In a potential breakthrough toward the first significant new U.S. gun law in decades, a bipartisan group of senators on Sunday announced an agreement on a framework for a firearms safety bill with enough Republican support to advance in the narrowly divided Senate.
The plan, praised by U.S. President Joe Biden, includes support for state “red flag” laws keeps guns from potentially dangerous people, tougher criminal background checks for firearms buyers under 21 and a crackdown on “straw purchases” by people buying firearms for others who could not pass a background check.
Crafted in the aftermath of last month’s massacres at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas and a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, the framework is far less ambitious than proposals offered by Biden and other Democrats for banning semi-automatic, assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines or at least raising the minimum age to buy those from 18 to 21.
It was announced a day after tens of thousands rallied in Washington and around the United States to demand that lawmakers pass legislation aimed at curbing gun violence.
While the deal represents a significant breakthrough, it does not ensure that legislation will be passed, as lawmakers still must hammer out legislative language that can secure enough votes to get through both the Senate and House of Representatives, each narrowly controlled by Democrats.
Republican opposition has been critical in thwarting Democratic-backed gun control proposals in Congress for decades, dating back to the 1994 passage of a ban on assault weapons that expired a decade later.
But Sunday’s announcement still marks the furthest that talks on a gun measure have advanced in Congress since 2013, following a Connecticut school massacre, when gun control legislation failed on the Senate floor.
“Our plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans,” the negotiating group, led by Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican John Cornyn of Texas, said in a statement. “We look forward to earning broad, bipartisan support and passing our commonsense proposal into law.”
The group that agreed to the framework included 10 Republicans, nine Democrats and one independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
The United States has the highest rate of firearms deaths among the world’s wealthy nations. But it is a country where many cherish gun rights and its Constitution’s Second Amendment protects the right to “keep and bear arms.”
With 10 Republicans signalling support, that would be sufficient to overcome the Senate’s “filibuster” rule, which requires that 60 of the 100 senators agree to advance most legislation. Republicans opposed to the plan are expected to mount procedural hurdles in a bid to block it.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell stopped short of embracing the framework.
“I am glad Senators Cornyn and Murphy are continuing to make headway in their discussions,” McConnell said in a statement, adding that he hoped the talks make progress on “key issues like mental health and school safety” in a way that “respects the Second Amendment.”
Biden welcomed Sunday’s agreement.
“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. “With bipartisan support, there are no excuses for delay, and no reason why it should not quickly move through the Senate and the House.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week expressed confidence in the Senate negotiators despite her desire for more-stringent gun restrictions.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that he wanted to move a bill quickly once legislative details are worked out.
The deal, cobbled together following weeks of intensive negotiations, would provide federal funding to encourage states to adopt “red flag” laws keeping guns out of the hands of those determined by courts to be a significant danger to themselves or others.
Congress would provide more funding to expand mental health programs including ones run in schools, and would crack down on those who evade gun licensing requirements or illegally buy guns on behalf of others — transactions known as “straw purchases.”
The plan also would require new government checks on those under age 21 who try to buy weapons so that juvenile mental health records can be reviewed, along with checks with state and local law enforcement agencies.
“We’re grateful to the bipartisan group of senators that worked on this compromise. Thank you for finding common ground that saves lives,” said David Hogg, a survivor of a 2018 Florida high school shooting and co-founder of the group that organized Saturday’s rallies.
Hogg added that even more is needed including requiring background checks for every gun purchase nationwide, saying the bill “should be the beginning and not the end of Congress’ work.”
(Reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)