WASHINGTON. The country has long experienced a staggering string of mass shootings in schools, places of worship and crowds. No one has forced Congress to respond with meaningful legislation—until now.
Last month, a white shooter was accused of racist murder of 10 black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. Another gunman killed 19 students and two elementary school teachers in Uvalde, Texas.
The killings of shoppers and schoolchildren just 10 days apart – innocent people going about their daily business – helped spark a visceral public demand for Congress to do something, lawmakers in both parties say. The negotiators have drafted a bipartisan gun violence bill that the Senate is set to approve later this week, with House action expected some time after that.
Here’s a look at the confluence of factors that helped bring about the compromise.
This is an election year. It’s advantageous for Republicans to take over the House of Representatives, which is now narrowly controlled by Democrats, and have every chance of capturing the Senate 50-50.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky, knows that to improve their chances they need to attract moderate voters like suburban women who will decide competitive races in states like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina.
Taking action to curtail mass shootings is helping the Republican Party showcase its responsiveness and sanity, an image tarnished by former President Donald Trump and the far right who deny he lost the 2020 election.
Emphasizing what he prefers, McConnell praised the gun deal, emphatically telling reporters on Wednesday that it is taking significant steps to address “two issues that I think the focus is on school safety and mental health.”
The bill would spend $8.6 billion on mental health programs and more than $2 billion on safety and other school improvements, according to a non-partisan Congressional Budget Office spending estimate. Analysts have estimated its total cost at around $13 billion, which more than pays off with the budget savings it also claims.
But it also makes accounting for underage gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 20 part of the background checks required to purchase firearms, bans guns for convicted domestic abusers who are not married to or living with their victims, and increases penalties for arms trade. It funds violence prevention programs and helps states enforce laws that help authorities temporarily seize guns from people deemed risky.
Democrats also want the golden mean
The measure lacks stronger Democrat-backed restrictions, such as a ban on the assault rifles used in Buffalo, Uvalda, and other massacres, and the high-capacity ammo magazines these shooters used.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said on Wednesday that Democrats have decided this time around that they will not “vote on a bill that has a lot of things that we would like but have no hope of passing.” “. It’s been that way for years.
Democratic Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Kirsten Sinema of Arizona, as well as Republican Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Tillis of North Carolina, led the talks, which lasted four weeks. Their agreement is the most important Congressional action on gun violence since the expired Assault Weapons Ban went into effect in 1993.
For nearly 30 years, “both parties sat in their corners, deciding it was politically safer to do nothing than take risks,” Murphy told reporters. He said Democrats needed to show that “we were willing to put some things on the table that took us out of our comfort zone.”
Gun rights voters
Gun rights advocates are disproportionately Republicans, and the party goes against them at their own peril. Trump, possibly preparing for the 2024 presidential race, issued a statement calling the compromise “the first step in the movement to TAKE YOUR GUNS.”
McConnell was careful to say that the measure “doesn’t so much affect the rights of the vast majority of American gun owners, who are law-abiding citizens of sound mind.”
However, the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups are opposed to a compromise that would test their influence.
Support for this law cannot doom Republicans to pro-gun voters.
McConnell and Cornyn talked about a GOP poll showing gun owners overwhelmingly support many of the bill’s provisions. And these voters are likely to be unhappy with sky-high gas prices and inflation and may vote Republican anyway.
Wins for both sides
About two-thirds of the 50 Republicans in the Senate are expected to oppose the gun bill. But congressional approval would be a victory for the Republican Party, as it would stop Democrats from using gun violence in their campaigns, Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said. “Having taken this off the table as a potential problem for Democrats, we will again focus on inflation and the economy,” Newhouse said.
It’s not, says Democratic sociologist Jeffrey Garin. He said the approval would allow Democrats to tout Congressional achievement and demonstrate that they can work regardless of party line. Democrats can still campaign against Republicans for opposing tougher measures, such as restrictions on assault weapons, issues where “the Democrats clearly have high political positions,” Garin said.
Fourteen Republicans, including Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted on Tuesday to take a step toward passing the law. This likely suggests that she and Indiana Senator Todd Young were the only two up for re-election this fall. Three are retiring and eight, including McConnell, Cornyn and Tillis, will not run until 2026.
What did MPs hear?
Senators say they were struck by a different mood at home.
Senate Democratic Leader No. 2 Richard Durbin of Illinois said some people he knew for a long time told him “maybe it’s time to take my kids out of this country,” which he called unbelievable. “The fact that they are even considering such a possibility shows how desperate the families are” after the recent shootings.
“This is the first time I’ve heard, ‘Do something,’” Murkowski said. “And it wasn’t ‘Ban this, do that’, it was ‘Do something’.”
This was not true for everyone. Republican Senator Steve Danes of Montana, where firearms are widely popular, said of his constituents, “They want to make sure their Second Amendment rights are protected,” a constitutional provision that allows people to own firearms.
Associated Press writer Susan Hay of Hartford, Connecticut contributed to this report.