Bipartisan Senate Group Reaches Agreement On Framework For New Gun Safety Measures; Plan Falls Short Of Outright Ban On Assault Weapons For Those Under 21

People demonstrate during the "March for Our Lives" rally for gun-control near the Washington Monument . (Francis Chung/E&E News/POLITICO via AP Images)

A bipartisan group of senators have reach an agreement on a framework for a series of new gun safety measures on Sunday, but they fall short of banning the purchase of assault weapons for those under 21.

Specifically, the agreement would expand background checks for those under 21 who purchase guns; grants for states to implement “red flag” laws, which allows law enforcement to temporarily take away guns who pose a danger to themselves or others; an expansion of mental health programs; improving the background check system overall, with a focus on preventing domestic abusers from buying guns; and increasing funding for school security. It also includes the first federal law against gun trafficking and straw purchasing.

Such an announcement would reflect a breakthrough in a long stalemate over any new gun legislation, even though it does not include measures that have widespread public support, like universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines and raising the minimum age to purchase assault weapons to 21. Polls also show a large majority support a federal ban on assault weapons, which was allowed to lapse in 2004, but such a ban was a non-starter in the Senate negotiations.

The agreement would still fall short of that. The Uvalde shooter purchased two assault rifles after his 18th birthday, the legal age in Texas.

But members like Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) have said that their goals have been to find common ground on meaningful legislation.

Murphy, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) have been leading the negotiations. The text of the legislation still needs to be written.

“Will this bill do everything we need to end our nation’s gun violence epidemic?” Murphy wrote on Twitter. “No. But it’s real, meaningful progress. And it breaks a 30 year log jam, demonstrating that Democrats and Republicans can work together in a way that truly saves lives.”

He said that the framework has the support of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans, the latter of which may be a good sign of ultimately overcoming a filibuster threat.

But some gun reform advocates believe that even the Senate negotiations may reflect a changed environment in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Uvalde, TX. On Saturday, tens of thousands of demonstrators showed up in Washington, D.C. and cities across the country to call for gun legislation as part of another March for Our Lives protest, following a similar event in 2018 after the mass shootings at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “Today’s announcement of a bipartisan gun-safety framework is a good first step to ending the persistent inaction to the gun violence epidemic that has plagued our country and terrorized our children for far too long. Once the text of this agreement is finalized, I will put this bill on the floor as soon as possible so that the Senate can act quickly to advance gun-safety legislation.”

President Joe Biden said that he would sign the legislation if it passes Congress.

“Obviously, it 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 said in a statement. “With bipartisan support, there are no excuses for delay, and no reason why it should not quickly move through the Senate and the House.”

David Hogg, the gun reform activist and student survivor of the Parkland shooting, wrote on Twitter, “This is a first step and it’s actually a lot more than I thought it would be.”

He later said in a statement, “In a less broken society, we would be able to require background checks every single time someone wants to buy a gun, and we would ban assault rifles outright. But if even one life is saved or one attempted mass shooting is prevented because of these regulations, it is worth fighting for.”

Former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was severely wounded in a mass shooting and attempted assassination in January, 2011, wrote that “while this agreement is not perfect, many details remain to be worked out and more must be done. If carefully drafted and passed into law, this framework would be a lifesaving step forward.”

But others saw the agreement as so weak that it would merely give Republicans cover to say that they did something.

Cameron Kasky, another gun reform advocate and survivor of the Parkland mass shooting, wrote on Twitter, “Deeply inspired by the fact that 20 senators were able to put their political differences aside and unite to find a way to get out of this looking like they tried something. This is why I love America so much and am a true Patriot.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said on CNN that she was “disappointed” that the legislation was an increased focus on “juvenile criminalization” instead of “really having the focus on guns.” But “the background checks provision is encouraging, so I think we really need to look at the text.”

This past week, actor Matthew McConaughey, a native of Uvalde, TX, met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and with Biden at the White House, urging action on gun reform. He also appeared in the White House briefing room, calling for steps like raising the minimum age for assault weapons purchases to 21. On Instagram on Sunday, he wrote on Instagram Stories, per Spectrum News, “I do offer a firm handshake and a sincere ‘thank you’ to the members on both sides who came together and laid out this framework that can advance gun responsibility and save lives.”

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