20 senators announce outline of bipartisan deal to reform U.S. gun laws

Washington (CBS NEWS) – A bipartisan group of 20 senators — including 10 Republicans — announced on Sunday the outline of a deal to reform the nation’s gun laws, a breakthrough after weeks of negotiations sparked by the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.

“Today, we are announcing a commonsense, bipartisan proposal to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country. Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities,” the coalition said in a statement.

The agreement would provide incentives for states to pass so-called “red flag” laws, which the group calls “state crisis intervention orders;” boost mental health resources; provide funding for school safety resources; clarify the definition of federally licensed firearms dealer; and crack down on criminals who illegally straw purchase and traffic guns.

It would also expand background checks for firearms buyers under 21, by requiring an investigative period to review juvenile and mental health records. Convicted domestic violence abusers and people subject to domestic violence restraining orders would also now be included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, closing what is called the “boyfriend loophole.”

“Most importantly, our plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans,” the senators said in a joint statement. “We look forward to earning broad, bipartisan support and passing our commonsense proposal into law.”

If passed, the plan would represent the most significant update to the nation’s gun laws in nearly three decades, although the provisions fall far short of what Democrats have proposed in the wake of recent mass shootings and what President Biden has advocated for. The framework was announced on the sixth anniversary of the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where 49 people were killed.

The Democratic senators who signed onto the proposal are:

  • Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut
  • Cory Booker of New Jersey
  • Chris Coons of Delaware
  • Martin Heinrich of New Mexico
  • Mark Kelly of Arizona
  • Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats;
  • Joe Manchin of West Virginia
  • Chris Murphy of Connecticut
  • Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona
  • Debbie Stabenow of Michigan

The Republican signatories include:

  • John Cornyn of Texas
  • Roy Blunt of Missouri
  • Richard Burr of North Carolina
  • Bill Cassidy of Louisiana
  • Susan Collins of Maine
  • Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
  • Rob Portman of Ohio
  • Mitt Romney of Utah
  • Thom Tillis of North Carolina
  • Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

The support from the 10 GOP senators ensures that, if all 50 Democrats back the plan and the Republicans maintain their backing, it can advance in the Senate once introduced as legislation.

Mr. Biden thanked the bipartisan group for their “tireless work” on crafting the plan and said it must swiftly pass both chambers of Congress.

“Obviously, it does not do everything that I think is needed, but it reflects important steps in the right direction, and would be the most significant gun safety legislation to pass Congress in decades,” he said in a statement. “With bipartisan support, there are no excuses for delay, and no reason why it should not quickly move through the Senate and the House. Each day that passes, more children are killed in this country: the sooner it comes to my desk, the sooner I can sign it, and the sooner we can use these measures to save lives.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pledged to put the bill on the floor “as soon as possible” once legislative text is finalized, a process that could take several weeks.

“After an unrelenting wave of gun-related suicides and homicides, including mass shootings, the Senate is poised to act on commonsense reforms to protect Americans where they live, where they shop, and where they learn,” he said in a statement. “We must move swiftly to advance this legislation because if a single life can be saved it is worth the effort.”

The framework, Schumer said, is a “good first step to ending the persistent inaction to the gun violence epidemic that has plagued our country and terrorized our children for far too long.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the proposal announced “show the value of dialogue and cooperation” and said he supports the ongoing negotiations, but stopped short of endorsing the framework outright.

“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,” he said in a statement.

Led by Murphy and Cornyn, the senators began working last month on efforts to find common ground on reforms to gun laws in response to the massacres at a Tops grocery store in Buffalo and an elementary school in Uvalde, which together left 31 people, including 19 children, dead.

While prior attempts at passing gun control legislation have failed, senators involved in the latest round of negotiations were optimistic they would reach an agreement on a plan that would garner support from at least 10 Republicans, whose backing is needed in order for legislation to advance in the 50-50 Senate.

Supportive of the Senate’s efforts, Mr. Biden continued to pressure Congress to take legislative action to harden gun laws in the wake of a spate of mass shootings that shocked the nation. While the president has advocated for lawmakers to reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, or raise the minimum purchasing age for those firearms from 18 to 21 and strengthen background checks, among other measures, the Senate has instead been working toward a more narrow proposal that would have GOP support.

Separately, the House last week passed a package of bills that raises the age to buy a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21 years old; bans large-capacity magazines; incentivizes safe storage of firearms and establishes requirements regulating storage of guns on residential premises, and builds on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ regulatory ban on bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to fire more rapidly.

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