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Senators Work on Bipartisan Gun Bill

Following several recent mass shootings, a bipartisan group of senators has announced a tentative gun reform proposal.

Jonathan Good
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Stephen Webber
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Rachel Zelicof
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In the aftermath of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, a bipartisan group of senators — led by Chris Murphy (D-CT), John Cornyn (R-TX), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) — worked to create a gun reform bill that could garner enough support to overcome the chamber’s 60-vote filibuster threshold. 

These lawmakers faced a daunting task — despite many similar meetings following past mass shootings, Congress has not approved gun-related legislation in years. Yet despite long odds, the working group announced yesterday they had created a framework they believe can pass. The proposal includes grants to states for enacting red flag laws, background check reform, and funding for school safety and mental health initiatives.

What Does it Do?

Goals. In revealing the framework, the group said: “Today, we are announcing a commonsense, bipartisan proposal to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country. Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities.”

Framework. According to the bipartisan working group, the proposal:

  • Expands background checks of gun buyers under 21, making juvenile records from state and local law enforcement available when they try to purchase a firearm. This age group has received renewed scrutiny following the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, where both gunmen were 18 years old.
  • Offers federal grants to states that implement red flag laws. These statutes allow specified individuals — usually law enforcement, school personnel, or family members — to petition a judge to temporarily seize someone’s guns if they present a danger to others or themselves. 
  • Gives additional federal funds to bolster school security and mental health resources, including more school counselors and increased telehealth services.
  • Broadens the category of gun sellers that must have a federal dealers’ license, requiring them to conduct background checks.
  • Includes all domestic abusers in the federal database of prohibited gun buyers. Some lawmakers argue that current federal law creates a “boyfriend loophole” by not preventing unmarried abusive partners or stalkers from purchasing firearms.
  • Cracks down on those who purchase firearms for prohibited buyers — often called a straw purchase — and gun traffickers.

Will it Pass?

Noteworthy Absences. The deal falls far short of the many strict regulations President Biden called for in a national address in early June (see Civil’s breakdown of those policies here). Last week, the House approved a sweeping gun package along largely partisan lines with many of those provisions. However, many of its measures were notably absent from Sunday’s compromise, including a ban on selling semiautomatic weapons to under-21 buyers. 

Democratic Praise. Several prominent Democrats praised the legislation as modest but meaningful. President Biden said the deal “does not do everything that I think is needed, but it reflects important steps in the right direction, and would be the most significant gun safety legislation to pass Congress in decades.” He called for both chambers to approve the bill, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) vowed to put the agreement to a vote as soon as it is finalized. Senators Sinema and Joe Manchin (D-WV) — both of whom have deviated from their party on many high-profile issues — support the deal, suggesting a unified Democratic front.

Clearing the Filibuster. Twenty senators — including 10 Republicans — released a statement calling for the framework’s passage. In the evenly split Senate, 10 is the magic number for Democrats, who need that many GOP votes and all 50 Democrats’ approval to pass the bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) praised the bipartisan group’s work but stopped short of an outright endorsement of the deal. He said he hopes the agreement “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 the country.”

House Progressives. While the deal faces an uncertain future in the Senate, most analysts expect relatively easy passage in the House. Although some more progressive House members have shown mild displeasure at the proposal, they will likely still support the legislation. President Biden and Democratic congressional leaders have already endorsed the deal — as have several prominent pro-gun control groups (see Brady, Giffords, and Everytown) — increasing pressure on Democrats to vote for the bill.

Official Bill Still to Come. According to negotiators, the finalized legislative text will take shape over the coming days. It is unclear how long it will take, and the bill’s exact language could spark new debates. However, the announcement indicates strong momentum toward enacting the deal.

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  1. Do you think this proposal will become law? Why or why not?
  2. What, if any, changes would you make to this framework? Why?
  3. Do you support this proposed legislation? Explain your position.
  4. If you were a member of Congress, how would you reach out to the other side to strike a deal?
  5. Do you think the implementation of this legislation is realistic? Why or why not?

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