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Sen. Murphy says the chances for compromise on gun control are less than 50/50

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It has been more than 24 hours since a gunman walked into a fourth-grade classroom, opened fire and killed students and teachers; hours that saw terrified parents sitting in a parking lot in Uvalde, Texas, waiting for news of their children while they were swabbed for DNA; and hours in which victims, politicians and so many others asked why these mass shootings happen again and again and again. The times and locations are different, but all-too-familiar scenes have played out all across the country, including in December 2012, when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Senator Chris Murphy represents the parents, teachers and community that includes Sandy Hook. And in the decades since that terrible day, he has been trying to pass gun control legislation. He spoke about the shooting and the failure of that legislation on the Senate floor yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRIS MURPHEY: But I'm here on this floor to beg - to literally get down on my hands and knees and beg my colleagues - find a path forward here. Work with us to find a way to pass laws that make this less likely.

CHANG: Senator Murphy joins us now. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MURPHY: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: So as someone who was so close to what happened at Sandy Hook, what are these moments now - like what happened yesterday - what are they like for you when they happen?

MURPHY: Well, I mean, the first thing I think about is those families in Sandy Hook who relive their nightmare every time that one of these mass shootings happens; in particular, shooting in a school. And having been there, at the emergency location site at Sandy Hook that day, I know what last night looked like. I know how grisly that is, the process of identifying these bodies. These kids don't have IDs on them. And so it's their parents who have to identify their children. I also know what an AR-15 does to the bodies of these children. Many of them were probably not recognizable.

And I know this is so hard to hear, and it's hard for me to say, but this country has to sort of come to grips with the reality of what these mass shootings look like. It was Emmett Till's open casket that changed the civil rights debate. And I hope that we don't have to show Americans what these kids' bodies look like shot by semiautomatic weapons in order to change public opinion here. But I can't imagine what those families are going through, and the Sandy Hook families are going through a lot today as well.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, when it comes to coming to grips with reality, I covered the efforts to pass gun control legislation back in 2013, shortly after Sandy Hook. And I remember there was a palpable feeling inside the Capitol among Democrats that if there was ever a time when new gun control bills would get passed, it would be at that moment, after the murder of 20 young children. That hope was so strong when I talked to you and your Democratic colleagues back then, and yet the efforts failed. So let me ask, how do you even meaningfully revive the gun control conversation inside the Senate after that?

MURPHY: I think I came to understand that there are very few epiphanies. There are very few moments where a right turn happens in American politics. It's really about political power. How much do you have? How much does the other side have? And in 2013, you know, the modern anti-gun violence movement didn't exist. All these groups that we think about today, from March for Our Lives to Gabby Gifford's group, Moms Demand Action, they didn't exist. But the gun lobby did, the NRA did. And they just were more powerful than we were in 2013.

So what we've been doing for the last 10 years is building up our own power. We're a significant political organization. The NRA is weaker today than they were. And maybe that balance of power - political power, today; much more even than it was in 2013 - will allow us to get something done. That's my task over the next few days.

CHANG: Do you really believe that? Do you really - what are your conversations like now with your colleagues who don't support gun control legislation? What are they saying to you right now?

MURPHY: Well, you know, they trot out all the same tropes - you know, first, that this is a mental illness problem, not a gun problem; second, that, you know, we can solve this by putting more weapons in our schools. So they come up with all sorts of other things that we should be working on. And I admit, there's a really narrow path to getting 60 votes in the Senate right now. And maybe I'm a fool for being the eternal optimist, but I'm just going to stay at it for these next few days, the next week.

CHANG: So you do think that you will be able to garner some support from the other side in the next few weeks? You really think that something will change?

MURPHY: So as we're talking, we're trying to figure out a process by which, over the next week, Republicans and Democrats, a group of us can sit down and try to hammer out a compromise. I will tell you, I think the chances are, you know, well less than 50-50 that we will find that compromise because there are probably 4 or 5 Republicans who would fairly easily support some common-sense measures; tougher to find the next five that would get you to 60.

But the truth of the matter is, if there were more Democrats here and less Republicans, we would be able to pass this legislation. If voters went to the polls and decided not to keep reelecting people who don't support universal background checks, we could solve this issue pretty easily. So in the end, this is Congress' responsibility, but it is also the voter's responsibility.

CHANG: Well, Senator, if you could speak directly to the families in Uvalde right now, what would you like to say to them?

MURPHY: That this is going to be a hard, awful, difficult road and that there's a lot of people there to support you. Unfortunately, there's a community of victims from Sandy Hook to Parkland to Charleston who can help you understand how they manage this grief. But I also want them to know that there are people here in Washington who are not going to give up, who are going to try to honor the memory of these kids with action to try to make sure that no family has to go through what they've gone through.

I mean, listen; I have no idea really what to tell these parents. I have no idea. I have a feeling there's zero words that brings comfort to a mom or a dad who have lost their child. But as, you know, one of the few parents of young school-aged children in the United States Senate, I feel an obligation to stand up for those families and those kids. And I hope that over time, they may draw some small comfort from the fact that there are some people here trying to stop this from happening.

CHANG: That is Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Thank you very much for being with us again.

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