Senate negotiators announce framework agreement on bipartisan arms package

WASHINGTON — Key senators announced a framework agreement on new gun legislation on Sunday, marking a breakthrough in a package of measures to address gun violence, including “red flag” laws and enhanced background checks. track record of gun buyers.

The deal’s chief negotiators are Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a staunch supporter of gun safety laws, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a staunch Second Amendment advocate who has pledged that the new measures will not affect the gun rights of law-abiding Americans. The final bill has yet to be drafted, sources familiar with the negotiations said.

“Today we are announcing a common sense bipartisan proposal to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence in our country,” said Murphy, Cornyn and other senators involved in the talks. in a joint statement. are afraid, and it is our duty to come together and do something that will help restore their sense of safety in their communities. »

Unlike the series of Democratic-drafted gun bills that passed the House last week, the Senate deal has a better chance of becoming law because it has the backing of leading Republicans, who exercise an effective veto over gun legislation in the Senate due to the 60-vote filibuster rule. The joint statement supporting the deal was signed by 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

A centerpiece of the Senate deal is to provide substantial resources to states to implement “red flag” laws, which allow individuals like police or family members to petition the courts to keep guns. fire away from people considered a risk to themselves or others.

Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have red flag laws on the books. The new provisions aim to increase this number and improve their implementation.

The agreement also establishes a more rigorous process for background checks for people between the ages of 18 and 21, with enhanced screening that includes contacting state and local law enforcement for any criminal records that may be disqualifiers, and to appropriate state organizations for mental health information that could affect the decision.

The proposal also aims to clarify ambiguities about who must register as a federally licensed firearms dealer for background check purposes.

“Our plan increases needed mental health resources, improves school safety and support for students, and helps ensure that dangerous criminals and those who are deemed mentally ill cannot purchase weapons,” the senators said. . “Most importantly, our plan saves lives while protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. We look forward to winning broad bipartisan support and getting our common sense proposal into law. »

It imposes new penalties for the “fictitious purchase” of firearms to improve the prosecution of traffickers. And it authorizes new funds for mental health services and school safety provisions.

The deal would also include a provision to address the so-called domestic violence loophole, sources familiar with the negotiations said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.N.Y., said he was “pleased that, for the first time in nearly 30 years, Congress is on track to take meaningful action to address the armed violence”.

“After a relentless wave of gun-related suicides and homicides, including mass shootings, the Senate is poised to act on common-sense reforms to protect Americans where they live, where they live. shop and where they learn,” he said in a statement. “We need to act quickly to move this legislation forward, because if one life can be saved, it’s worth it.”

An agreement that follows numerous mass shootings

If passed, campaigners say the proposal would represent the most significant gun violence prevention legislation in nearly three decades – since 1996, when the Lautenberg Amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibited anyone convicted of a domestic violence offense from owning a gun.

The deal follows a string of recent shootings that shocked the nation, including a racially charged massacre in Buffalo, New York, that killed 10 people, and an elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 students and two teachers. dead.

It was announced a day after protesters across the country, including here in the nation’s capital, marched to demand action against gun violence, in a series of demonstrations organized by the advocacy group March for Our Lives.

For years, public opinion has shifted toward tougher gun laws, with mass shootings becoming a regular feature of American life. A recent CBS News poll found that American adults support stricter gun laws over less strict gun laws by a 5-to-1 margin.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a longtime opponent of gun control, said Sunday he was “pleased” Cornyn and Murphy “continue to make progress on their discussions.” . He said he wanted to see “a bipartisan product” that addresses mental health, school safety and respects the Second Amendment.

During the negotiations, which began after the Uvalde shooting, Cornyn sought to walk a tightrope between pursuing action and taming Second Amendment anxieties on the right, which some Republican senators with presidential ambitions have played into. keeping their distance from bipartisan discussions.

Murphy and Cornyn previously worked on another small bill that became law in 2018: the Fix NICS Act — which aimed to improve information in the FBI’s background check system. Last year they sought to negotiate a deal to close loopholes in background check requirements, but those talks fell through.

The Senate deal is modest, negotiated with extreme caution to avoid offending gun rights advocates who make up a passionate and influential slice of the Republican Party. Democrats have called for more aggressive laws but have been blocked by limited GOP interest.

The deal would not ban or confiscate any of the hundreds of millions of weapons in circulation in the United States. It would not ban the sale or possession of semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15, which was used by the Uvalde shooter to kill children. It would not ban high-capacity magazines. Unlike a recent bill passed by the House, it would not raise the age to purchase a semi-automatic weapon to 21. And it would not, unlike a bill passed by House Democrats, mandate universal background checks.

For Democrats, who control the House and need Republican support to pass legislation in the Senate, the deal represents a preference for accepting incremental progress rather than resisting a deal in order to use the issue to bludgeon the GOP during midterm elections of 2022.

President Joe Biden said the Senate deal takes “important steps in the right direction” and called for swift passage.

“With bipartisan support, there is no excuse for delay, and no reason it shouldn’t pass quickly through the Senate and House,” he said in a statement. “With each passing day, more and more children are being killed in this country: the sooner it lands on my desk, the sooner I can sign it, and the sooner we can use these measures to save lives.”

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