Why this gun security deal could be the last for a generation

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) said that describing the gun measure as a first step “accurately reflects people’s sincere hopes, and often success is based on success.” But he warned that “it seems to me that if we do this, we will have many other issues that are under consideration right now. And it will probably be some time before we get back to anything in the field of gun safety.

Two months ago, everyone would have laughed at the idea that the Senate could introduce a bipartisan bill on one of the most controversial issues in American politics. However, the final product also revealed tough barriers to support for broader proposals, such as raising the minimum age for purchasing assault weapons to 21.

And it won’t get any easier to write gun bills in a House where most laws need GOP votes. This fall, the House of Representatives is likely to come under Republican control. The Democrats have no votes to weaken the filibuster. Not to mention, the arms deal, seen by many Democrats as a modest concession to the Republican Party, is backed by less than one-third of Republicans in the Senate.

Some Democrats are sick of hearing the party line that they’ll be back for more later.

“Over the weekend, it almost collapsed three times. We are barely able to do it. And so one of the things I struggle with is the constant “not enough!” and ‘we’ll get more later’ is just bullshit,” said one Democratic senator, who asked not to be named to speak frankly. “For the foreseeable future, I think this will be the high point.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have said the upcoming gun safety package is the limit of their party’s ability, especially since four of the 15 Republicans likely to support the bill will retire at the end of this Congress. In addition, there are political implications of opposition from the hardline conservative faction of their own party, as well as gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association.

Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who supports the bill, recalled that he had proposed to lead negotiators that they include raising the minimum age for purchasing assault weapons as part of their framework. He was told that he would not get 60 votes.

“I predict [Democrats] can’t do more because we can barely handle the Republicans they need to do it,” said the Utah Republican. “So if they want to do something more, they won’t get 10” Republicans.

Members of both parties acknowledge that the dynamics of the previously elusive arms deal has changed since a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde in late May. Republicans thought Democrats were more willing to go in the middle in certain policy areas, such as background checks. Meanwhile, Democrats saw a shift in the openness of some GOP senators to gun safety legislation.

For Sen. Chris Murphy (R-CT), the lead Democratic negotiator, the bipartisan compromise indicates that more gun safety laws could be within reach.

“My theory has always been that once Republicans vote for gun safety measures, they will find that the sky is not falling,” Murphy said. “We have to see how this plays out for the Republicans. I think the Republicans who vote for it will find new support at home that they didn’t expect before, and I think they’ll find that the groups that were against it can’t do much damage.”

In addition, the effectiveness of a bipartisan gun security package could greatly influence the likelihood of subsequent legislation being passed. The bill provides grants to states to implement so-called red flag laws or other crisis intervention programs and closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by expanding firearm restrictions for domestic abusers. In addition, the legislation provides for new spending on mental health and school safety.

Republicans who support the law have rejected Democrats’ suggestions that this is the first step in a longer series of gun proposals, a line that tends to fuel fears among GOP voters who fear that any restrictions on gun ownership will become a slippery slope.

“They shouldn’t say that,” said Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who voted to move the package forward. “Because it’s an effort that will get you past the finish line. … All of these are steps in the right direction. So let’s put it in its place… and see the results.”

The Senate’s expected passage of a bipartisan gun safety package comes after a series of failed attempts to curb gun violence. Most Republicans blocked a 2013 bill to expand background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting. Negotiations in 2019 after shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, collapsed as former President Donald Trump lost interest in the House impeachment inquiry. In 2018, the Senate passed a narrow bill to improve federal and state agency reporting in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The bill was written by Murphy and Senator John Cornyn (R-Tx), lead negotiators on this year’s gun security package.

“We tried to include everything we could think of that could have bipartisan support,” Kornin said, describing how they approached the talks this time around.

Kornin did not exclude the possibility of returning to this issue if circumstances so require. And senators from both parties have suggested that additional congressional action is likely to depend on the circumstances of future tragedies.

This will require a second time to challenge political divisions. So, when will Congress take action on guns again?

Senate Majority member Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) put it this way: “After waiting 30 years, I’m not ready to say.”

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