Senators reach bipartisan deal on gun security

WASHINGTON — Senate negotiators announced Sunday that they had struck a bipartisan deal on a limited number of gun-security measures with enough support to get through the evenly divided chamber, an important step toward ending a years-long congressional deadlock on the issue.

The agreement, drafted by 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats and approved by President Biden and top Democrats, includes enhanced background checks to give authorities time to review the youth and mental health records of any potential gun buyer under 21 and a provision that, for the first time, extend a ban on domestic abusers with guns to dating partners.

It would also provide funding for states to implement so-called red flag laws that allow authorities to temporarily seize weapons from people deemed dangerous, as well as money for mental health resources and to increase safety and mental health. improve health services in schools.

The draft, which has yet to be finalized, falls short of the comprehensive reforms that Mr. Biden, gun control activists and a majority of Democrats have long advocated, such as a ban on assault weapons and universal background checks. And it’s nowhere near as drastic as a package of gun control measures passed nearly along party lines in the House last week that would ban the sale of semiautomatic weapons to those under 21, ban the sale of high-capacity magazines, and impose a federal red flag law, among other measures.

But it amounts to remarkable progress, given deep divisions between the parties over tackling gun violence and repeated failed attempts to pass gun reform on Capitol Hill, where Republicans have thwarted action for years. Democrats hailed the plan, which would also tighten federal laws to stop the gun trade and ensure that all commercial sellers perform background checks, as an opportunity to pass key gun safety legislation in decades.

“Today we are announcing a common sense, bipartisan proposal to protect American children, keep our schools safe and reduce the threat of violence in our country,” said the 20 Senators, led by Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, and John Cornyn, Republican from Texas, said in a joint statement. “Families are scared, and it’s our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their community.”

Support from 10 Republicans suggested the plan could remove an obstacle that no other proposal currently under discussion has been able to solve: getting the 60 votes it takes to break a GOP filibuster and survive to run a ​vote up or down in the Senate floor.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader who has played a pivotal role in obstructing gun security measures in recent years, praised what he called “progress” in the discussions, even though he was noncommittal about whether he would support the package.

“The principles they announced today demonstrate the value of dialogue and collaboration,” said Mr. McConnell. “I continue to hope that their discussions produce a two-pronged product that makes significant progress on important issues such as mental health and safety in school, respects the Second Amendment, gains broad support in the Senate and makes a difference to our country.”

Aides warned that until the legislation was finalized, there was no certainty that each of the components could draw the 60 votes needed to move forward.

The review includes a provision to address what is known as the “friend in the law,” which would prohibit dating partners from possessing guns if they had been convicted of domestic violence or subject to a restraining order. Currently, only domestic violence individuals who are married to, cohabiting with or parent of a child with a victim are not allowed to carry a firearm.

Republicans refused to include a provision to address the boyfriend loophole in a re-enactment of the Violence Against Women Act, forcing Democrats to drop it to pass that legislation in March.

Mr Biden urged Congress to pass a bill quickly, saying there were “no excuses for delaying”.

“Every day that goes by, more children are being killed in this country,” he said. “The sooner it gets to my desk, the sooner I can sign it and the sooner we can use these measures to save lives.”

The rare moment of a bipartisan agreement came just under three weeks after a gunfight at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers, and about a month after a racially motivated shooting attack in Buffalo that killed 10 black people in a grocery store. . Successive mass shootings brought the issue of gun violence to the forefront in Washington, where years of efforts to introduce gun restrictions in the wake of such shootings have failed amid Republican opposition.

In an interview, Mr. Murphy said the Senate had seized a moment when changes such as closing the loophole — a provision that failed to get 60 votes earlier this year — were suddenly possible. “There’s a different mood in the American public right now,” he said. “There is a real panic among families and children that this country is spiraling out of control. That question gave us an opportunity.”

Murphy said he hoped many more Republicans would eventually support a bill and that it would help “break this deadlock and show the country what is possible.”

But in an indication of the political risks Republicans see in embracing even modest gun security measures, none of the 10 who endorsed Sunday’s deal faced voters this year. The group consisted of four Republican senators who will leave Congress at the end of the year — Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania — and five who are not seeking re-election. for another four years: Mr. Cornyn, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Utah Senator Mitt Romney faces voters in 2024.

“I have worked closely with my colleagues to find an agreement to protect our communities from violence while protecting the right of Texans to bear arms,” Mr Cornyn said in a statement. on Twitter

Democrats who signed Sunday’s statement included Mr. Murphy, as well as Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Chris Coons of Delaware, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Joe Manchin III from West Virginia and Debbie Stabenow from Michigan. They were joined by Angus King, the independent Maine. Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Kelly are up for re-election in November.

The deal was announced on the sixth anniversary of the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where a gunman killed 49 people in what was then the deadliest shooting in modern American history.

The negotiators now need to translate the broad principles of the framework into legal texts, a much more complicated process, and gain sufficient support in both chambers for the legislation to become law.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, promised to put the agreement to a vote once the legislation was completed, calling it “a good first step to end the ongoing inaction against the gun violence epidemic that is plaguing our country.” . †

“We need to act quickly to move this legislation forward because if a single life can be saved, it’s worth it,” Mr Schumer said in a statement.

Gun safety activists said they viewed the measures as a meaningful advance that they hoped would open a new era of duality on the issue.

“Having such a large group come together to make it happen shows that we are at a historic moment,” said T. Christian Heyne, vice president of policy at Brady: United Against Gun Violence. “It feels like a crucial first step for what I hope will be a new era in gun violence prevention.”

Mr Heyne said closing the dating loophole in particular has long been one of the top priorities of his organization. “All these things individually make sense,” said Mr. Heyne. “When you watch them together, it feels pretty important.”

As pressure on Congress to act has increased in recent days, about a dozen senators — including veterans of failed attempts to make similar deals — sat on Zoom, on the phone and in basement offices on Capitol Hill to negotiate a deal. before the Senate leaves for a scheduled July 4 recess.

Party leaders expressed support for the discussions, even as Mr Schumer warned that he would not allow them to drag on into the summer before forcing votes on gun control measures. Mr. Murphy asked Mr. Schumer to hold off on scheduling votes on more sweeping, House-approved gun control legislation that Republicans wouldn’t allow room for the talks, and he repeatedly warned his party’s top priorities would have to be scrapped. to provide the necessary GOP support for any compromise.

Last week, the House nearly voted along party lines to pass a much more substantial gun control law, including raising the age for buying semiautomatic weapons and banning magazines containing more than 15 ammunition, as well as the federal red-arms law. flag law. With all but a handful of Republican opposition, none of the measures stood any chance of passing through the Senate.

In an indication of the political risks Republicans see in backing gun control measures, all but one of the five House Republicans who supported that legislation are also leaving Congress this year.

One of them, New York Republican Representative Chris Jacobs, abruptly dropped his reelection bid for his suburban Buffalo neighborhood after he faced backlash for embracing a federal ban on assault weapons.

“We really need to work to restore some trust, to tone down the rhetoric from both sides so we can really have a productive dialogue and then results,” Jacobs said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday.

Some House Democrats, who spoke before the deal was formally announced, said they were cautiously optimistic about the new legislative framework.

“I am disappointed to hear that the emphasis is on increasing criminalization and criminalization of young people rather than putting a real emphasis on guns,” New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said during a separate appearance on “State of the Union”. “But the provision for background checks is encouraging.”

Luke Broadwater reporting contributed.

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