President Joe Biden expected to attend major gun summit in West Hartford

Gun Rights

President Joe Biden is expected to attend a major gun control summit next Friday in West Hartford that is attracting speakers from around the country.

The White House announced that Biden will be traveling to Connecticut on June 16, but said that further details would be released later.

The gun summit, known as The National Safer Communities Summit, is a signature event with keynote addresses by national Education Secretary Miguel Cardona of Meriden and former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, a national gun-control advocate who suffered serious injuries when she was shot in the head in January 2011 by a mentally disturbed shooter in her home state of Arizona in a supermarket parking lot.

The event will be held at the University of Hartford, where President Barack Obama spoke on gun safety in April 2013 to a packed gymnasium of more than 3,000 people following the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

The summit is designed to mark the first anniversary of The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was the biggest gun safety law in three decades.

The summit will include speeches by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who are co-sponsoring the event with other groups. Murphy gained national attention as a lead negotiator for the package of 2022 gun safety measures, and he pushed for the plan along with Blumenthal. Murphy’s staff, in particular, has been working long hours in arranging the agenda of speakers and panel discussions.

The summit will include major gun-control groups around the nation and in Connecticut, including BRADY, GIFFORDS, Sandy Hook Promise, Newtown Action Alliance, March For Our Lives, Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action, Every Town for Gun Safety and Connecticut Against Gun Violence, among others.

Two of the architects of the bipartisan gun compromise - Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen. Chris Murphy - speak at the opening of a Gun Violence Memorial installation on the National Mall in Washington in June 2022.

Patrick Semansky/AP

Two of the architects of the bipartisan gun compromise – Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen. Chris Murphy – speak at the opening of a Gun Violence Memorial installation on the National Mall in Washington in June 2022.

More than one year ago, Murphy was not optimistic.

After 10 years of fighting unsuccessfully for gun safety laws, he was skeptical that anything would change after 19 children and two teachers were killed in a shooting massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, by an 18-year-old with an AR-15 rifle.

Murphy delivered an impassioned speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate that gained nationwide attention, and he then headed into closed-door talks to seek a possible compromise on gun control.

But something was clearly different.

“The first meeting we had, two days after Uvalde, felt different than any meeting I had ever been in on this topic,” Murphy told reporters last year in Hartford. “There was just a seriousness about getting something done that I had never heard before. It wasn’t a meeting where we were feeling each other out. We actually committed to ideas in that meeting — the first meeting — and almost every single one of the ideas we talked about in that first meeting ended up in the bill.”

At the time, Murphy and others celebrated as the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives both passed the most important bipartisan gun control bill in the past three decades.

The bill largely closes the “boyfriend loophole” to block those convicted of domestic violence in the future from legally buying a gun, makes more sellers register as federally licensed firearms dealers so that they must conduct criminal background checks on potential buyers, and allows more time to check the mental health and juvenile records for those under 21 seeking to buy a gun. The bill also cracks down on illegal gunrunners, earmarks money for community violence prevention and provides $15 billion for addressing mental health issues, often cited as a reason for mass shootings.

Since his speeches on the Senate floor, Murphy has become a leader in the gun safety movement and has appeared frequently on national television on CNN and MSNBC. Along with Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, Murphy is credited with helping mold the bipartisan coalition that voted 65-33 with 15 Republicans breaking with their party to vote for the bill with the Democrats.

“I was openly pessimistic at the beginning of these negotiations,” Murphy said at the time. “I told [Senate Democratic leader Chuck] Schumer, give us space for negotiations, but we’ve got less than a 50-50 chance of success.”

When the process started, insiders never predicted that 15 Senate Republicans would support the final package.

“For the first time in 30 years, Republicans and Democrats decided to do something together,” Murphy said. “The Republicans finally figured out there was political advantage to voting on gun safety — something they refused to admit for three decades.”

Blumenthal has been a leader on gun legislation for years. Despite heavy opposition by the NRA and its supporters, Blumenthal says the gun safety movement is gaining strength.

Closing the boyfriend loophole, he said, reduces homicides in domestic violence cases by more than 10%.

“These laws work. They save lives,” Blumenthal said after the law was passed.

While the new law, which was signed by Biden last year, will bring change, Blumenthal said he will continue pushing for bans on assault weapons and ghost guns, as well as universal background checks.

“We are not yet done,” Blumenthal said, “not by a long shot.”

Christopher Keating can be reached at ckeating@courant.com 

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