US senators discuss expanded gun background checks, red flag laws

WASHINGTON: A bipartisan group of senators considers how Congress should respond to the horrific shooting of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, and resume talks over gun control that have failed many times.
Democrats and Republicans are aware of the difficulty of their task and hope to agree on legislation that can help reduce the number of mass shootings in the United States. The Uvalde shooting came 10 days after a gunman opened fire in a racially motivated attack that killed black people at a grocery store in Buffalo, NY.
Senators have narrowed the discussion down to a few ideas, many based on legislation they’ve been working on for years, such as extensive background checks or red flag laws that keep guns away from people who could cause harm. Led by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the group of 10 hopes to negotiate a proposal during the upcoming Senate recess and have it ready for voting in early June.
It’s uncertain if the group can come to a consensus, and even if they do, it could be difficult to win enough votes from Republicans, as most don’t want to see changes to the country’s gun laws. Democrats would need 10 Republican votes to overcome a filibuster and get a bill through the 50-50 Senate.
“The odds are against us, but we owe it to parents and kids to try,” tweeted Murphy, who has been a leading advocate for stricter gun control since 20 children and six educators were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. . 2012.
A look at the proposals being considered, and others that aren’t:
Red flag laws
Senators emerging from a bipartisan meeting Thursday discussed the possibility of encouraging states to pass red flag laws that would take firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others.
Many states have passed red flag laws, including Florida, which passed a law after the 2018 Parkland high school shooting, and Maine, which has a “yellow flag” law requiring a medical professional to sign before removing the guns. . Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican, has pushed for something similar at the federal level.
Republicans probably won’t get on board with a nationwide red flag statute. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican who is also part of the group, said after the meeting that this would be a non-starter, “regardless of color.”
Alternatively, they discuss whether federal grants could persuade states to implement such flag laws, an idea that has been explored by Sens in recent years. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Blumenthal, who is working with Graham on the compromise proposal, said the “complicated and challenging part” will be figuring out what the standards are for removing guns from a person who has been flagged.
Still, Blumenthal said, “There’s a powerful emotional element to the red flag statute that gives it momentum, especially after Uvalde and Buffalo, where the shooter showed very strong signs that he was dangerous.” The New York shooter was reported by his school, but the state’s red flag law was not activated.
The House plans to pass its own version of the red flag legislation when it returns from a two-week recess on June 6.
Extensive background checks
Sens. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., have been trying to pass extensive background checks for all commercial gun sales, including at gun shows and on the Internet, for nearly a decade. Under current law, background checks are only required when weapons are purchased from federally licensed dealers.
The idea has broad public support, even among many gun owners, but the two senators have faced resistance from congressional Republicans who don’t want changes, along with groups like the National Rifle Association. Several versions of the proposal have been repeatedly rejected in the Senate, including in 2013 after the Newtown massacre and in 2016 after a shooting that killed 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
The House passed legislation last year that would extend background checks to nearly all sales, including private sales. The senators have since been in talks about creating a version that could make it through their chambers, but they have yet to come to an agreement. Manchin says the House version goes too far and could disrupt casual sales between people who know each other.
Manchin and Toomey, who are retiring this year, are part of the Senate working group and tasked with finding a compromise on their proposal — perhaps for the last time. Toomey said on Thursday the measure doesn’t have enough support to get through now, “but I hope we get there.”
School Security
Republicans who traditionally opposed gun control have embraced the idea of ​​”hardening” schools, giving money for more resources, arming law enforcement officers or even teachers.
Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota this week suggested that Congress “promote direct funding for local units, to have the resources to add additional protections to deter these individuals.”
Murphy said on Thursday that he is “open” to adding funds for school security and that the task force is looking at what can be done in that direction. But the Democrats are adamant against arming teachers, and they say money for security isn’t enough.
Charleston loophole
A second bill passed by the House last year would extend the background check review period from three to ten days. Rep. Jim Clyburn, DS.C., introduced the legislation after a gunman killed nine people at a historic church in Black Charleston, SC in 2015.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer began the process this week to bring that bill to the Senate floor, but it doesn’t appear to be part of the Senate negotiations.
The FBI said after the Charleston shooting that a background investigator never saw the gunman’s previous arrest report because the wrong arrest station was listed on the state’s criminal record and the arms dealer was legally allowed to complete the transaction after three days. . Clyburn and other supporters of the legislation say it would solve that problem.
Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the legislation, saying it could delay purchases for legal gun owners.
Ban on Assault Weapons
A ban on assault weapons passed in the 1990s expired ten years later, and Democrats have failed to rally the votes to get another one. The Senate rejected a renewed ban in 2013, along with Manchin-Toomey’s proposal, after the Newtown shooting. Senators also rejected a ban on high-capacity magazines that year.
Biden proposed a ban on assault weapons last year, and many Democrats believe it would be one of the most effective ways to curb mass shootings, as these weapons almost always involve them. But a ban has almost no support among Republicans and has not been part of the discussions until now.
Murphy, who gave an impassioned speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday as news broke of the Texas shooting, has said he wants to start with proposals that are actionable.
“There’s a common denominator that we can find,” Murphy said. “There is a place where we can reach an agreement.”

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