Senate Democrats face reality on gun talks


“I’m definitely prepared to fail,” Sen. Chris Murphy, the Connecticut Democrat who helped lead the talks, told CNN on Thursday. “I’ve been here enough times to know that this is probably the most politically complicated and emotionally charged piece Congress deals with.”

“I’ve also heard from Republicans making it clear that as long as we’re not talking about doing it all at once, as long as we’re talking about more incremental but meaningful change, they’re open,” said Murphy, who briefed the president. Joe Biden of the State of the Talks.

Indeed, while House Democrats are considering moving forward with a bill to ban so-called assault weapons, Senate Democrats aren’t even discussing a gun ban. fire like AR-15s, the high-powered rifle used in the Texas elementary school massacre and a wave of mass shootings. They also concede that a bipartisan proposal to expand background checks on commercial firearms sales will have to be scaled back, even though the House passed a bill last year to mandate universal background checks on all commercial sales and private transfers as well.

And bipartisan sources told CNN that a push to raise the age to 21 for the purchase of semi-automatic rifles has yet to gain much traction in Senate talks, as the Republican opposition to the idea is starting to mount and Democrats aren’t sure if she can win the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.

‘It’s hard to see,’ GOP source says of raising gun purchase age to 21, even as federal law prohibits 18- to 20-year-olds from buy handguns.

“It’s not gonna happen,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the GOP’s chief negotiator, tweeted of the imposition of new gun restrictions, though his office declined to elaborate on what he was saying. wanted to say.

Asked last week about raising the age to 21 for purchasing the power guns, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis – a Republican involved in the bipartisan talks – was skeptical.

“When I think about it, I think we’re looking at the age at which you can enlist in the army?” asked Tillis. “So there are a lot of complexities to this question.”

Indeed, even after Democratic concessions on gun control, senators say, the prospect that bipartisan talks could collapse in the coming days is very real.

“There’s still a lot of work to do and hurdles to overcome,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat heavily involved in the bipartisan talks.

Murphy and Blumenthal have been here before — since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in their home state of Connecticut. And even shortly after the murder of 20 young children and six adults there, Democrats failed to get the 60 votes needed to advance a bill by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania to make gun background checks mandatory. sales at gun shows and on the Internet.

Numerous legislative efforts in the wake of numerous subsequent mass shootings have also failed, including an effort by Murphy to revive the Manchin-Toomey bill last year by simply closing the so-called gun show loophole in fire and completely skipping background checks on internet sales. But despite Murphy’s talks with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham about it last year, renewed pressure to roll back the Manchin-Toomey bill never resulted in a deal.

“It’s too broad,” Graham told CNN when asked if he could support the Manchin-Toomey plan in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas massacre last week.

Yet even so, senators are resuming the talks in a way unlike other mass shootings given the scale of the Uvalde massacre, with the murders of 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School – at the hands of of an 18 year old. with an AR-15 style weapon. Senators say a deal must be reached by next week or nothing will be done – again.

“I think next week is critical,” Murphy said, given that the senators stayed home through vacation this week and are back in Washington next week. “Hopefully we’ll have a product that Republicans and Democrats can look at when we come back. And that will give us an idea of ​​whether we can push this through. With each passing day, I’m more optimistic. But I don’t think that we really will know until everyone is back in town.”

How the Senate talks are going

The talks focus on a narrower version of the Manchin-Toomey proposal – as well as several other ideas. Blumenthal and Graham are engaged in new discussions about incentives to strengthen state laws allowing authorities to restrict access to firearms to people deemed a threat — known as red flag laws. Talks are underway, including between Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, to impose new rules on interstate arms trafficking.

Republicans, including Cornyn and Tillis, are in talks on school safety provisions as well as ways to strengthen America’s mental health system. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, is also involved in those talks.

Florida's Red Flag Law, Backed by Republicans, Takes Guns From Thousands

Still, it’s far from clear how much money senators will propose to bolster mental health programs. And it’s also uncertain whether Republicans will demand program costs be paid for entirely through spending cuts or unused Covid-19 relief funds — which could spark a revolt from Democrats.

Murphy said he does not yet know how the group will structure the mental health provisions and how much it will cost.

“It all depends on what can get more than 60 votes in the Senate, and we are working on that and it will have to do with expenses as well as provisions,” Murphy said.

Mitch McConnell, the leader of the GOP in the Senate, said Thursday in his home state of Kentucky that he wants a bipartisan agreement “to target” the problem, which is “school safety and mental illness” and that it must be “consistent with the Second Amendment” — a different view than many Democrats, who see lax gun laws as the primary culprit.

But with McConnell’s backing essential in determining whether a deal can reach 60 votes in the Senate, Murphy saw the GOP leader’s comments in a positive light.

“I have carefully read everything Senator McConnell has said in the last 48 hours,” Murphy said. “And so far I haven’t read anything he said to rule out the deal which is very much about keeping guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.”

Still, other issues could be left on the cutting room floor. Talks are underway, including between Blumenthal and Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, about the safe storage of firearms in residences. But there is still philosophical disagreement over how and whether to impose certain approaches to weapons storage, according to multiple sources.

Despite Republican skepticism, Murphy wouldn’t rule out a deal banning 18- to 20-year-olds from buying semi-automatic rifles like AR-15s, given that this has been a recurring feature of mass murderers, including included in Uvalde.

But it is highly uncertain whether the Senate will agree to new age restrictions.

“We certainly have a conversation about the fact that mass shooters tend to be of the same profile: young people and men in their late teens and early twenties,” Murphy said of the Senate talks. “I don’t know what we’re going to end up with, but I think everyone recognizes that a lot of these mass shooters tend to be of the same profile.”

Any deal, Murphy conceded, will be “far from perfect”. But he said that at present, the GOP’s interest in finding a deal has not waned.

“Too often they’ll be interested in talking for the first two days and then it’ll be harder to answer my phone calls,” Murphy said of Republicans. “That’s not what’s happening this time around. This time around, there’s a seriousness of engagement from a cross section of Republicans that’s going up every day.”

CNN’s Ted Barrett and Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.


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