In a major breakthrough for gun safety advocates, a bipartisan team of senators on Sunday announced what they billed as a “commonsense” legislative package that would encourage “red flag laws,” create the first federal law against gun trafficking and straw purchasing, and enhance background checks for firearms buyers under 21 years old.
The package does not include a ban on assault weapons or implement universal background checks, as was sought by President Joe Biden, fellow Democrats and families of gun violence victims after the horrific mass shootings at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store and an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school.
But the deal nonetheless represented the first set of new federal restrictions on gun ownership and gun safety in nearly three decades, when then-Sen. Biden successfully negotiated an assault weapons ban. That 1994 law expired in 2004.
“Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities,” said a statement by 10 Democratic and 10 Republican senators who have been negotiating a package since the May 24 Uvalde shooting, which killed 19 children and two teachers.
The deal is also a win for Biden, whose low approval ratings have been accompanied by a languishing domestic agenda. The president campaigned on reestablishing bipartisan lawmaking, and the deal crafted after Biden pleaded with Congress to “do something” advances that mission as well.
In a statement, Biden made a point of singling out for thanks not only Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who led the talks, but Republicans Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Sen. Tom Tillis of North Carolina. The president also mentioned Arizona’s Democratic senator, Kyrsten Sinema, who has balked at helping fellow Democrats pass parts of Biden’s domestic agenda.
“Obviously, it does not do everything that I think is needed, but it reflects important steps in the right direction, and would be the most significant gun safety legislation to pass Congress in decades,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House.
“With bipartisan support, there are no excuses for delay, and no reason why it should not quickly move through the Senate and the House. Each day that passes, more children are killed in this country: the sooner it comes to my desk, the sooner I can sign it, and the sooner we can use these measures to save lives.”
Gun Control and Gun Rights Cartoons
Biden and congressional Democrats are eager to get something done this summer, ahead of midterm elections that are widely expected to result in at least one chamber of Congress being controlled by Republicans next year. No gun legislation would likely be allowed on the House floor, let alone passed, if the GOP is in the majority there.
David Hogg, a gun safety activist who was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, when a gunman killed 17 students in 2018, heralded the deal.
“This is a first step and it’s actually a lot more than I thought it would be. This is progress even if small. Even if it stops one parkland it’s worth it,” Hogg tweeted, the day after thousands rallied in Washington, D.C., for a “March for Our Lives” event.
According to a summation issued by Murphy, the package would provide “major funding” to help states pass “red flag” laws to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally ill people. It would also provide billions of dollars for mental health and school safety, including cash for community health clinics.
The package also includes the long-sought closure of the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” denying domestic abusers, including serious dating partners, the ability to buy a gun if they are convicted of abusing their partners.
The law would also be clarified to make sure all truly commercial firearms sellers are doing required background checks.
The measure does not provide for universal background checks, something Democrats wanted and the vast majority of Americans support, according to numerous polls. Nor does it ban the purchase of assault weapons by people under 21. The Uvalde shooter was 18 and used an assault weapon on his rampage.
In what appears to have been a compromise to address those concerns, the bipartisan deal would provide for enhanced background checks for those under 21 and a short pause to conduct the check. Young buyers can only get the gun after the background check is completed, Murphy said in his summation of the deal.
Finally, the deal would create a new law banning gun trafficking and straw gun purchasing, a measure intended to reduce the flow of guns into cities where the firearms are illegal. Mayors of major U.S. cities with high gun violence and murder rates despite tighter gun control have long complained that the problem is guns coming from states with more lax gun rules.
“Will this bill do everything we need to end our nation’s gun violence epidemic? No. But it’s real, meaningful progress,” Murphy tweeted. “And it breaks a 30 year log jam, demonstrating that Democrats and Republicans can work together in a way that truly saves lives.”
The approval of 10 GOP senators suggests that it would survive the 60-vote threshold needed to break a filibuster in the Senate. But it is not a done deal: The document released Sunday is merely a statement of agreed-on principle and not legislative language that could lead some senators to turn against it.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat, called the agreement “a good first step toward ending inaction on the gun violence epidemic plaguing our country” and said he would put it on the floor as soon as possible.
His GOP counterpart, Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has not been participating in the talks and is a longtime foe of new gun restrictions. and did not give his stamp of approval to the framework announced Sunday. But he didn’t shoot it down, either.
“I continue to hope their discussions yield a bipartisan product that makes significant headway on key issues like mental health and school safety, respects the Second Amendment, earns broad support in the Senate, and makes a difference for our country,” McConnell said in a statement.