Democratic and Republican senators on Thursday disagreed on how to keep firearms from dangerous people, as negotiators struggled to finalize details of an arms violence compromise in time for their self-imposed deadline to hold votes in Congress next week.
Lawmakers have said they remain divided on how to define abusive dating partners so they can be legally banned from buying firearms. Disagreements were also unresolved over proposals to send money to states that have “red flag” laws that allow authorities to temporarily confiscate weapons from people deemed dangerous by courts, and to other states for their own violence prevention programs.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a leading GOP negotiator, looked visibly unhappy when he left Thursday’s closed door session after nearly two hours and said he was flying home. The election year negotiations were spurred by last month’s mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and a primary school in Uvalde, Texas, where a total of 31 people were killed.
“It’s the hardest part, because at some point you just have to make a decision. And when people do not want to make a decision, you can not achieve the result. And that’s kind of where we are now,” Cornyn said.
“I’m not frustrated, I’m done,” he added, although he said he was open to ongoing discussions.
Legislators said an agreement must be completed by the end of this week and written in legislative language if Congress wants to vote on the legislation by next week, after which it will begin a July 4 recess. Leaders want votes by that time, because Washington has a long record of talking about response to mass shootings, only to see legislators and voters’ interest quickly fade over time.
Other negotiators seemed more optimistic, saying that much of the overall package had been agreed upon and that aid workers were drafting legislative language.
“A deal like this is difficult,” Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a chief Democratic negotiator, said when the meeting later ended. “It comes with a lot of emotions, it comes with political risk to both sides. But we are close enough that we need to be able to get there.”
The measure will only impose small-scale curbs on firearms. It lacks proposals by President Joe Biden and Democrats to ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines such as those used in Buffalo and Uvalde, or to increase the legal age for purchasing assault rifles from 18 to 21.
Nevertheless, it would be Congress’s strongest step against gun violence since 1993. A ban imposed by lawmakers on assault weapons that year went into effect in 1994 and expired after a decade. Numerous high-profile mass shootings have since yielded little from Washington, but biased stalemate, largely due to Republicans blocking virtually any new restrictions.
Twenty senators, 10 from each party, agreed last weekend to outline a compromise measure. Top bargainers – Murphy, Cornyn and Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., And Thom Tillis, RN.C. – has since worked to translate it into detail.
Their framework will also include access to the youth records of arms buyers between the ages of 18-20. Both Buffalo and Uvalde shooters were 18, and both used AR-15-style automatic rifles, which could load high-capacity magazines.
The plan will also include additional spending on mental health and school safety programs, stricter penalties for arms trafficking and requirements for more arms dealers to obtain federal firearms licenses.
The agreement was signed by Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.