Murphy told Rogue Rocket the bipartisan gun control framework being debated represents an essential step in the process of incremental reforms.
Senate Gun Reform Framework
A bipartisan group of Senators announced Sunday that they have struck a tentative deal on gun reform legislation that would have enough support to break the 60-vote filibuster and move through the divided Senate.
The key provisions in the framework include:
- Creating a federal grant program to help encourage states to implement “red flag” laws, which allow a judge to temporarily keep guns away from people who present a threat to themselves or someone else.
- Investing billions in mental health services and school safety programs.
- Closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by extending prohibitions on gun ownership to people who have been convicted of domestic violence against a dating partner.
- Imposing federal laws against gun trafficking and straw purchasing by criminals who have someone else buy weapons for them.
- Enhancing background checks by requiring a mandatory search of juvenile and mental health records for people under 21 who want to buy a gun.
- Clarifying the definition of a “federally licensed firearms dealer” so more commercial sellers are required to do background checks.
The agreement was reached by a group of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans and has the backing of President Joe Biden, but it still faces a long road ahead. The current draft leaves out many reforms Democrats and activists have long called for.
The proposal is also much more narrow than the sweeping gun-control package the House passed last week, which aimed to raise the age limit for the purchase of semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21, ban the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines, create new safe storage requirements for gun owners, and codify previous executive orders on ghost guns and bump stocks, among other measures.
In an interview with Rogue Rocket, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.), who is leading the gun control talks for Senate Democrats, said he believes the framework could produce the most landmark legislation in nearly three decades.
“I think this is a moment where we cannot afford to fail,” he said. “There’s a reason why we have not passed any comprehensive gun violence legislation in 30 years. Because every time we get close, it’s really hard to get Republicans, in particular, to sort of take that final step.”
“But I think we can put together a package that would be the most substantial gun violence bill in 30 years. We’re not there yet, but we’re pushing to the finish line.”
Murphy Emphasizes Importance of Incremental Reforms
While Murphy acknowledged that the package excludes many provisions favored by Democrats, he still underscored the importance of taking small steps forward.
“As somebody who has been at the forefront of this fight, somebody who talks to the victims and the parents of those who have been killed every single day, I am not supporting anything that’s window dressing. I’m not supporting anything that is a box-checking exercise. I’m only going to support something that saves lives,” he said.
“I don’t know of any great social change movement in this country that got everything they wanted all at once. That’s not how it works in this country, you have to make progress.”
“So to break this logjam and to frankly show Republicans that there’s no political cost to be paid for voting with all of your constituents that want this progress to be made, that want changes in our gun laws to be made — that could have a really freeing effect on the political debate here,” Murphy continued, noting that polls have repeatedly shown that 80% to 90% of Americans support common-sense gun reforms.
“Why can’t 90% of Americans get their way?” he stated. “That’s not supposed to happen in a democracy.”
“For years it has been that minority of Americans who want no changes in our gun laws that have been the loudest. That is changing, but it’s changing gradually,” he added. “Right now, I would say, there are more calls coming into these offices favoring changes in our gun laws than for people who want no changes in our gun laws. But, you know, that has been a process that has played out over the last ten years as the anti-gun violence movement has become bigger and louder.”
Call for Action Among Americans
To capitalize on the growing momentum for gun reform, Murphy urged Americans to take an active role in the debate at hand.
“It’s really about making sure that the folks who want these changes don’t just answer the poll question, but actually write your member of Congress, call your member of Congress, send an email, post something on social media,” he said. “Getting something done here means, you know, being active. And it was the side that wanted to make sure there were no changes in our gun laws that have often been the best organized and most active.”
“I think [we] need to understand how widespread the impact of America’s gun violence problem is. We tend to think about this only when there are these mass shootings. We tend to think about it just in terms of the number of people killed,” the Senator continued.
“There’s science that shows us that kids who fear for their life every day because of the neighborhood they grow up in actually have the circuitry of their brain messed with in a way that doesn’t allow them to learn, doesn’t allow them to form relationships. It’s not a coincidence that all the underperforming schools in this country — many of them — are in the most violent neighborhoods.”
“So it’s really hard to overstate the impact of the gun violence epidemic in America. It’s not just the number of people who die. That’s the most tragic result. That’s the irreversible result. But there is a broader impact, especially on communities of color, in low income communities, that we just have to deal with. And we have to see is part of the problem rather than what we tend to see, which is just these mass shootings.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Supreme Court Rules High School Football Coach Can Pray on Field
All of our rights are “hanging in the balance,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a dissenting opinion.
Court’s Conservatives Break With 60 Years of History
The Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of a former high school football coach who lost his job after he refused to stop praying on the field at the end of games.
