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Senators reach bipartisan agreement on gun safety

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WASHINGTON — Senate negotiators announced Sunday that they had reached a bipartisan agreement on a narrow set of gun safety measures with enough support to cross the equally divided chamber, an important step toward ending a stalemate. of Congress for several years on the issue.

The deal, put forward by 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats and endorsed by President Biden and top Democrats, includes enhanced background checks to give authorities time to check the mental and juvenile health records of any potential gun buyers. firearms under 21 and a provision that would, for the first time, extend to dating partners a ban on domestic abusers having firearms.

It would also provide funds for states to enact so-called red flag laws that allow authorities to temporarily confiscate firearms from people deemed dangerous, as well as money for mental health resources and to bolster security services. and mental health in schools.

The plan has yet to be finalized and still faces a perilous path in Congress, given the deep partisan divide over gun measures and the political stakes of the issue. It falls far short of the sprawling reforms that Mr. Biden, gun control activists and a majority of Democrats have long championed, such as an assault weapons ban and universal background checks. And it’s nowhere near as sweeping as a gun package passed almost along party lines in the House last week that would ban the sale of semi-automatic weapons to people under 21, would ban the sale of high-capacity magazines and enact a federal red flag law, among other measures.

But it represents notable progress to begin bridging the deep divide between the two political parties on how to address gun violence, which has led to a series of failed legislative efforts on Capitol Hill, where the Republican opposition has thwarted the action for years.

Democrats hailed the plan, which would also strengthen federal laws to end gun trafficking and ensure all commercial sellers conduct background checks, as an opportunity to pass gun safety legislation. largest fire in decades.

“Today we are announcing a common-sense, bipartisan proposal to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence in our country, said the 20 senators, led by Democrat Christopher S. Murphy. of Connecticut, and John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said in a joint statement. “Families are scared, and it’s our duty to come together and do something that will help restore their sense of safety in their communities.”

Support from 10 Republicans suggested the plan could climb a hurdle that no other proposal currently under discussion has been able to do: attract the 60 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster and survive to see an affirmative vote or negative in the Senate. floor.

Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and minority leader who has played a central role in the fight against gun safety measures in recent years, welcomed what he called “progress” in the discussions , although he did not commit to whether he would ultimately support the package.

“The principles they announced today show the value of dialogue and cooperation,” Mr. McConnell said. “I continue to hope that their discussions will result in a bipartisan product that will make meaningful progress on key issues such as mental health and school safety, uphold the Second Amendment, gain broad support in the Senate, and make a difference for our country.”

Aides warned that until the legislation is finalized, it is uncertain whether each of the components can garner the 60 votes needed to move forward. Senators were still negotiating on crucial details, including the additional time law enforcement would have to review the mental and juvenile health records of potential gun buyers under the age of 21.

The plan includes a provision to address the so-called “boyfriend loophole”, which would ban people from owning firearms if they had been convicted of domestic violence against a romantic partner or they had been the subject of a domestic violence restraining order. Currently, only domestic abusers who are married, live with, or have a child with a victim are prohibited from having a gun.

Republicans in March balked at including a provision to address the boyfriend loophole in a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act – a law aimed at preventing domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment – ​​​forcing Democrats to drop it in order to pass this legislation.

Mr Biden urged Congress to pass a gun safety measure quickly, saying there was “no excuse to delay”.

“With every passing day, more children are being killed in this country,” he said. “The sooner it gets to my office, the sooner I can sign it, and the sooner we can use these measures to save lives.”

The rare moment of bipartisan agreement came just under three weeks after an elementary school shooting massacre in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers, and about a month after a racist shooting in Buffalo who killed 10 black people in a supermarket. The back-to-back mass shootings have pushed the issue of gun violence to the forefront in Washington, where years of efforts to enact gun restrictions in the wake of such assaults have failed amid Republican opposition.

“There’s a different mood in the American public right now,” Mr. Murphy said. “There is real panic among families and children that this country is spiraling out of control. This request gave us an opportunity.

Mr Murphy said he hoped many more Republicans would end up backing a bill and that it would help ‘break this impasse and show the country what is possible’.

But in an indication of the political risks Republicans see in passing even modest gun safety measures, none of the 10 who endorsed Sunday’s deal have faced voters this year. The group included four Republican senators leaving Congress at the end of the year – Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania – and five who do not are not ready for re-election for another four years: Mr. Cornyn, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who also signed on to the deal, will face voters in 2024.

“I worked closely with my colleagues to find an agreement to protect our communities from violence while protecting the right of law-abiding Texans to bear arms,” ​​Cornyn said. said in a statement on Twitter.

Democrats who signed Sunday’s statement included Mr. Murphy as well as Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Chris Coons of Delaware, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Joe Manchin III. of West Virginia and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. They were joined by Angus King, the Maine Independent. Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Kelly are up for re-election in November.

The deal was announced on the sixth anniversary of the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where a gunman killed 49 people in what was then the deadliest shooting in modern American history.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, pledged to bring the deal to a vote once the legislation is completed, calling it “a good first step in ending the continued inaction in the face of the epidemic of armed violence in our country”. ”

“We need to act quickly to move this legislation forward because if one life can be saved, it’s worth it,” Schumer said in a statement.

Gun safety activists said they see the measures as significant progress that they hope will usher in a new era of bipartisanship on the issue.

“To have such an important group come together to do this shows that we are in a historic moment,” said T. Christian Heyne, vice president of policy at Brady: United Against Gun Violence.

“All of these things individually are significant,” Mr. Heyne added. “When you look at them together, it seems quite meaningful.”

John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said if the announced framework is signed into law, “it will be the most significant gun safety legislation to pass Congress in 26 long and deadly years.”

As pressure mounted for Congress to act in recent days, a dozen senators — including veterans of failed attempts to strike similar deals — huddled on Zoom, on the phone, and in Capitol basement offices. Hill to reach an agreement before the Senate leaves for a suspension scheduled for July 4.

Party leaders have signaled their support for the talks, although Mr Schumer has warned he will not let them drag on over the summer before forcing votes on gun control. Mr. Murphy called on Mr. Schumer to make room for talks by delaying scheduling votes on more sweeping gun control legislation passed by the House that Republicans have opposed, and he warned repeatedly that the main priorities of his party should be abandoned to guarantee the necessary. GOP supports any compromise.

For some families of people lost in Uvalde, the Senate agreement would not go far enough. Leonard Sandoval, whose 10-year-old grandson Xavier Lopez died last month at Robb Elementary School, said what he really wants is a ban on semi-automatic weapons like those used in almost every major mass shooting of the last decade.

“These weapons are for the soldiers, not for someone to use against us,” Mr Sandoval said. “They have to ban them first. These are the weapons they used in many of these shootings. People don’t need to have access to it. They are for wars.

Others whose loved ones perished due to gun violence said they were focused on keeping the fragile coalition in the Senate that forged the compromise, especially keeping Republicans on board.

“They will be under tremendous pressure,” said Garnell Whitfield Jr., whose mother, Ruth Whitfield, was shot and killed in Buffalo. “The goal is to make sure they stay strong going forward.”

The report was provided by Luke Broadwater from washington, Edgar Sandoval of San Antonio, and Ashley Southall and Ali Watkins from New York.