WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of senators considers how Congress should respond the horrific shooting of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, resumed gun control talks that had collapsed many times before.
Aware of the difficulty of their task, Democrats and Republicans hope to reach agreement on legislation that could help reduce the number of mass shootings in the United States. The Uvalde shooting happened 10 days after a gunman opened fire a racist attack that killed black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
Senators have narrowed the discussion down to a few ideas, some based on legislation they’ve been working on for years, such as Led by Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the group of 10 hopes to negotiate a proposal over the upcoming Senate recess and have it ready for a vote in early June.
It’s uncertain if the group can come to a consensus, and even if they do, it could prove difficult to garner enough votes from Republicans, as most don’t want to see changes in the country’s gun laws. The Democrats would need 10 Republican votes to overcome a filibuster and get a bill through the 50-50 Senate.
“The odds are against us, but we owe it to the parents and children to try,” tweeted Murphy, who has campaigned for stricter gun control for 20 children and six teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.
A look at the proposals that are being considered and others that are not:
RED FLAG LAWS
Senators emerging from a bipartisan meeting on Thursday spoke of the possibility of encouraging states to pass red flag laws removing firearms from people who could harm themselves or others.
Many states have passed red flag laws, including Florida, which later passed legislation the shooting at Parkland High School in 2018, and Maine, which has a “yellow flag” law requiring a doctor to sign off before guns are removed. Maine Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican, has been pushing for something similar at the federal level.
Republicans are unlikely to come on board with a country-wide Red Flag statute. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who is also part of the group, said after the meeting that this was a non-starter, “any color.”
Alternatively, they are discussing whether federal grants could persuade states to implement such flag laws, an idea explored in recent years by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Blumenthal, who is working with Graham on the compromise proposal, said the “complicated and challenging part” will be figuring out what the standards are for removing weapons from a tagged person.
Still, Blumenthal said, “There’s a strong emotional element to the Red Flag statute that gives it momentum, especially after Uvalde and Buffalo where the shooter showed very strong signs that he was dangerous.” The shooter in New York was of his School has been reported, but the state’s Red Flag law has not been triggered.
The House of Representatives plans to pass its own version of the Red Flag legislation when it returns from a two-week break on June 6.
ADVANCED BACKGROUND CHECKS
Sens. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., have been trying to pass advanced background checks on all commercial gun sales, including at gun shows and on the internet, for nearly a decade. Under current law, background checks are only required when guns are purchased from state-licensed dealers.
The idea has broad public support, even among many gun owners, but the two senators have met opposition from Republicans in Congress who don’t want changes, along with groups like the National Rifle Association. Different versions of the proposal have been repeatedly rejected in the Senate, including in 2013 after the Newtown massacre and in 2016 after a shooting that killed 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
The House of Representatives last year passed legislation that would extend background checks to almost all sales, including private sales. Senators have since held talks about developing a version that could pass their chamber, but they have yet to come to an agreement. Manchin says the house version goes too far and could disrupt informal sales between people who know each other.
Manchin and Toomey, who is retiring this year, are part of the Senate working group tasked with finding a compromise on their proposal — perhaps for the last time. Toomey said Thursday that the measure doesn’t currently have enough support to pass, “but I hope we can make it happen.”
Republicans, traditionally opposed to gun control, have embraced the idea of ”hardening” schools, allocating money for more resources, law enforcement officers, or even arming teachers.
South Dakota Republican Sen. Mike Rounds this week suggested that Congress “encourage direct funding of local entities to have the resources available to add additional protections to deter those individuals.”
Murphy said Thursday that he was “open” to adding funding for school safety and that the working group was considering what could be done along those lines. But Democrats have firmly opposed arming teachers, saying money isn’t enough for security.
A second law passed by the House of Representatives last year would extend the review period for background checks from three to 10 days. Rep. Jim Clyburn, DS.C., introduced the legislation after a gunman killed nine people at a historic church in Black Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer began bringing this bill into the Senate this week, but it does not appear to be part of the Senate hearings.
The FBI said after the Charleston shooting that a background checker never saw the shooter’s previous arrest report because the wrong arresting agency was listed on state criminal records and the gun dealer had a legal right to complete the transaction after three days. Clyburn and other supporters of the legislation say it would fix that problem.
Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the law, saying it could delay purchases for legitimate gun owners.
ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN
An assault weapons ban enacted in the 1990s expired 10 years later, and Democrats were unable to pass the votes for another. The Senate rejected a renewed ban in 2013 along with the Manchin-Toomey proposal after the Newtown shooting. Senators also opposed a ban on high-capacity magazines that year.
Biden last year proposed a ban on assault weapons, and many Democrats believe it would be one of the most effective ways to curb mass shootings, since these types of weapons are almost always at stake. But a ban has almost no support among Republicans and has not been part of the discussions so far.
Murphy who gave an impassioned speech in the Senate When news of the Texas shooting broke Tuesday, he said he wanted to start with workable proposals.
“There’s a common ground that we can find,” Murphy said. “There is a place where we can agree.”
More on the shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings.
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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/05/27/senators-talk-expanded-gun-background-checks-red-flag-laws/ Senators talk about expanded gun background checks and red flag legislation