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Ten Republican senators appear willing to reject their own party’s dogma on gun regulation in response to requests from bereaved relatives of recent mass killings to “do something.”
On Sunday, the organization reached an agreement with Democrats that may result in increased funding for mental health care, school security, increased inspection of young gun buyers, and state incentives to temporarily seize weapons from those deemed a threat.
Notably, the size of the group of senators raises the prospect of overturning the Senate filibuster. This procedural stumbling block has allowed conservatives to stymie previous attempts to pass gun reform legislation by requiring 60 votes. Nevertheless, suppose the law passes the Senate, which is still a big doubt given the bill’s draft status and the inevitable conservative opposition. In that case, it will be the most comprehensive attempt to address America’s mass-shooting scourge in years.
Even Democrats like President Joe Biden and gun-control advocates hail it as a breakthrough and a small first step.
The symbolism of a new law would be significant because it would buck a recent trend in which, once the initial grief and outrage over a tragedy have subsided, the impetus for Republicans to confront their own party’s pro-gun base soon fades. It would also be a triumph over hard-line Republicans’ extreme attitude that any small-scale tampering with gun laws is a slippery slope that would ultimately lead to the abolition of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.
It’s impossible to determine whether the compromise’s provisions would have made a difference in the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, but if a law is passed, they may be implemented in similar instances in the future and save lives. However, it’s unlikely that the bill will stop mass shootings like those that occurred last weekend at bars, high school graduations, and outside a burial in a Kentucky church.
However, the fact that such a small collection of actions is on the cusp of making history speaks much about Congress’ inaction in the face of so much death.
Some relatives of gun massacre victims seek an assault rifle prohibition, which is not included in the agreement. In addition, while it promises to make it easier for people under the age of 21 to purchase semi-automatic guns, it does not expand background checks to all gun buyers, which Republicans see as a political overreach.
The real question now is whether the 10 Republicans will stick together and help push the bill through the Senate, despite their colleagues’ likely delaying and obstructing attempts. The next congressional recess is two weeks away. If a measure doesn’t pass before then, there’s a good chance that GOP senators coming home will be pressured to withdraw their support for the bill.
It’s important that Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut have Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s support — or at least something less than outright hostility — to prior gun safety legislation.
McConnell issued a statement applauding Cornyn and Murphy for “making progress,” but he did not approve of the accord and described their efforts as “ongoing.”
In polls, the majority of Americans support expanded background checks or a ban on assault weapons, for example. However, the Senate filibuster and the threat from the party’s base to Republicans who even consider gun safety legislation have thwarted genuine action for years, most notably following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. Moreover, given the retirements of more moderate Republicans in the Senate and the possibility that some of them will be replaced by more radical, pro-Trump senators following November’s midterm elections, the window for Republican collaboration on gun safety may be closing.
Opinions expressed by California Gazette contributors are their own.