U.S. Sen. Murphy: Dixon’s school violence solutions are ‘straight out of the partisan playbook’

By: - October 28, 2022 2:00 pm

Law enforcement officers speak together outside of Robb Elementary School following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. According to reports, 19 students and 2 adults were killed, with the gunman fatally shot by law enforcement. | Brandon Bell/Getty Images

After the Newtown, Conn., massacre in 2012 came the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in 2018, the Oxford, Mich., shooting in 2021, the Uvalde, Texas, shooting in May and scores of firearm-related school deaths in between.

Having seen the impact on communities like his in Newtown firsthand, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) has still not given up the fight nearly a decade later.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy

Murphy — who was a member of the U.S. House when 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in his Connecticut district in 2012 — is among the Democratic party’s fiercest gun control proponents.

He made a trek to Michigan Friday to stump for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a fellow Democrat who shares his views on gun regulation and school safety. Whitmer has made the issue a campaign priority in the last few weeks until the Nov. 8 election.

Her GOP challenger, right-wing commentator Tudor Dixon, has slammed Whitmer for backing gun control measures and has proposed a plan to “harden” schools with more security and arming teachers.

“Watch the videotape from Uvalde,” Murphy responded bluntly in a Friday phone call with the Advance. “It’s hard to watch, but that school in Uvalde did not suffer from a shortage of men with guns. And it didn’t stop that kid from destroying the lives of 21 families.”

Despite 91 state police officers being on the campus of Robb Elementary during the Uvalde shooting, all failed to confront the shooter for over an hour during the rampage that left 21 people dead — including 19 students — and 18 wounded.

“We’d be better off if we have an ‘all of the above’ policy if we made our schools safer places, but we also just made it less likely that dangerous people can get their hands on dangerous weapons,” Murphy said.

Dixon’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Whitmer has made similar arguments, noting during the final gubernatorial debate Tuesday that a school shooting in St. Louis, Mo., just one day prior had security precautions like Dixon had proposed — but “people are dead” despite them.

In the Friday interview with Murphy, the Advance also spoke with Connecticut’s junior U.S. senator about the recent court outcome in his home state ordering far-right conspiracist Alex Jones to pay $965 million to Sandy Hook families, who say they have been threatened and harassed for years because of Jones’ false accusations about the shooting on his show “Infowars,” as well as the novel move from Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald to charge the Oxford shooter’s parents for ignoring warning signs of their son’s behavior prior to the tragedy.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (left) and GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon (right) | Andrew Roth

The following are excerpts from the interview:

Michigan Advance: Alex Jones was recently ordered to pay nearly $1 billion to the families of Sandy Hook victims’ families over misinformation he spread about the shooting. Do you think that was a turning point in disinformation becoming widespread, as well as political violence?

Murphy: Clearly, that verdict is going to have a chilling effect on other conspiracy theorists. Now, the word is out: If you engage knowingly in these outlandish, dangerous conspiracy theories, you could be liable for substantial damages. But the problem is there’s still an enormous market out there for the kind of crap that Alex Jones and others put into the political ecosystem. 

So I think so long as there’s money to be made on conspiracy theories, there are likely to be people like Alex Jones who are going to put it out there. But I think there’ll be less now, because I do think that that verdict is going to make some of these provocateurs think twice because they know that they can’t do this for free, especially if it ends up really hurting people.

Michigan Advance: James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of the Oxford shooter, are charged with involuntary manslaughter for their alleged roles in enabling the shooting. Do you think Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald’s prosecution of the Crumbley parents could set a precedent?

Murphy: I think there’s no question that parents owe a duty of care, and that there is certainly a standard that parents should be held to if their child is knowingly dangerous and has access to firearms. As a parent myself, I think you always have to be careful about holding the parent wholly responsible for the actions of children — I would never want to be 100% liable for everything that my child does. 

But I also know that there are circumstances where adults can step in and do something. I fought really hard this summer to pass federal legislation funding state red flag laws, because I want to give parents the tools, all across the country, to try to stop these atrocities before they happen. And in states that have red flag laws, parents have a legal avenue to take guns away from their child, especially if that child is over the age of 18. So I think there are some things we can do to help parents be more empowered.

Oxford High School, Dec. 3, 2021 | Allison R. Donahue

Michigan Advance: What do you think of the argument from Republicans, like gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon, that schools should be “hardened” with more police presence to prevent these shootings in lieu of more preventative gun safety measures like red flag laws?

Murphy: Listen, my two kids go to public schools. I want those schools to be safe. I want their doors to be locked. But I also know that candidates that talk only about hardening schools are basically parroting the talking points of the gun lobby. 

The gun lobby doesn’t want to have common sense changes in our gun laws because it’ll hurt their profit margins. … I’m a big believer in school safety. I passed a law this summer that will dramatically increase funding to help make schools and Connecticut and Michigan safer, but I also know that can’t be the only answer. 

The school in St. Louis was locked, the school in Uvalde was locked — but really bad people with evil intentions find a way to get into these places and these schools, and so we’d be better off if we have an ‘all of the above’ policy if we made our schools safer places, but we also just made it less likely that dangerous people can get their hands on dangerous weapons.

Michigan Advance: Dixon has made one of her arguments on this front the fact that places like schools are gun-free zones, which she says makes students vulnerable. So her solution is more guns [for protection]. What’s your take on that?

Murphy: Watch the videotape from Uvalde. It’s hard to watch, but that school in Uvalde did not suffer from a shortage of men with guns. And it didn’t stop that kid from destroying the lives of 21 families.

It’s just not true that loading our schools up with guns makes those schools safer. It takes two minutes for a 19-year-old with a high powered assault weapon to kill dozens of kids. There’s no way that any security officer with a gun can get to a place fast enough when the shootings happen this quickly. We’d be better off focusing our efforts on making our schools safer, making sure they have locked doors and then making sure that really troubled kids with serious mental illness and histories of violence don’t have access to these weapons.

Michigan Advance: What do you think is the most effective way for leaders like Gov. Whitmer to pitch these ideas to voters and protect children in schools from gun violence?

Murphy: I think Gov. Whitmer has made it a priority to reach out across the aisle. She’s passed hundreds of bipartisan bills. And when it comes to the issue of school safety, I think it’s really important to be bipartisan. We passed the gun bill this summer with Republican support. We reached out across the aisle, and we got very conservative Republicans to support some common sense changes to our gun laws to just make sure that dangerous people, people with criminal records don’t get weapons, to give money to our schools to make them safer. 

And I think that that’s the approach that Gov. Whitmer is going to take here. She’s going to reach out across the aisle, find the places where you can get Republican and Democratic agreement on gun laws and on school safety.

I just don’t think Tudor Dixon is going to do that. Everything I hear from her, you know, is straight out of the partisan playbook. So if you’re interested in ending the partisan bickering on an issue like school safety and actually finding common ground, I just think there’s no question that Gov. Whitmer is going to be able to get that done.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).