Joseph Kennedy, who was hired at Bremerton High School in Washington State in 2008, kneeled at the 50-yard line after games for years and prayed. He was often joined by some of his players, as well as others from the opposing team.
In 2015, the school asked him not to pray if it interfered with his duties or involved students.
Shortly after, Kennedy was placed on paid administrative leave, and after a school official recommended that his contract not be renewed for the 2016 season he did not reapply for the position.
Kennedy sued the school, eventually appealing the case to the Supreme Court.
The justices voted 6 to 3, with the liberal justices dissenting.
“Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse republic — whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion.
“Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance,” he added.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion.
“Today’s decision is particularly misguided because it elevates the religious rights of a school official, who voluntarily accepted public employment and the limits that public employment entails, over those of his students, who are required to attend school and who this court has long recognized are particularly vulnerable and deserving of protection,” she said.
“In doing so, the court sets us further down a perilous path in forcing states to entangle themselves with religion, with all of our rights hanging in the balance.”
The defense in the case argued that the public nature of Kennedy’s prayers put pressure on students to join him, and that he was acting in his capacity as a public employee, not a private citizen.
Kennedy’s lawyers contended that such an all-encompassing definition of his job duties denied him his right to self-expression on school grounds.
“This is just so awesome,” Kennedy said in a statement following the decision. “All I’ve ever wanted was to be back on the field with my guys … I thank God for answering our prayers and sustaining my family through this long battle.”
Religious Liberty or Separation of Church and State?
Sixty years ago, the Supreme Court decided that the government cannot organize or promote prayer in public schools, and it has since generally abided by that jurisprudence.
But the court led by Chief Justice John Roberts has been increasingly protective of religious expression, especially after the confirmation of three conservative Trump-appointed judges.
Reactions to the ruling were mostly split between liberals who saw the separation of church and state being dissolved and conservatives who hailed it as a victory for religious liberty.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which represented the Bremerton school district, said in a statement that the ruling “gutted decades of established law that protected students’ religious freedom.”
“If Coach Kennedy were named Coach Akbar and he had brought a prayer blanket to the 50 yard line to pray after a game,” one Twitter user said, “I’ve got a 401(k) that says this illegitimate, Christofascist SCOTUS rules 6-3 against him.”
“The people defending former Coach Kennedy’s right to kneel on the field after the game to pray – are the ones condemning Colin Kaepernick’s right to kneel on the field to protest police brutality against Black Americans,” another user wrote.
Others, like Republican Congressmember Ronny Jackson and former Secretary of State for the Trump administration Mike Pompeo, celebrated the ruling for protecting religious freedom and upholding what they called the right to pray.
“I am excited to build on this victory and continue securing our inalienable right to religious freedom,” Pompeo wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Fox News)
Rep. Schiff Urges DOJ to Investigate Trump for Election Crimes: “There’s Enough Evidence”
“When the Justice Department finds evidence of criminal potential criminal wrongdoing, they need to investigate,” the congressman said.
Schiff Says DOJ Should Launch Inquiry
Rep. Adam Schiff (R-Ca.) told Rogue Rocket that he believes there is “certainly […] enough evidence for the Justice Department to open an investigation” into possible election crimes committed by former President Donald Trump.
Schiff, who took the lead in questioning witnesses testifying before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection on Tuesday, said that it will be up to the DOJ to determine whether “they have proof beyond a reasonable doubt” of criminal activity, but added that an investigation must first be launched.
“Donald Trump should be treated like any other citizen,” the congressman said, noting that a federal judge in California has already ruled that Trump and his allies “likely” engaged in multiple federal criminal acts. “When the Justice Department finds evidence of criminal potential criminal wrongdoing, they need to investigate.”
“One of the concerns I have is it’s a year and a half since these events. And while […] there’s an investigation going on in Fulton County by the district attorney, I don’t see a federal grand jury convened in Atlanta looking into this, and I think it’s fair to ask why,” Schiff continued, referencing the ongoing inquiry into Trump’s attempts to overturn the election in Georgia.
“Normally, the Justice Department doesn’t wait for Congress to go first. They pursue evidence and they have the subpoena power. They’re often much more agile than the Congress. And I think it’s important that it not just be the lower-level people who broke into the Capitol that day and committed those acts of violence who are under the microscope,” he continued. “I think anyone who engaged in criminal activity trying to overturn the election where there’s evidence that they may have engaged in criminal acts should be investigated.”
Schiff Takes Aim at DOJ’s Handling of Committee Subpoenas
Schiff also expressed frustration with how the DOJ has handled referrals the committee has made for former Trump officials who have refused to comply with subpoenas to testify before the panel.
