House Democrats are preparing gun control legislation in response to recent mass shootings in New York and Texas, taking fast action on a package of bills. But all eyes are on the Senate, where a bipartisan group meets again this week on a separate proposal that could actually become law at a time when a deal on preventing gun violence appears more within reach.
The set of proposals, called the “Protecting Our Kids Act,” would, among other things, raise the age from 18 to 21 to purchase certain firearms like semi-automatic centerfire rifles and shotguns, deter gun trafficking, bolster safer gun storage and prevent untraceable guns like “ghost guns,” which don’t have serial numbers from licensed manufacturers or importers. Punchbowl News first reported that the Judiciary Committee scheduled an emergency markup Thursday to consider and vote on the package while members are on recess until next week.
The swift action from the House – with a floor vote expected next week – comes a week after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers died. Ten days earlier, a shooting motivated by racism at a supermarket roiled a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo. The sharp uptick in mass shootings this year has prompted new attempts of congressional action on gun control despite years of fruitless talks and votes.
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While the Democratic-led House is moving quickly, the Senate is taking a different approach before voting on stalled gun control legislation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York wants a bipartisan group of senators to complete their talks by next week when the Senate also returns from recess. Some of them will convene again on Tuesday, and while they’re feeling more confident, skepticism remains about striking an agreement on a complicated issue.
Schumer has promised votes on Democrat-led bills like universal background checks if talks go nowhere. But without senators striking a compromise, House-passed legislation will once again languish in a split 50-50 Senate since at least 10 Republicans will need to join them to reach the 60-vote threshold and overcome the threat of a filibuster. Democrats’ Protecting Our Kids Act would likely face a similar fate, with a final product likely looking more like what emerges from a potential Senate compromise.
The group is led by Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut who previously championed such legislation after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting nearly a decade ago. Some of the senators involved last week were Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Republican Susan Collins of Maine and a pair of senators who previously tried to pass background checks on commercial gun sales: Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who is retiring.
“I do think there’s an opportunity right now to be able to pass something significant. I’ve seen more Republican interest in coming to the table and talking this time than at any other moment since Sandy Hook,” Murphy said in a Sunday interview with CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” “I really think that we can pass something that saves lives and breaks this logjam that we’ve had for 30 years. … I think we can get something done but we don’t have a lot of time.”
Murphy noted that most Republicans aren’t on board with measures that he and other Democrats support, like restoring the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. He also said it’s “unlikely” that they could reach 60 votes on limiting high-capacity magazines, though it’s possible a vote could still happen.
Both parties acknowledge the tough reality of trying to break the decades-long impasse on guns. But Murphy said there’s bipartisan interest in the expansion of background checks, safe storage and “red flag” laws that would allow families to petition a court to temporarily block people from obtaining a gun if they’re a danger to themselves or others. Some members believe their best shot at compromise is on legislation modeled after state-led red flag laws.
Democrats will need more Republican buy-in, especially from those in leadership. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas is the GOP point-person on the issue and will participate virtually in the talks on Tuesday. Cornyn said he also wants to look at strengthening mental health treatment, which has been a major concern for his party in relation to mass shootings.
“One thing I hope does not happen is that the various parties sort of fall back into their typical talking points,” Cornyn told reporters at a press conference from Texas. “I hope we will try to look in a clear-eyed way at what happened, and ask this question: What can we do to fix this problem? And if we can’t fix it, what can we do to make it better?”
As Congress seeks to iron out an agreement, the White House has let lawmakers take the lead. During his Oval Office meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday, a reporter asked President Joe Biden if he’d meet with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on the issue. Biden committed to meeting with lawmakers without providing any further details on a timeline.
“I will meet with the Congress on guns,” Biden said. “I promise you.”