On Oct. 21, the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy hosted a conference to discuss gun control laws in the wake of the 2022 Supreme Court decision in the landmark case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen. Panels throughout the day debated the implications of the decision, alternatives such as community violence prevention programs, and other innovative approaches that are currently under consideration across the country.
A highlight of the conference was the keynote address, delivered by US Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Murphy came to national prominence in the wake of the devastating Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which occurred mere weeks before he assumed office. He has since become a leading—if not the preeminent—voice in the gun control movement, and famously held the Senate floor for nearly fifteen hours straight in protest of the legislature’s inaction regarding the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016, one of the longest filibusters ever.
Sen. Murphy, who appeared via Zoom, stressed that the gun violence “epidemic is absolutely enormous, and growing,” and that the United States is a clear outlier among high-income countries in rates of gun violence. But he was emphatic that the costs of unrestrained gun violence extends beyond the physical, visible wounds. Sen. Murphy recounted the heartfelt, candid discussions he has had with elementary and middle school students in gun violence-prone neighborhoods: “All they wanted to talk about was how their entire lives were dominated by a feeling of insecurity, a feeling that they could be killed any day, walking to school or walking home.
“There is a biological process that plays out in the brains of these children… their brains are literally bathed in a hormone, called cortisol, that you or I may experience a burst of maybe once or twice in our lives, when we are subjected to immense trauma. That cortisol, for young brains, is corrosive,” he went on to say. As a result, they may experience difficulty in forming interpersonal relationships or learning in school.
What’s the solution when, post-Bruen, states like New York have been largely stripped of their discretion in deciding who receives a permit to carry a gun? Sen. Murphy is all for new solutions, but he stands by the tried-and-true methods that have seen such success in Connecticut: universal background checks and outright bans on assault-style rifles. The real innovation, he believes, must come in how lawmakers build coalitions in Congress, in how they can find compromise to “find 60 votes.”