Bipartisan Gun Talks Drag On As Group Hits ‘Sticking Points’
WASHINGTON ― The bipartisan group of senators working to address gun violence following the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, will need more time to craft legislation, its members said this week.
The talks have centered on fairly narrow measures: funding for mental health, enhanced background checks, “red flag” laws and school security. Some lawmakers also want to ban teenagers from buying assault weapons, a move that would face steep GOP opposition.
Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the lead Republican negotiator, told reporters there are “sticking points everywhere” after a meeting of the group this week. He warned Democrats not to impose “arbitrary deadlines,” expressing optimism about reaching an agreement “in the next couple of weeks.”
His Democratic counterpart, Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.), endorsed that timeline and said he hoped to bring a final bill to the Senate floor before its July 4 recess.
“It’ll be a miracle if we get a framework agreement, never mind a final bill. But miracles sometimes happen,” Murphy said.
“We’re making great progress,” Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) told HuffPost after another meeting on Thursday, adding that no deal was imminent.
Democrats initially hoped to get a deal on a framework for the bill by the end of the week. The bipartisan group plans to talk again on Friday in search of agreement.
In the past, negotiations over similar gun control measures following other mass shootings stalled as news coverage of the atrocities faded and the nation’s attention turned to other things. Lawmakers are hoping this time will be different.
“As soon as the bipartisan group comes to an agreement, I want to bring a measure to the floor for a vote as quickly as possible,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a floor speech on Thursday, adding that the group is making “good progress.”
A key difference between current and past gun negotiations prompted by mass shootings: the scope of the proposed response. After the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, for example, lawmakers debated an assault weapons ban as well as whether to require background checks for firearm sales online and at gun shows. No assault weapons ban and no major expansion of background checks are on the table this time around.
Meanwhile, the House passed several more gun control measures on Wednesday and Thursday, including a federal red flag law provision that would allow people to seek federal court orders to remove guns from someone posing an imminent threat, a ban on high-capacity gun magazines, and a requirement that gun owners lock up their weapons if they live with children. The House also approved a measure that would raise the age requirement for most rifle sales from 18 to 21. Ten Republicans voted for it.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) told HuffPost the fact that 10 House Republicans voted for a higher age requirement augured well for a similar policy being adopted in the bipartisan Senate negotiations.
“I didn’t think it was going to get in. Now I do,” he said.
Even though they favor much more ambitious legislation, progressive Democrats have said they’ll take what they can get from the Senate.
Support for new gun restrictions ticked up following the recent mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo, New York. Americans favor raising the minimum legal age to buy any gun to 21 years old nationwide by a 74-24 margin, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released this week.
Many Senate Republicans oppose the idea. Several have told HuffPost they’re willing to consider it, but Cornyn, who is influential, has said he thinks it might be unconstitutional.
Murphy has seemingly sought to manage expectations about “raising the age,” suggesting it’s something that could jeopardize Republican support for the broader package.
“We’re in pursuit of 60 votes,” he told HuffPost when asked about a higher age requirement.
The idea is still getting kicked around ― after all, the shooters in Uvalde and Buffalo couldn’t have purchased their weapons from licensed gun dealers if it weren’t legal for 18-year-olds to do so.
“You have to be 21 to buy a handgun, so saying you also have to be 21 to buy an assault rifle seems to make sense,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah.) told reporters.