>> America's epidemic of gun violence and what can be done, this week on "Firing Line."
A supermarket in Buffalo, New York, Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the 4th of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois.
[ Gunfire ] >> What are we doing?
Why are you here... >> Senator Chris Murphy stood on the Senate floor and begged his colleagues to act.
>> ...if not to solve a problem as existential as this?
>> 15 Republicans joined him in passing the most significant gun reform in decades, with President Biden signing it into law.
>> Lives will be saved today and tomorrow because of this.
>> It's a mission forged nearly 10 years ago when he was the congressman representing Newtown during the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
>> I went to the first of too many funerals this morning.
>> With more than 40,000 Americans killed by guns each year and children too often in the crossfire, what does Senator Chris Murphy say now?
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by... Corporate funding is provided by... >> Senator Chris Murphy, welcome to "Firing Line."
>> Thanks so much for having me.
>> You are the junior senator from Connecticut.
And you were the member of Congress representing Newtown, Connecticut, on that dreadful day when 20 first-graders were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
You have spoken openly about how that moment and that experience really galvanized you and made you deeply passionate about the issue of gun violence in this country.
And you were the lead Democrat on the first federal legislative reform for gun violence since 1994, just signed into law by President Biden.
We're going to get to the law and all the details of the law, but first, what does this moment mean to you personally?
>> Well, my life changed on that day in December 2012.
I'll never forget it.
There are lots of days where I wish I could forget it.
But I established a bond with those families and, then weeks later, with families I met in Hartford and New Haven, who were very angry that I was, you know, just showing up, caring about this issue after 20 White children had died when Black children were dying every day in cities in my state.
But that bond is something that I don't think I had ever had before in my professional career, and I made a commitment to them that I was not going to give up until we passed legislation that made it less likely that those kind of shootings and murders would happen.
And there were a lot of days during the last 10 years where I wasn't sure whether we would ever be able to break the back of the gun lobby, whether we would ever be strong enough to be able to pass laws that would save the lives of kids in this country.
And so to be on the Senate floor delivering the passage of a bill that will save lives -- you know, it means something to me, but really all I care about is, what does it mean to the families in Sandy Hook, what does it mean to the families in Hartford and New Haven and Chicago and New Orleans?
And to me, that's really all that matters.
>> You met this week with the parents of the children who were killed in Uvalde and survivors from the recent Highland Park shooting.
Tell me about that meeting.
>> Yeah, it was awful.
It's just something none of us can fathom, losing a child or having to witness someone dying right next to you at a parade.
It's been 10 years since Sandy Hook, and so maybe I'd kind of forgotten what those first few months are like, how dead inside the parents are who have to go through this.
And being in that room with the Uvalde parents, who really felt half-alive to me, it was just another reminder of how you never, ever recover from this.
And I just -- I hope there's a day when there is not this endless parade of parents of dead children walking into my office.
I can't be confident of that, but I certainly will seek out answers to try to get to that day.
>> On the same day that you met with those parents and those survivors, surveillance footage was revealed of the shooter in the school in Uvalde.
What we saw in that footage was the gunman walking down the hallway, police officers standing by for over an hour before taking down the shooter.
And you took to Twitter.
You wrote, "The Uvalde video puts to bed forever the question of whether the way to deal with bad guys with guns is to make sure there are more good guys with guns.
We've always known it was a gun industry that created that lie designed to sell more guns.
Now we just have the gut-wrenching proof."
[ Door closes ] [ Gunshots ] [ Indistinct conversations ] >> I thought a lot about whether I wanted to watch that video.
I remember being at the first of the Sandy Hook kids' funeral.
It was an open casket.
And this was a child who was unrecognizable, but his parents wanted political leaders to see what had happened.
And I chose not to go up to that casket and look at that child, and I always wonder whether I should have.
I thought about that as I was deciding whether to watch the video.
It's not as stunning and striking as looking into an open casket of a child who's been killed, but it is still jarring to watch that young man walk into that building and then to see law enforcement minutes later enter and do nothing for an hour and a half, as police officer after police officer arrive with more heavy weapons, more body armor, more shields, and yet they still do nothing.
I understand their hesitancy.
I understand why you wouldn't want to confront someone who has a high-powered, military-style assault weapon who's willing to turn it on civilians.
But that's their job.
They should have walked into that classroom.
They should have put their lives at risk.
That's what they signed up for.
But it is frankly a reminder to all of us that if all of that high-powered machinery, all of those trained law-enforcement officers were so scared of that one teenager with an AR-15 inside that classroom, well, maybe the solution isn't more highly trained officers with guns.
Maybe the solution is to just make sure that teenagers don't get their hands on military-style assault weapons and march into classrooms like that.
