WASHINGTON (AP) — The country has long been marked by a numbing series of mass shootings in schools, places of worship and public gatherings. Until now, no one has forced Congress to respond to major legislation.
Last month, a white gunman was charged in the racist-motivated killing of 10 black people at a supermarket. Buffalo, New York. Another gunman kills 19 students and 2 teachers at an elementary school Uwald, Texas.
Lawmakers from both parties say the killings of shoppers and schoolchildren — innocent people going about their daily activities — just 10 days apart have prompted a heartfelt public call for action from Congress.Bargainer made a Bipartisan Gun Violence Act The Senate will approve it later this week, and the House is expected to act sometime after that.
Below is a confluence of factors that helped to reach a compromise.
This year is an election year. Republicans are leaning toward taking over the House, now barely controlled by Democrats, and are likely to win the Senate by a 50-50 vote.
To increase their chances, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.knowing they need to appeal to moderate voters, such as suburban women who will determine competing races in states like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina.
Taking steps aimed at reducing bloody shootings helps the GOP prove it is responsive and reasonable — an image tarnished by former President Donald Trump and far-right denials of his 2020 election defeat.
Emphasizing his preferred focus, McConnell praised the gun deal, telling reporters explicitly on Wednesday that it needs to take significant steps to address “two of the things I think it’s focused on, school safety and mental health.”
The bill would cost $8.6 billion on mental health programs and more than $2 billion on school safety and other improvements, according to cost estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Analysts estimated its total cost at about $13 billion, more than what it also claimed was paid for in budget savings.
But it also makes juvenile records of 18- to 20-year-old gun buyers part of the background checks required to buy guns, prohibits the use of guns by convicted domestic abusers who are not married to or living with the victim, and strengthens penalties for gun trafficking. It funds violence prevention programs and helps states enforce laws that help authorities temporarily remove guns from people deemed at risk.
Democrats also want a middle ground
The measure lacks stronger restrictions supported by Democrats, such as a ban on assault-style rifles in Buffalo, Uwald and other massacres and the high-capacity magazines used by those shooters.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said on Wednesday that this time, Democrats decided they would not “put a vote on a bill that contains a lot of what we want but have no hope of passing.” This has been the pattern over the years.
Democratic Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Kirsten Sinema of Arizona, along with Republican Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Tillis of North Carolina, led the Negotiators negotiated for four weeks. Their agreement is the most significant gun violence measure in Congress since the assault weapons ban enacted in 1993 has now expired.
For nearly 30 years, “both sides have sat in their respective corners thinking it’s safer to do nothing than risk it,” Murphy told reporters. He said Democrats need to show “that we’re willing to take something out of our comfort zone.”
gun rights voters
Gun rights defenders are disproportionately Republican, and the party runs over them at its own risk. Trump, who may be gearing up for a 2024 presidential bid, issued a statement calling the compromise “the first step in a movement to take your guns.”
McConnell took pains to say that the measure “does not touch on the rights of the vast majority of American gun owners who are law-abiding, sober-minded citizens.”
Even so, the NRA and other pro-gun groups oppose compromise because it would test their influence.
Supporting the legislation may not doom pro-gun voters to Republicans.
McConnell and Cornyn talked about Republican polls showing gun owners overwhelmingly support many of the bill’s provisions. Those voters are likely to be outraged by high gas prices and inflation, and are likely to vote Republican anyway.
win for both sides
About two-thirds of the Senate’s 50 Republicans are expected to oppose gun measures. But Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said congressional approval would win the GOP by preventing Democrats from using gun violence on their campaigns. “Taking this issue out as a potential problem for Democrats brings the focus back to inflation and the economy,” Newhouse said.
Not so, said Democratic pollster Jeffrey Garlin. He said approval would allow Democrats to tout what they’ve achieved in Congress and demonstrate that they can work across party lines. Garin said Democrats could still oppose Republicans against tougher measures, such as restrictions on assault weapons, and “the Democrats clearly have a high political base.”
Fourteen Republicans, including Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, voted Tuesday to take the bill one step closer to passage. That could mean she and Indiana Sen. Todd Young are the only two facing re-election this fall. Three are retiring, and eight, including McConnell, Cornyn and Tillis, won’t run again until 2026.
what legislators heard
Senators said they were shocked by the different moods in their hometowns.
Illinois Senate Democratic No. 2 leader Richard Durbin said some people he knew told him “maybe it’s time for my kids to get out of this country,” which he called unbelievable. “They would even consider the possibility, which tells you how desperate the family is in the wake of the recent shooting.”
“The first time I heard it was, ‘Do something,'” Murkowski said. “It’s not ‘ban this, do that,’ it’s ‘do something.'”
Not for everyone. Gun-popular Sen. Steve Daines, a Montana Republican, said of his constituents that “they want to make sure their Second Amendment rights are defended,” a constitutional provision that allows people to own guns.
Associated Press writer Susan Hague in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report.