“We have referred four people for criminal prosecution who have obstructed our investigation. The Justice Department has only moved forward with two of them,” he stated. “That’s not as powerful an incentive as we would like. The law requires the Justice Department to present these cases to the grand jury when we refer them, and by only referring half of them, it sends a very mixed message about whether congressional subpoenas need to be complied with.”
As far as why the congressman thought the DOJ has chosen to operate in this manner in regards to the Jan. 6 panel’s investigation, he said he believes “the leadership of the department is being very cautious.”
“I think that they want to make sure that the department avoids controversy if possible, doesn’t do anything that could even be perceived as being political,” Schiff continued. “And while I appreciate that sentiment […] at the same time, the rule of law has to be applied equally to everyone. If you’re so averse, […] it means that you’re giving effectively a pass or immunity to people who may have broken the law. That, too, is a political decision, and I think it’s the wrong decision.”
On the Note of Democracy
Schiff emphasized the importance of the American people working together to protect democracy in the fallout of the insurrection.
“I really think it’s going to require a national movement of people to step up to preserve our democracy. This is not something that I think Congress can do alone. We’re going to try to protect those institutions, but Republicans are fighting this tooth and nail,” he asserted. “It’s difficult to get through a Senate where Mitch McConnell can filibuster things.”
“We don’t have the luxury of despair when it comes to what we’re seeing around us. We have the obligation to do what generations did before us, and that is defend our democracy,” the congressman continued. “We had to go to war in World War II to defend our democracy from the threat of fascism. You know, we’re not called upon to make those kinds of sacrifices. We see the bravery of people in Ukraine putting their lives on the line to defend their country, their sovereignty, their democracy. Thank God we’re not asked to do that.”
“So what we have to do is, by comparison, so much easier. But it does require us to step up, to be involved, to rally around local elections officials who are doing their jobs, who are facing death threats, and to protect them and to push back against efforts around the country to pass laws to make it easier for big liars to overturn future elections.”
“We are not passengers in all of this, unable to affect the course of our country. We can, you know, grab the rudder and steer this country in the direction that we want.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)
Senate Passes Bill to Help Veterans Suffering From Burn Pit Exposure
For Biden, who believes his son Beau may have died from brain cancer caused by burn pits, the issue is personal.
Veterans to Get Better Healthcare
The Senate voted 84-14 Thursday to pass a bill that would widely expand healthcare resources and benefits to veterans who were exposed to burn pits while deployed overseas.
Until about 2010, the Defense Department used burn pits to dispose of trash from military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations, dumping things like plastics, rubber, chemical mixtures, and medical waste into pits and burning them with jet fuel.
Numerous studies and reports have demonstrated a link between exposure to the toxic fumes emitted by the pits and health problems such as respiratory ailments and rare cancers. The DoD has estimated that nearly 3.5 million veterans may have inhaled enough smoke to suffer from related health problems.
For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs resisted calls to recognize the link between exposure and illness, arguing it had not been scientifically proven and depriving many veterans of disability benefits and medical reimbursements.
Over the past year, however, the VA relented, awarding presumptive benefit status to veterans exposed to burn pits, but it only applied to those who were diagnosed with asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis within 10 years of their service.
The latest bill would add 23 conditions to the list of what the VA covers, including hypertension. It also calls for investments in VA health care facilities, claims processing, and the VA workforce, while strengthening federal research on toxic exposure.
The bill will travel to the House of Representatives next, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged to push it through quickly. Then it will arrive at the White House for final approval.
An Emotional Cause for Many
Ahead of a House vote on an earlier version of the bill in March, comedian John Stewart publically slammed Congress for taking so long to act.
“They’re all going to say the same thing. ‘We want to do it. We want to support the veterans. But we want to do it the right way. We want to be responsible,’” he said. “You know what would have been nice? If they had been responsible 20 years ago and hadn’t spent trillions of dollars on overseas adventures.”
“They could have been responsible in the seventies when they banned this kind of thing in the United States,” he continued. “You want to do it here? Let’s dig a giant fucking pit, 10 acres long, and burn everything in Washington with jet fuel. And then let me know how long they want to wait before they think it’s going to cause some health problems.”
For President Biden, the issue is personal. He has said he believes burn pits may have caused the brain cancer that killed his son Beau in 2015.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer applauded the fact the long-awaited benefits could soon arrive for those impacted.
“The callousness of forcing veterans who got sick as they were fighting for us because of exposure to these toxins to have to fight for years in the VA to get the benefits they deserved — Well, that will soon be over. Praise God,” he said during a speech on Thursday.
A 2020 member survey by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 86% of respondents were exposed to burn pits or other toxins.
Although burn pits have largely been scaled down, the DoD has not officially banned them, and at least nine were still in operation in April 2019.