So, to me, it's proof positive that the solution here is to keep these guns out of the hands of bad guys rather than to think you're going to solve the problem by giving good guys a lot more guns.
That's -- That didn't work in Uvalde.
>> President Biden has just signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
The bill incentivizes states to implement red flag laws, closes domestic violence loopholes, enhances background checks for buyers under 21, criminalizes straw purchases, and allocates money on mental health services.
What is the most important aspect of this law?
>> I think it's important to understand that we wrote this law intentionally in a way where the different pieces work together.
So, let's take what happened in Highland Park.
This was an under-21-year-old buyer who had a long history of really dangerous behavior, and yet he was able four different times, after he had threatened to kill his family, to buy guns.
This law could have changed what happened in Highland Park, one, because this law provides states with money to better administer these red flag laws, these laws that allow you to take weapons away from people who are making threats of harm, but, second, our bill says anytime somebody under 21 tries to buy a gun, the local police department has to be told about it.
And so in Highland Park, what could have happened here is that the local police department would have gotten a phone call four different times that this young man that they knew to be dangerous was buying weapons.
And then, armed with better information about red flag laws, as our bill does, the police department could have started a red flag process, the minute that this kid started to go arm himself, take those weapons away, and this could have all been prevented.
>> So, red flag laws are a relatively new policy innovation on the national scene.
What is a red flag law?
>> So, a red flag law is a process by which you can temporarily take weapons away from individuals who have made threats of violence against themselves, threatening suicide, or against others.
You have to go to a court in order to get a judge to make a finding that this is a dangerous individual.
So, the individual has the ability in court to make their case.
And the order is temporary.
Republicans have been able to support this, both at the state level and now at the federal level, because it really is targeting policy towards the most dangerous people.
And if you're a law-abiding gun owner, you should have no problem with a red flag law because you are never gonna be subject to one of these orders.
It's only people who have made actual, tangible, meaningful threats of violence.
>> And yet Illinois had a red flag law, so -- And many states have red flag laws.
What are the inconsistencies or the challenges with red flag laws that this federal legislation addresses?
>> So, there are lots of states that have red flag laws, including Illinois, but many states' red flag laws don't work.
Because you need to do a pretty robust campaign of education to let people know that the red flag law exists and how to access it.
So, you can have a red flag law on the books, but if your police department doesn't know, "A," that it exists or how you go about filling out the forms and going to court to take someone's guns away, then the law is dead letter.
So, in Illinois, there was one county that did the red flag law well, but in the rest of the state, it was almost never utilized.
In Florida, a state run by Republicans, they've got a very effective red flag law, a red flag law that has taken guns away from thousands of dangerous Florida residents.
The difference between Florida and other states where the red flag law isn't used is education, telling people how to use it, making the system accessible.
And that's what our bill does.
It provides almost $1 billion to help states implement red flag laws, educate law enforcement, first responders on how to access red flag law processes.
I think that will make an enormous difference.
I know it'll make an enormous difference.
>> So, in the same 4th of July holiday weekend in Highland Park where seven people were killed, just 30 minutes away in Chicago, 8 people were killed by gun violence and 68 people were injured.
The trauma touches urban and suburban America.
You wrote extensively about this in your 2020 book, "The Violence Inside Us."
How will this new legislation address urban gun violence?
>> Listen, it's just a fact we value White life in this country more than Black life.
So, when White people are killed, this country pays attention in a way that they don't when Black people are killed.
I was in Baltimore one day visiting an after-school program.
I happened to be there during a morning in which a young father dropped his two twin daughters off at elementary school.
And when he got home, before he opened the door to his townhouse, he was shot dead.
And I thought to myself, "What if that had happened in Westport, Connecticut, right, in White suburban Connecticut?"
That would be national news.
When I went to try to find information out about that young man the next day, I could barely find a story in the Baltimore papers about it.
So, we have decided that when Black men are killed in our cities, it just doesn't matter as much as when White people are killed and White children are killed.
And that's heartbreaking.
That should be unacceptable to all of us.
Our bill includes the first-ever federal ban on gun trafficking and straw purchasing.
And why that's important for places like Hartford and Baltimore is because these cities are awash in illegal guns.
Most of these crimes in these cities are committed with illegal guns, guns that ended up in the hands of somebody who was prohibited from owning a gun but got them through the black market.
We've never had a federal prohibition on the black market trade of firearms.
Because the NRA, the gun lobby, loves the black market.
They make a lot of money off of the black market.
So, now we have the ability of the federal government -- the FBI, the DOJ -- to go after these multi-state gun-trafficking networks and shut them down, which means less illegal guns in our cities, which means less crime perpetrated against communities of color.
