News Analysis: Rare sense of ‘anxiety and urgency’ drives bipartisan talks on gun safety in Congress

It didn’t happen after 13 people were killed in Columbine in 1999, 26 people were shot dead in Newtown in 2012, or 17 people were murdered in Parkland in 2018.

But the Senate is finally having serious discussions about a bipartisan gun policy agreement that, if successful, proponents say would save lives, even if it results in far less ambitious policies than progressives believe are necessary.

The horrific nature of the shooting of young children in Uvalde, Texas, as well as its timing — 10 days after a gunman massacred black shoppers at a Buffalo, New York grocery store in what police described as a racially motivated attack — has led to the political stimulus for the first serious arms negotiations on Capitol Hill in decades. If a deal goes through and makes it to President Biden’s desk, it would be the first gun law since Congress passed the 1994 ban on assault weapons.

Unlike after other mass shootings, when Democrats immediately called for ambitious gun policies like banning assault weapons, prompting an immediate rebuke from Republicans, party lawmakers have opened the door to minor reforms. It’s the opposite of how Democrats in the tightly divided Congress have responded to most policy issues this year: They have typically preferred to cling to their progressive ideals rather than make a modicum of progress.

Students wearing protective gear stand on a stage during a gun safety reform rally Monday in Washington, DC.

Students wearing protective gear stand on a stage during a gun safety reform rally Monday in Washington, DC.

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

“The American public has a different sense of fear and urgency right now,” said Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who is leading the hearing for Democrats and has a fourth-grade child who is the same age as the victims in Uwalde. “I know that urgency often wanes [after prior shootings] but something else is happening out there in the country. And I don’t think that urgency and need for action will go away anytime soon.”

Republicans, shaken by the deaths of 19 fourth-graders and two teachers in last month’s shooting at a Texas school, signaled they were coming to the table. The combination of the horrifying death toll in the two shootings and the targeting of children and black grocery shoppers has struck a deeper chord.

“The combination makes people look pretty serious,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (RN.D.). “There is definitely a serious effort to get something through from people on all sides. Not all people.”

Some Republicans feel that if they do nothing, they risk a public backlash because they appear steadfast on the gun issue.

Families gather during a vigil at the Uvalde County Fairplex.

Families of victims who died in the Uvalde, Texas school shooting gather during a vigil at the Uvalde County Fairplex.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

“The most common refrain I hear is ‘do something,'” said Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), the leading Republican on the negotiations. “I’m optimistic that we can find something that protects the rights of law-abiding citizens under our Constitution, under the 2nd Amendment, which I believe pose no threat to public safety and focuses on those with criminal records [and] people with mental health problems.”

Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat and self-proclaimed “big 2nd Amendment guy,” said allowing mass shootings without a response endangers the rights of responsible gun owners.

“It will affect Second Amendment rights across the board for a long time if we do nothing. The shootings are getting too frequent, too frequent,” he said. “I think we need to work to strengthen gun rights and property rights [guns] in the hands of criminals, convicted insane people and terrorists gives me no rights as a gun owner.”

For the past two weeks, Murphy and Cornyn have been negotiating between a bipartisan group of senators over a framework that, if they can stick together, would likely allocate funds to strengthen mental health services and school safety, and provide incentives for states to create their own “Red Flag” laws that would allow law enforcement to remove guns from someone deemed a danger to others.

Republicans have taken any kind of red flag federal law off the table. Several states already have red flag laws, so it’s uncertain how many more could be inspired to create them under a federal plan.

Discussions focused on whether lawmakers could raise the age of purchase of a semi-automatic weapon or handgun from 18 to 21. A handful of Republicans have opened up the possibility of raising the age requirement, though unlikely to garner enough support.

There is much debate about ensuring that a person with a juvenile history of violence or mental health problems cannot obtain such a weapon by the time they turn 18, when many juvenile criminal records are being erased.

A man in front of three other men in front of US flags.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference Tuesday.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

“If there’s a way for us to look back into the kind of records that would disqualify an adult if they had occurred after age 18,” the background check system would determine that additional individuals “should not be able to legally hold a firearm.” to buy”. said Cornyn.

Senate party leaders, Democratic Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, blessed the negotiations and gave the talks a token of seriousness.

Schumer has insisted he believes in Murphy’s role in the discussions and that the Connecticut senator will not sign a law that doesn’t have “teeth.” McConnell said he would “personally prefer to have an outcome” on a policy that is “directly related to the issue.”

Still, there are many skeptics about what the bipartisan group is working on.

“Sen. McConnell, Sen. Cornyn, and anyone else tempted to even talk to Democrats about gun control should resign immediately,” Vicky Hartzler, a conservative Missouri Republican running for the Senate, said in a Facebook post. “Conservative voters put them in these jobs to defend our rights, not trade them away.”

This attitude does not bother Cornyn, who is leading the negotiations on the Republican side. He encouraged any Republican who thinks the same way to “vote no.”

“I imagine there will be a number of senators who will vote no out of skepticism,” Cornyn said. “We don’t need 100. We know we need at least 60, but I hope we can build a broader bipartisan group. And I think we’re making good progress.”

https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-06-09/a-rare-sense-of-anxiety-and-urgency-is-driving-bipartisan-congressional-talks-on-gun-safety News Analysis: Rare sense of ‘anxiety and urgency’ drives bipartisan talks on gun safety in Congress

Alley Einstein

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