Senators have moved to the brink of an agreement on a bipartisan gun violence bill, Democrats’ lead negotiator said Tuesday, potentially teeing up votes this week on an incremental but notable package that would stand as Congress’s response to mass shootings in Texas and New York that shook the nation.
Nine days after Senate bargainers agreed to a framework proposal — and 29 years after Congress last enacted a major measure curbing firearms — Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told reporters that a final agreement on the proposal's details was at hand.
The legislation lawmakers have been working toward would toughen background checks for the youngest firearms buyers, require more sellers to conduct background checks and beef up penalties on gun traffickers. It also would disburse money to states and communities aimed at improving school safety and mental health initiatives.
“I think we’ve reached agreement,” Murphy said. “And just we’re dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s right now. I think we’re in good shape.”
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the chief Republican bargainer, spoke on the Senate floor moments later and said he, Murphy and the other two top Senate bargainers had “reached agreement.”
The senators did not initially say how they’d resolved the two major stumbling blocks that had delayed agreement on the plan’s legislative language.
One was how to make abusive romantic partners subject to the existing ban that violent spouses face to obtaining guns. The other was providing federal aid to states that have “red flag” laws that make it easier to temporarily take firearms away from people deemed dangerous or to states that have violence intervention programs.
If enacted, the election-year measure would spotlight a modest but telling shift in the politics of an issue that has defied compromise since Bill Clinton was president.
After 10 Black shoppers were killed last month in Buffalo, New York, and 19 children and two teachers died days later in Uvalde, Texas, Democrats and some Republicans decided that this time, measured steps were preferable to Congress’ usual reaction to such horrors — gridlock.
What’s uncertain is whether the Senate agreement and its passage would mark the beginning of slow but gradual congressional action to curb gun violence, or the high water mark on the issue. Until Buffalo and Uvalde, a numbing parade of mass slayings — at sites including elementary and high schools, houses of worship, military facilities, bars and the Las Vegas Strip — have yielded only gridlock in Washington.
Republicans refused to include proposals in Tuesday's compromise that were sought by President Joe Biden and Democrats to ban assault weapons or raise the minimum age for buying them, prohibit high-capacity magazines or require background checks for virtually all gun sales.
It seemed likely a majority of Republicans — especially in the House — would oppose the legislation. Underscoring the backlash GOP lawmakers supporting the pact would face from the most conservative voters, delegates booed Cornyn at his state’s Republican convention Saturday as he described the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said his goal was for his chamber to debate and vote on the legislation this week. Momentum in Congress for gun legislation has a history of waning quickly after mass shootings. Lawmakers are scheduled to begin a two-week July 4th recess at the end of this week.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he supported the outline bargainers announced last weekend. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also said she backed the effort and seems sure to set up votes on it as quickly as she can.