early and often

10 GOP Senators and Manchin Back Framework for New Gun-Safety Reforms

Democratic senator Chris Murphy, who helped lead the negotiations, appears to be on his way to significant — if incremental — victory. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag

A bipartisan group of 20 U.S. senators — including ten Republicans — announced Sunday that it has reached a tentative agreement on a framework for legislation which would implement the largest package of U.S. gun-safety measures in decades. The framework includes several modest “common-sense” reforms, including additional scrutiny for gun buyers under the age of 21, grants to incentivize states to implement “red flag” laws, and funding for both school-safety measures and expanded mental-health services nationwide. Though the legislation has not yet been written, the proposed measures fall far short of what Democrats and gun-reform advocates have called for to address gun violence, and the deal could still be derailed by gun-rights supporters — for now at least, it seems the legislation would have enough GOP support to avoid a Senate filibuster and actually become law. That’s a big deal.

The announcement came 19 days after after an 18-year-old gunman armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle massacred 19 fourth-graders and two teachers at an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school; and 29 days after a similarly armed 18-year-old white supremacist killed ten people in an attack on a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.

According to Democratic senator Chris Murphy, the proposed measures include:

• Major funding to help states pass and implement crisis intervention orders (red flag laws) that will allow law enforcement to temporarily take dangerous weapons away from people who pose a danger to others or themselves.

• Billions in new funding for mental health and school safety, including money for the national build out of community mental health clinics.

• Close the “boyfriend loophole”, so that no domestic abuser — a spouse OR a serious dating partner — can buy a gun if they are convicted of abuse against their partner.

• First ever federal law against gun trafficking and straw purchasing. This will be a difference making tool to stop the flow of illegal guns into cities.

• Enhanced background check for under-21 gun buyers and a short pause to conduct the check. Young buyers can get the gun only after the enhanced check is completed.

• Clarification of the laws regarding who needs to register as a licensed gun dealer, to make sure all truly commercial sellers are doing background checks.

The Senate group negotiations were led by Democrats Murphy and Kyrsten Sinema and Republicans John Cornyn and Thom Tillis. Democrat Joe Manchin endorsed the outline, as did Republicans Roy Blunt, Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, Rob Portman, Mitt Romney, and Pat Toomey. Four of those senators (Blunt, Burr, Portman, and Toomey) are not running for reelection.

GOP senator Lisa Murkowski, who is up for reelection this year, told prominent gun-control activist David Hogg last week that members of Congress “owe some steps” toward reducing gun violence.

The proposed plan does not include popular gun-reform measures like universal background checks, a federal “red flag” law, safe storage requirements, outright bans on high-capacity magazines or semi-automatic rifles, nor, at the very least, restricting their sale to people over the age of 21. Regardless, thus far the prevailing sentiment among Democratic lawmakers appears to be that anything is much better than nothing. “Will this bill do everything we need to end our nation’s gun violence epidemic? No. But it’s real, meaningful progress,” Senator Chris Murphy said Sunday on Twitter, “and it breaks a 30 year log jam.” Numerous gun-control advocacy organizations also backed the bipartisan framework on Sunday, including Everytown, Brady, Moms Demand Action, Giffords, and Guns Down America.

President Joe Biden released a statement on Sunday thanking the bipartisan group for their efforts and vowing to sign the legislation if it makes it to his desk. Though he emphasized that he thought more was needed, he said the proposed measures nonetheless “reflect important steps in the right direction” and urged Congress to move quickly. “Each day that passes, more children are killed in this country: The sooner it comes to my desk, the sooner I can sign it, and the sooner we can use these measures to save lives,” Biden said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also said Sunday that he would put the legislation up for a vote as soon as it was ready, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi indicated the Democrat-controlled House — which has already passed its own far tougher gun-reform bills, including banning the sale of semi-automatic firearms to people under the age of 21, among other measures — would also take whatever it could get out of the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the effort but stopped short of endorsing the plan in his own statement on Sunday. It’s not clear how he will respond to the legislation once its written, but McConnell said he was “glad” the bipartisan group was making “headway,” that “the principles they announced today show the value of dialogue and cooperation,” and that “I continue to hope their discussions yield a bipartisan product that makes significant headway on key issues like mental health and school safety, respects the Second Amendment, earns broad support in the Senate and makes a difference for our country.” Make of that what you will.

Senators Agree on Bipartisan Plan for Gun-Safety Reforms