Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the most vocally pro-gun regulation lawmaker in Congress, views the 2016 presidential election as a referendum on the issue.
In Murphy’s view, if Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton loses in November, then gun reforms will be set back by a generation.
The Connecticut senator was first elected to his seat one month before the Sandy Hook massacre on December 14, 2012, when mass shooter Adam Lanza gunned down 20 children and six staffers at an elementary school within Murphy’s district.
“Sandy Hook was so cataclysmic -- was so outside of the norm -- that people’s reaction was all about simply figuring out how to process it, how to reconcile that level of evil,” Murphy told TIME Magazine on Aug. 17.
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After that national tragedy, Murphy became the most vocal proponent of gun laws in the U.S. Senate. The Connecticut senator advocates for universal background checks, limiting online sales and closing the loophole that would allow for suspected terrorists to purchase a firearm.
On June 17, days after Omar Mateen killed a record-setting 49 people at the LGBTQ Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Murphy filibustered the Senate floor for 15 hours, demanding that his GOP colleagues allow a vote on four gun bills, Rolling Stone reports.
“It’s beyond my comprehension how people can be OK with doing absolutely nothing in the face of this slaughter,” Murphy said at the time.
Casting his eye on the 2016 presidential race, Murphy believes Clinton would have a mandate to enact gun regulations if she wins, given that she has been more adamant about reforms than any other Democratic nominee in modern history.
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“If Donald Trump wins, it will be a pretty dramatic setback,” Murphy told TIME. “Not just because how terrible he’ll be on the issue, but the fact that a presidential candidate who ran asking for a mandate on guns lost.”
GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump drew controversy on Aug. 9 when he made an offhand comment about Clinton and the Second Amendment.
“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” Trump said during a North Carolina rally, asserting that Clinton was out to abolish the Second Amendment, The New York Times reports.
“Although the Second Amendment people -- maybe there is, I don’t know,” Trump added.
Sen. Murphy believes the majority of Americans would be in support of the gun regulations he's advocating, but attributes the failure of Congress to pass any legislation to the lobbying efforts of the National Rifle Association, according to TIME.
In Murphy’s view, Democrats had retreated from gun regulations after lawmakers who voted for former President Bill Clinton’s crime bill in 1994 were largely purged during that year’s election. Murphy said that Democrats did everything to avoid the wrath of the NRA for years.
“You were told, as a Democratic candidate, you should stay away from guns,” Murphy recalled. “The anti-gun violence movement was essentially asleep from 1994 to 2012 and during that time, the NRA and the gun lobby built up an incredibly impressive political organization.”
While Murphy believes his party has undergone a fundamental transformation on guns, reforms can only be enacted when Republican lawmakers are willing to defy the NRA.
"It is whether the NRA has a vice-like grip on the Republican Party, or whether it is another interest groups that wins some battles and loses some battles," Murphy explained. "They have not lost a fight in decades.
“My hope is that 10 years from now, while the NRA will still be powerful, Republicans will get used to stepping out and occasionally take on the NRA,” the Connecticut senator concluded.