That piece of legislation doesn't get as much attention as some of the other pieces, but it, you know, may in the end be one of the most important changes in law that we make.
>> The pushback against a lot of Democratic gun-safety proposals has been this argument that laws won't stop people who want to commit murder from getting their hands on a weapon if they really want to.
And you can even see, in the original incarnation of this program, William F. Buckley Jr. making that exact same argument in 1980.
Take a look at this.
>> If we didn't sell another handgun beginning tomorrow, you'd still have 45 million handguns in this country.
The notion that someone who desires to put his hands on a handgun can ever be made difficult is almost as preposterous to say as that one could keep people from smoking marijuana, which is also illegal.
>> But that's a defeatist attitude.
I think if we stop now and we have 45 million handguns floating around and we put a restriction, say, "Alright, if you have your handgun, register it, but no more registration."
>> And don't take it from your home.
>> That's right.
"We're cutting it off here."
We would begin to see less violence in our society in 2 years, 5 years, 20 years.
The next generation will look back upon us as if it was the Wild West, only in the urban cowboy -- it's the only way I can describe what's happening in our cities.
>> Take on that argument, will you, that there are already so many guns in the United States that if somebody really wants to commit a mass atrocity, they can get their hands on a gun.
>> Well, first of all, this argument that laws don't make a difference is patently absurd, right?
If laws don't make a difference, then let's get rid of all of them, right?
Why have laws against rape or arson or burglary if laws don't make a difference?
They do, in fact, because there are plenty of people who actually do make decisions about their behavior based upon what is legal and what isn't legal.
And it's a mechanism by which to signal our values to individuals.
Second, we have a lot of experience in this country because we have 50 different states with 50 different sets of gun laws.
So we can look to see whether stricter gun laws make a difference.
And the proof is in our state-by-state experience.
In states that have looser gun laws, there are much higher levels of gun homicide than in states like Connecticut, who have tighter gun laws.
In states that have higher levels of gun ownership, there are higher levels of gun homicide than in communities that have lower rates of gun ownership.
So, we have all the information we need to know that, in fact, tougher gun laws actually do result in safer communities.
And this idea that just because there are some bad people in the world who are going to ignore laws, that we should just stop passing laws, that's pretty bad advice.
>> You mentioned the gun lobby.
I've heard you make the case that there's a mythology around the NRA amongst Republicans, that if they support gun restrictions or laws regulating gun violence, they will lose their seats.
Why do you believe this is a mythology?
>> In the wake of the 1994 election, this idea was planted in the heads of politicians that the House was lost for the Democrats because of this vote on the assault weapons ban.
But that's not backed up by reality.
In fact, the assault weapons ban was wildly popular in 1994.
It was supported by Republicans and Democrats.
It enjoyed sky-high approval ratings.
I think it was President Clinton, who didn't want the story of 1994 to be his unpopularity, trying to suggest it was something else, in this case the assault weapons ban.
But for 30 years members of Congress -- and a lot of Democrats -- decided that they were just going to stay away from the issue of guns, despite increasing evidence that tons of Americans actually wanted us to take action on guns.
It really wasn't until 2018, after the Parkland shooting, that Democrats in this country started running strongly on universal background checks, on banning assault weapons.
And all of a sudden the candidates who were doing that were winning in kind of unlikely places, in Texas, in Georgia, in Florida.
And so I think we are at the point where we are sort of busting up this mythology.
I think now both Republicans and Democrats are realizing that there's actually way more political gain in voting for these gun safety measures and that that mythology about how many votes you'd lose or how powerful the NRA was is just that -- mythology.
>> How powerful do you think the NRA is now?
>> Five years ago, Republicans listened to the NRA, period, stop.
Today, Republicans listen to the NRA, but then they make their own decision.
And that's different.
>> Is that different in the House than in the Senate, though?
Is the NRA more powerful in the House?
>> So, the NRA is still very impactful in Republican primaries.
And so in the House, where you have almost no competitive districts between Democrats and Republicans, where Republicans only really have to worry about primaries, the NRA is going to be more impactful.
In the Senate where, you know, everybody represents the entire state, there are more competitive races as a percentage of Senate seats than there are in the House, the NRA has less power.
Swing voters, independents -- they just have a lot more influence over senators' votes than they do over House Republican votes.
And I think that's why you saw a lot of Republican senators step up and decide to get on the right side of this issue.
>> I've spoken to many of your colleagues in the Senate about the hyper-partisanship in Congress and the polarization that prevents anything from getting done on issues.
And you have just been a leader in the Senate on getting something really historic done on an issue that hasn't seen any action for decades.
You called yourself -- I love this -- you know, a sucker for negotiation, right, that getting, you know, 10% of what you want done is better than nothing.
