Jun 12, 2022 - Politics & Policy

What's next for the Senate's bipartisan gun deal

David Hogg gives a speech at March for Our Lives
David Hogg speaks at yesterday's March for Our Lives rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Photo: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The bipartisan gun safety deal announced today falls well short of what President Biden has called for but still marks the first time in decades Republicans have shown a willingness to do anything resembling progress in this arena.

Why it matters: Narrowing the scope of negotiations to rule out restrictions on gun ownership was critical to securing the support of 10 Republicans — but there are still plenty of opportunities for the wheels to fall off.

  • The framework — negotiated by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) — focuses on enhanced background checks for people under 21, funding for mental health and school safety, and state grants for "red flag" laws.
  • It has the backing of President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). None of the 10 Republicans who signed onto the bill are up for re-election this year — and four are retiring.

What to watch: As always with major legislation, especially something as controversial as gun safety, how the bill is ultimately written will be crucial.

  • The biggest obstacle the group faces is translating an agreement on principles into legislative text that doesn't alienate any of the Senate Republicans it needs to get over the 60-vote finish line.
  • "The details will be critical for Republicans, particularly the firearms-related provisions. One or more of these principles could be dropped if text is not agreed to," a Republican aide involved in the negotiations told Axios.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will also be decisive in the fate of this bill.

  • McConnell praised Cornyn and Murphy for their commitment to the bipartisan negotiations in a statement today, but he stopped short of specifically endorsing the agreement.
  • “I am glad Senators Cornyn and Murphy are continuing to make headway in their discussions," McConnell said. “I continue to hope their discussions yield a bipartisan product that makes significant headway on key issues like mental health and school safety, respects the Second Amendment, earns broad support in the Senate, and makes a difference for our country.”
  • Cornyn, meanwhile, has a lot on the line: He's eager to succeed McConnell as the next GOP leader, and pushing this kind of deal through an increasingly conservative conference is a huge risk.

Between the lines: There's a political incentive for Republicans to allow very modest gun safety legislation to pass once they get past their primaries.

  • Americans want Congress to do something on guns, while Republicans want to go back to campaigning on inflation and the economy.
  • As long as the GOP is seen as blocking gun legislation, the issue could divert voter attention from inflation and even become a political liability.
  • Agreeing to modest measures — including those that encourage states to act but avoid major federal mandates — allows Republicans to get back to their original campaign focus.

Many Democrats will also need to reckon with the fact this deal falls short of what they want. It does not include raising the age to purchase an assault rifle to 21 nor broader background checks for all ages.

  • Already, many Democratic critics are pointing out this isn't enough to address the magnitude of America's gun problem.

The big picture: There has been a mass shooting in the U.S. every day this month except one, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.

  • Calls for action have again reached a fever pitch — thousands of protesters turned out yesterday at March for Our Lives rallies across the country.
  • Today is the sixth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, which left 49 people dead.
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