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This bipartisan gun safety proposal can save lives, Sen. Blumenthal says


A bipartisan group of senators has announced a deal on a set of gun safety proposals that has the support of 10 Republicans. This is, of course, the critical number needed to get any major bill through the 50-50 Democratic-controlled Senate. The bill still has to be written, but President Biden praised the early agreement as an important step in the right direction. The deal does not include an assault weapons ban. An 18-year-old can still buy an assault weapon. And there's still no agreement on universal background checks. We turn now to one of the lawmakers involved in these negotiations, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Thank you so much for being here, Senator.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Thank you very much for having me. Good to be with you.

MARTIN: You have been in these bipartisan talks over the past few weeks. What are your Republican colleagues telling you about why they might be ready to support even this narrow set of gun proposals in this moment?

BLUMENTHAL: My Republican colleagues are telling me that they're hearing exactly what I'm hearing, which is the American people outraged and absolutely demanding that we do something. And fortunately, this proposal, while it is far from what I would have liked, actually can save lives. And I think the American people want something that is real and meaningful. And my Republican colleagues are responding to that cry that they're hearing and seeing every day.

MARTIN: We spoke with you a few weeks ago specifically about your efforts on red-flag laws. A reminder - these are the laws in some states that allow authorities to seize guns from people who are deemed a danger to themselves or others. So this new compromise bipartisan plan would give, as I understand it, funding to states who agree to pass these kinds of laws. What about states that just choose not to accept those incentives?

BLUMENTHAL: My hope is that the substantial - and I do mean very significant amounts of money - grants that will be provided to states will encourage them to adopt these red-flag laws, just as 19 states have already done. And the proof in these states, 9,000 cases in full, is that they actually do save lives because they separate people from guns when they say they're going to kill someone, whether themselves or someone else. And so I'm very proud that this red-flag crisis intervention order proposal is really - at the core, is helping to drive this proposal forward and that other measures to stop access to guns in the first place by people who are dangerous, such as improving the background checks, will be coupled with it.

MARTIN: We heard Susan Davis earlier talk about the fact that this is a far more narrow set of proposals than your colleagues in the House passed. Are you prepared to face criticism that it doesn't go far enough, not just from House Progressives but also from someone like Sandy Phillips? Her child was killed in the 2012 shooting at a theater in Aurora, Colo. And she tweeted yesterday, quote, "Not enough. Baby steps kill babies."

BLUMENTHAL: It is not enough. And my hope was that we could go farther, for example, to increase the age required to purchase assault weapons or ban assault weapon sales, high-capacity magazine sales, ghost guns impose a safe storage measure, Ethan's Law, such as we have here in Connecticut, and also even a background check on ammunition sales, Jamie's Law.

MARTIN: Did you bring these things up in these negotiations, and they were just nonstarters?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, I think those were proposals that would've blocked us from getting the 60 votes. As it is, one of the most significant aspects of this framework is that we have 10 Republicans, which means we could get the 60 votes. But Susan's report emphasized a very important point. We still need to write the legislation. I'm beginning today with colleagues on the red-flag statutes and other measures. And here, the details will be tremendously important. But getting to 60 votes - no mean feat in a evenly divided Senate. So much as we would've preferred to go further, we need to begin this thousand-mile journey with a few single important steps.

MARTIN: As you know, there have been other bipartisan efforts to write legislation in the Biden administration. And you think you got it, and then it sort of falls apart in the nuts and bolts of writing the bill. Are you concerned that this might not get over the finish line?

BLUMENTHAL: I am always concerned as we begin to write the details of legislation that an evenly divided Senate will prevent progress. But we have a lot of momentum going. I'm very clear-eyed about the past history of gun violence prevention efforts. I've been involved in many of them for the past three decades. But this framework of principles and proposals is a 30-year breakthrough in attracting a significant number of Republicans and Democrats together. It's broad, bipartisan. So momentum is on our side.

MARTIN: As we've noted, you've got 10 Republicans agreeing to the broad outlines. At the very least, you have to keep them, right? But are you planning to make efforts to broaden your coalition with more GOP support to make sure that it gets through?

BLUMENTHAL: Very, very important point. Yes, we are seeking to broaden the number of both Republicans and Democrats and actually preserve many of these proposals as we write them and perhaps include others. But the point is that we have a core critical mass of political support here that is responding to the clear will of the American people. And 90% of the American people want these kind of bipartisan, commonsense proposals. And as we tackle the difficult task of putting it into real language, we should keep in mind the support of the American people.

MARTIN: Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of the state of Connecticut. We appreciate your time as always, Senator. Thank you very much.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.