Senate negotiators on Sunday announced a bipartisan framework in response to last month’s mass shootings, a notable if limited advance that offers modest restrictions on guns and strengthened efforts to improve school safety and mental health programs. .
The proposal falls far short of the tougher steps long sought by President Joe Biden and many Democrats. Still, Biden embraced the deal, and its enactment would mark a significant change after years of armed massacres that have produced little more than gridlock in Congress.
Biden said in a statement that the framework “does not do everything I think is needed, but it reflects important steps in the right direction, and would be the most important gun safety legislation Congress will pass in decades.”
Given the bipartisan support, “there is no excuse for the delay, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t move quickly in the Senate and the House,” he said.
Leaders hope to push any deal into law quickly, hopefully this month, before the political momentum sparked by recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, fades.
In a consequential development, 20 senators, including 10 Republicans, issued a statement calling for approval. That’s potentially crucial because the biggest hurdle to enacting the measure is likely to be in the 50-50 Senate, where at least 10 Republican votes will be needed to reach the usual 60-vote threshold for passage.
“Families are scared and it is our duty to come together and do something to help restore their sense of safety in their communities,” the lawmakers said. The group, led by Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Thom Tillis, RN.C., and Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., produced the agreement after two weeks of door-to-door talks. closed. .
The compromise would make juvenile records for gun buyers under the age of 21 available when they undergo background checks. The suspects who killed 10 black people at a Buffalo grocery store and 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde were 18 years old, and many of the perpetrators in recent years’ mass shootings were young.
The deal would offer money to states to enact and implement “red flag” laws that make it easier to temporarily take guns away from people deemed potentially violent, as well as funds to bolster mental health and school safety programs.
Some people who sell guns informally for profit would be required to obtain federal dealer licenses, which means they would have to run background checks on buyers. Convicted domestic abusers who do not live with a former partner, such as estranged ex-boyfriends, would be prohibited from purchasing firearms, and it would be a crime for a person to legally purchase a gun for someone who would not qualify for ownership.
Negotiators said details and legislative language would be written in the coming days. Congressional aides said billions of dollars would be spent to expand the number of community mental health centers and suicide prevention programs, but said many spending decisions were not made.
Finalizing the deal could spark new disputes and it was not clear how long it would take. But underscoring the election year pressures of Buffalo and Uvalde, the parties’ shared desire to demonstrate a response to those shootings suggested the push toward enactment was strong.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., called the deal “a good first step in ending persistent inaction in the face of the gun violence epidemic” and said he would bring the entire measure to a vote as soon as possible. soon as possible.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who has supported the talks, was more measured. He praised the work of the negotiators and said he hopes for a deal that makes “significant progress on key issues like mental health and school safety, respects the Second Amendment, wins broad support in the Senate and makes a difference for our country.” .
The deal was quickly backed by groups that support gun restrictions, including Brady, Everytown for Gun Safety and the March for Our Lives, which staged rallies across the country on Saturday.
The National Rifle Association said in a statement that it opposes gun control and infringes on the “fundamental right of individuals to protect themselves and their loved ones” but supports strengthening school safety, mental health and safety. application of the law. The group has long wielded its influence with millions of gun-owning voters to derail gun control campaigns in Congress.
The deal represents a lowest common denominator compromise on gun violence, not a complete sea change in Congress. Lawmakers have shown a new desire to move forward after saying their constituents have shown a greater desire for action in Congress since Buffalo and Uvalde, but Republicans still oppose the broader steps Democrats want and skip the deal. Sunday.
These include banning assault-style firearms, like the AR-15-style rifles used in Buffalo and Uvalde, or raising the legal age to purchase them. AR-15s are popular and powerful semi-automatic weapons that can fire high-capacity magazines and have been used in many of the nation’s highest-profile killing sprees in recent years. One of them, the murder of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, occurred six years ago on Sunday.
Democrats have also wanted to ban high-capacity magazines and expand required background checks to many more gun purchases. Neither of those proposals stands a chance in Congress.
Underscoring that, the Democratic-controlled House passed sweeping bills last week that ban the sale of semi-automatic weapons to people under 21 and high-capacity magazines, and give federal courts the power to rule when local authorities they want to take away weapons from people considered dangerous. Currently, only 19 states and the District of Columbia have red flag laws. Those measures will go nowhere in the Senate, where Republicans can block them.
The last major firearms restriction enacted by lawmakers was the 1994 assault weapons ban, which Congress allowed to expire 10 years later.
For years, congressional Republicans representing pro-gun rural voters have blocked strong restrictions on the purchase of firearms, citing the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
Democrats, whose voters overwhelmingly favor gun restrictions, have been reluctant to pass incremental steps they thought would allow Republican lawmakers to argue they tried to stem the tide of violence without meaningfully addressing the problem.
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