Are there lessons that you have learned from this process that can apply to other issues?
>> Listen, I'm a progressive Democrat.
I sort of wear, you know, that on my sleeve.
But I think my job ultimately is to get laws passed that make people's lives better, not to just argue with my colleagues on Twitter.
I think it's really seductive these days in this job to just stand for what you stand for, get a lot of clicks online, get a lot of followers on social media, and sort of come to the conclusion that you've done your job.
That isn't our job.
Our job is actually to pass laws.
I think I needed 10 years in the Senate to get this deal done.
>> I think I learned a lot about how to get compromise done, but I also built relationships.
This is the most politically complicated, emotionally fraught issue we deal with.
You have to trust your partners if you're going to sit down and try to negotiate something on guns.
>> Where do you go next on this issue?
>> We just build a movement.
What I know is that success tends to beget success in this place.
I mean, listen, I've gotten better at my job, but what really changed is that over the course of 10 years, the anti-gun-violence movement became just as powerful as the gun lobby, and all of a sudden Republican senators realized that it was kind of equal measure how much they had to lose if they voted for or against this bill.
Now people see that there's power on both sides of this, and that's why we're in a different position.
>> Let me ask you about the Supreme Court, who has just ruled on a pretty consequential gun law.
They've overturned a New York law, ruling that requiring a license to carry a concealed weapon in public is unconstitutional.
Practically speaking, how will this ruling impact gun violence?
>> So, the ruling itself is narrow enough that it shouldn't impact anything that we've passed.
But the language surrounding the ruling is really troubling.
It is possible that there are five votes on the Supreme Court to radically reinterpret the Second Amendment, to essentially say that the Second Amendment is absolute, that it doesn't allow for any regulation of guns, at least any regulation that wasn't contemplated by the very people who wrote the Constitution.
And that's what worries me.
What worries me is not the impact of this ruling.
My worry is what comes next.
>> I've heard you say that if the Supreme Court is going to operate as a majoritarian body, the Senate should, too.
>> And it seems to me that that is at odds with your recent success as a leading bipartisan legislator.
>> Well, I'm working with the system that exists.
So, we did something incredibly meaningful.
I'm proud of it.
But I've been clear from day one that we weren't going to do everything that was necessary.
And part of the reason that we are not doing as much as we should is because we've got these insane rules in the Senate, in which 40 members of the Senate representing perhaps 20% of the American population can stop something as popular as universal background checks from becoming law.
So I don't think it's, you know, inconsistent to say, "I'm going to fight like hell to win as much as I can in the existing rules while also to try to fight to change those rules.
>> So, you support getting rid of the filibuster?
>> I would probably start with reforming the filibuster.
I think if you really want to stop a popular piece of legislation from moving through the Senate, you should actually have to stand there and do the work.
>> As you did when you were filibustering gun violence on the Senate floor with Cory Booker there and many of your colleagues.
For 15 hours you stood.
>> I've had enough of the ongoing slaughter of innocents, and I've had enough of inaction in this body.
Every shooting is different.
The reason why I was willing to stand up on the floor and filibuster for 15 hours is because I knew that my obstruction would be popular.
I knew that people were with me.
In 2013, when the Republicans filibustered the background checks bill, because of how the rules are written, they didn't actually have to stand on the floor.
All they had to do was just cast a vote against closing debate.
If Republicans actually had to stand on the floor for 15 hours or 20 hours and explain why they don't think people should go through background checks to buy a gun, I'm not sure they'd be willing to do it.
>> Final question.
President Biden is 79 years old.
There is a new New York Times Siena poll out this week that his national approval rating is 33%.
64% of Democrats say they would prefer a new candidate in 2024.
Is it a legitimate question for Democrats to be considering whether President Biden should run again?
>> Is it a legitimate question?
I just don't think it's a necessary question.
I think President Biden is -- >> Why is it not necessary?
>> Well, because I think President Biden is doing a hell of a job.
I just worked with him for a month in getting this bill passed.
He was incredibly important to this bill's passage.
I think ultimately elections are choices, and it's pretty likely that when matched up against Donald Trump, who I think will be the inevitable candidate, voters are going to choose Joe Biden, so I'm -- >> Why are you sure that Donald Trump will be the inevitable candidate?
>> Oh, man.
I may be wrong.
I just think we've seen enough of Donald Trump's ego to know that -- I think it's probable he's going to seek the nomination.
And I don't think they'll be able to stop him.
>> Can I reserve the right to ask you that question in a year and a half?
>> Chris Murphy, thanks for your leadership in the Senate, and thank you for joining me on "Firing Line."
>> Thank you.
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by... Corporate funding is provided by... ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ >> You're watching PBS.