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Bipartisan Senate group strikes gun deal focused on school safety, mental health

Deal with 10 GOP supporters could get quick vote, Schumer says

Connecticut Sen. Christopher S. Murphy speaks about gun violence legislation negotiations during the Senate Democrats’ news conference on June 7. Murphy says he's worried about gun homicides being conflated unfairly with mental illness.
Connecticut Sen. Christopher S. Murphy speaks about gun violence legislation negotiations during the Senate Democrats’ news conference on June 7. Murphy says he's worried about gun homicides being conflated unfairly with mental illness. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A bipartisan group of senators announced an agreement Sunday on significant updates to the nation’s gun laws, and the Senate majority leader said it ​​would be put on the floor once legislative text is ready.

The agreement, announced by 10 Republicans and 10 Democratic caucus members, certainly will not go as far as many Democrats would have hoped, but the scale of the GOP support suggests it could get the all-important 60 votes to overcome the filibuster rule that kept derailing the last bipartisan attempt to change gun laws, in 2013.

The agreement, which is not yet in legislative language, is the product of discussions led by Sens. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the wake of recent mass shootings, including at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

“Our plan increases needed mental health resources, improves school safety and support for students, and helps ensure dangerous criminals and those who are adjudicated as mentally ill can’t purchase weapons,” the 20 senators said in a statement. “Most importantly, our plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat from New York, committed to bringing the final agreement to the Senate floor for consideration as quickly as possible.

“This important legislation will limit the ability of potential mass shooters to quickly obtain assault rifles by establishing an enhanced background check process for gun purchasers under age 21, invest in the adoption and expansion of state red flag laws, close the boyfriend loophole, establish federal penalties for gun traffickers, and fund critical support services to help address our nation’s mental health crisis,” Schumer said in a statement.

The agreement won backing from several longtime advocates for stronger gun laws, including March for Our Lives co-founder David Hogg. But Hogg also highlighted what was not in the deal.

“We need to be clear: there is more work to be done to save more lives, including requiring background checks for every single gun purchase nationwide. This bill, the first of its kind in 30 years, should be the beginning and not the end of Congress’ work,” Hogg said. “We must build upon the life-saving foundation it provides to go further and expand these laws until we bring an end to the epidemic of gun violence.”

Texas Sen. John Cornyn was the lead Republican among the bipartisan group that worked to craft a gun measure after a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sunday’s proposal would incentivize state and tribal efforts to restrict access to firearms for people determined to be at risk of harming themselves and others. As Schumer referenced, it would seek to ensure people with domestic abuse-related restraining orders are in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System that’s used to conduct background checks for gun sales. There also would be funding for mental health and public safety enhancements in schools.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement after the announcement from Cornyn, Murphy and the other lawmakers that did not specifically refer to the principles announced Sunday as an agreement.

“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,” said McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.

The American Firearms Association condemned the agreement, saying Republican senators had betrayed gun owners.

“Republican senators were elected to stand up for our Constitutional rights, not sell them out to gun-grabbing Marxists,” the organization said in a statement. “The solution to gun violence is not gun control. It’s protecting our right to defend ourselves when the police are unable or refuse to do so, as we saw in Uvalde.”

House went further

The Senate framework does not go as far as a set of measures passed by the House last week, including one from Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., that would provide for federal extreme risk protection orders. Another House bill passed last week would raise the age for buying some types of rifles from 18 to 21.

California Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson, who leads the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, praised the announced agreement.

“While the deal does not go as far as the House-passed bills, it represents a change in the national sentiment towards gun violence prevention,” Thompson said in a statement. “We still have more work to do, we can’t pass up an opportunity to pass life-saving provisions when we have agreement.”

And President Joe Biden said in a statement that he looked forward to having the package reach his desk for signature as soon as possible.

“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,” the president said. “With bipartisan support, there are no excuses for delay, and no reason why it should not quickly move through the Senate and the House.”

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