WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday announced his support for his chamber’s emerging bipartisan gun deal, boosting the momentum for modest but notable electoral action by Congress on an issue that spanned three decades. MPs are deadlocked.
The Kentucky Republican said he expects an outline of the agreement released Sunday by 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans to be translated into law and enacted. McConnell’s support was the latest sign that last month’s gun homicides in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas, had reconfigured the political calculations for some in the GOP, after years of relentlessly opposing firearms curbs.
“If this framework becomes a de facto piece of legislation, it is a step forward, on a bipartisan basis,” McConnell told reporters. He said the resolution “shows forward to the American people” that lawmakers can work together “to make progress for the country” on important issues.
McConnell’s comments were striking, coming five months before the midterm election, in which Republicans hope to gain control of the Senate and hold a majority in the House. For years, GOP candidates could risk their careers defying the views of party loyalist gunmen and rural voters who oppose moves they see as a threat to their ownership and use of firearms.
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McConnell suggested that backing this gun measure could also help some Republicans’ prospects in November. Although he said senators should take a position “based on the views of their states,” he said Sen. John Cornyn, the chief architect of the deal, presented GOP voting data at a closed-door senators’ lunch. The provisions of the agreement are “off the charts, heavily” among gun owners.
The scheme would make juvenile records of first-time gun buyers under the age of 21 part of the required background checks. The money will be sent to states for mental health and school safety programs and for incentives to enact or enforce local “red flag” laws that require courts to temporarily remove guns from people deemed dangerous to authorities. Let the approval win.
Senators and aides hope to translate their broad agreement into law in a few days, hoping Congress can approve it before it goes for the July 4 recess. Both sides acknowledge that this is a difficult process that can lead to disputes and delays.
Some Republicans expressed unhappiness with the plan on Tuesday, drawing much criticism aimed at encouraging “red flag” laws. Nineteen states are mostly dominated by Democrats and the District of Columbia, but Republicans have blocked efforts in Congress to pass federal legislation on the subject.
“If we’re not going to pass a federal red flag law, and we shouldn’t, why would we encourage states to do something we think is a bad idea?” Sen. Kevin Cramer, RN.D.
“I don’t know what we can do in view of the Constitution,” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. said of the overall agreement, citing the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.
Cornyn defended the plan’s “red flag” proposal, saying it would create no national need for such laws. He said it “whether every state has a ‘red flag’ law or not” gives money for programs aimed at improving public safety and helping troubled people get help. Texas does not have a “red flag” law.
McConnell made it clear that he would only go further in banning firearms.
When asked by a reporter why the federal minimum age for the sale of tobacco is 21 but the age to buy a rifle is 18, he replied, “Good effort.” He said the inclusion of state and local juvenile records in background checks for the youngest buyers was “a step in the right direction.”
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The alleged shooters in Buffalo, where 10 people were killed, and Uvalde, where 19 schoolchildren and two teachers were killed, were both 18 years old, a common profile for many mass shooters.
A final agreement on the composite law will be expected to receive solid support from Democrats. But it would need at least 10 GOP votes to reach the Senate’s usual 60 vote limit, and McConnell’s praise raised hopes that Republican support would extend beyond that.
The framework also detailed the types of domestic abusers who would be banned from purchasing guns, requiring more firearms vendors to conduct background checks and imposing stricter penalties on gun smugglers.
The National Rifle Association on Sunday said it would not take a stand on the proposal until a full-fledged law is enacted. It warned that it would protest against “gun control policies” or violations of people’s “fundamental right to defend themselves”.
The pro-gun lobby still has the political force of its millions of dedicated members, who vote heavily on firearms issues. But GOP support for the new package is the latest threat to its power following recent financial scandals and lawsuits.
Approval is likely by the Democratic-run House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has praised the measure as a first step toward stronger restrictions in the future.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.N.Y., said he will determine votes on the legislation as soon as it is ready. He compared the progress of recent days to the failure of Congress to act in the aftermath of the parade of mass shootings in recent decades.
“After Uvalde and Buffalo, maybe this timing may be different. For many senators on both sides, this debate certainly feels different,” Schumer said.
Congress’s last major weapon was the Assault Weapons Ban, which took effect in 1994 but ended 10 years later.