believe mainstream gun-control advocates when they insist that their ambitions are limited in scope. This is why. Had today’s shooting been carried out with an AR-15, a weapon that Murphy has long wanted to ban, then his reaction would have at least have made internal logical sense. Likewise, if the shooter had bought his firearms privately and skipped the background check that might have thwarted him, Murphy’s finger-pointing would have been expected. But it wasn’t, and he didn’t. And yet Murphy still chastised Congress for not acting. As far as I can see, there are only two reasonable ways to interpret this behavior: 1) That Senator Murphy is a grandstander who does not understand this issue well enough to do anything but shout “do something!” whenever he sees an abomination on the news; or 2) That Senator Murphy actually does want to ban shotguns and revolvers and everything else besides — and, by extension, that he wants to repeal the Second Amendment to the Constitution in order to get it done. Neither of these options is likely to reassure his skeptics.

As for the implication that is embedded in Murphy’s tweet — namely, that declining to prohibit a given tool is in some way an endorsement of those who would abuse it — well, I can think of few more destructive ideas in a free country. Was Thurgood Marshall sending a “green light” to the KKK when he voted with the majority in Brandenburg v. Ohio? Are the many opponents of the Patriot Act offering an “endorsement” to the devotees of Jihad? Hardly. By suggesting that his opponents disagree with him because they are happy to “allow” massacres, rather than because they think that his proposals (such as they are) will be useless, Murphy is seriously damaging our debate over guns, and hurting our political culture. He’s also making it obvious that his views are more radical than he’d like us all to believe. Sometimes it pays to sit a round out.

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