By Lisa Hagen
House Democrats are seeking to pass a wide-ranging slate of gun reforms this week as a swift response to the growing number of mass shootings since the ones in Texas and New York. But a vast majority of those proposals to curb gun violence aren’t on the table in bipartisan Senate talks with Republican negotiators saying any potential deal will need to be narrower.
The “Protecting Our Kids Act,” a major package of proposals, is expected to clear the House on Wednesday without much – or any – support from Republicans. Democrats’ bill includes banning high-capacity magazines, raising the age limit from 18 to 21 for certain semi-automatic firearms and codifying executive orders that restrict bump stocks devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to fire more rounds of ammunition faster and “ghost guns” that don’t have unique serial numbers.
The other piece of legislation also made it through a procedural step and could receive a final vote as early as Thursday. The bill seeks to institute a “red flag” law that would allow federal courts to temporarily block people from buying a gun if they’re a threat to themselves or others.
But Senate Republicans won’t support bans or heavy limitations on purchases of firearms and they’re unlikely to support a federal red flag law. The most dramatic reform – raising the age on certain gun purchases or enhanced background checks for those under 21 – is reportedly part of Senate negotiations, and even Republicans in leadership are signaling possible support. The shooting suspects at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, both purchased AR-style rifles at age 18.
That measure, however, still remains a longshot compared to others that are part of the conversation. Any potential agreement will be much more modest than House-passed proposals. Such reforms under consideration among the bipartisan Senate group include some expanded background checks, increased funding for school security, mental health services, safe storage of firearms and incentives for more states to enact red flag laws.
Since Republicans typically focus on mental health reform after deadly shootings, their willingness to consider measures directly related to guns is a major step forward since the last time the Senate considered a bipartisan background checks bill in 2013 after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
The continued onslaught of gun violence rippling throughout communities has elevated the issue. Wednesday’s votes come just several hours after victims and families affected by the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde gave emotional testimony at a hearing before the Oversight and Reform Committee. One account came from 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo, who gave taped remarks about the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde.
Still, members in both parties are realistic about the prospects of agreement since efforts like this have fallen apart before.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York again vowed to go to the floor “soon” with votes on gun-related measures. While he initially gave an end-of-the-week deadline for the bipartisan group, he appears open to extending the window if negotiators are making progress. The larger group of senators involved in talks met again on Wednesday, and while some sounded an optimistic tone, they indicated that it’s likely talks go beyond Friday.
He hasn’t indicated when he’ll set up votes or the next steps if negotiators fail to strike a deal. But he voiced confidence that if his Democratic colleagues forge a deal, it won’t be a completely watered down legislative response that has “no teeth.”
Schumer said Wednesday from the Senate floor that negotiators “deserve the space they need to produce meaningful results. I hope they continue to make progress towards an effective agreement – hopefully by the end of the week.”
Senate Republicans, including those in leadership, seem receptive to a deal, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who said he’s “hopeful” the bipartisan group will find common ground “sooner rather than later.” But any deal in a split 50-50 Senate will need support from at least 10 Republicans to move forward and overcome the threat of a filibuster.
“Almost everyone, I think, would like to get an outcome that’s definitely related to the subject matter,” McConnell said at Tuesday’s press conference.
But Republicans won’t accept broad reforms, especially since 10 GOP senators are needed to move such legislation through the chamber. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who’s been tapped as Republicans’ point person in the gun talks, made it clear only “narrow” proposals are up for consideration.
“Targeted reforms, I think, is the way to get to where we need to go,” Cornyn said Tuesday in remarks from the Senate floor. “What I’m interested in is keeping guns out of the hands of those who, by current law, are not supposed to have them.”
Lawmakers are looking to do something – anything – after three decades of inaction on guns. Many Democrats in both the House and Senate appear willing to go smaller on gun reform and forgo some of the actions they’ve wanted for decades in order to get something done in the short term.
“We will accept any positive movement because we know there’s not just one particular way, one particular piece of policy that’s going to make a dent in the extremist gun culture we’re living in,” Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, whose son died from gun violence in 2012, said at a Wednesday press conference. She helped craft Democrats’ red flag bill that’s up for a vote.
“We know it’s going to take years of continued work,” she added. “Going forward, this is not just one piece of legislation now that’s the end all and accomplishes everything we want to do.”