Amid continuing debate over gun control in the wake of multiple mass shootings over the past several weeks, a bipartisan group of Senators announced Sunday that they had achieved a significant breakthrough. The group of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans, led by Chris Murphy (D-CT) and John Cornyn (R-TX), indicated that they had reached an agreement on several policies intended to prevent dangerous people from having access to guns and otherwise increasing safety measures.
Taking guns away because of "red flags"
The agreement contains several provisions aimed at keeping guns away from dangerous people. One of the most significant provisions in the bill is financial support that would be provided to states to pass and enforce “red flag” laws. These provisions allow courts to temporarily order the removal of guns from people who are determined to be a threat either to others or to themselves. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already have these laws. The new Senate bill would provide federal funding to all states to either establish such laws or reinforce red flag laws that already exist.
Closing the domestic violence "boyfriend loophole"
Another provision would strengthen laws that prevent those who have committed domestic violence from obtaining firearms. Currently, these rules exist but apply to couples who are married, live together or have children together. These limitations have created a so-called “boyfriend loophole” for abusers who did not fall into these categories. The NRA successfully prevented a provision to close this loophole from being included in the Violence Against Women Act that was passed earlier this year. Reintroducing the provision now thus represents a major win for gun control advocates against the gun lobby.
A compromise measure
Additional provisions included in the new Senate proposal include additional federal licensing requirements for arms dealers; stricter scrutiny for gun purchasers under 21 years of age; enhanced school security measures and increased funding to states for mental health services. The deal still leaves out important measures that gun control advocates sought. It does not require background checks for all gun sales, banning assault weapons, such as the AR 15s that have been used in many mass shootings or raising the minimum age to buy guns. Analysts have characterized the details of the deal as less ambitious than Democrats would prefer but stronger than what Democrats expected to get from their Republican partners.
Overcoming conservative opposition
Because 10 Republican Senators were included in the group that negotiated the deal, they and the 50-person Democratic majority in the Senate can overcome any filibuster that other Republicans may raise against the deal. Notably, the group also includes Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. These two conservative Democrats have opposed filibuster reform and withheld their support from important Democratic proposals on issues such as voting rights. Their support for this compromise, therefore, further strengthens the ability of this agreement to be passed.
The agreement on broad principles must still be shaped into a bill, meaning that the group of 20 and at least 40 other Senators must ultimately agree on specific details. Assuming a bill is passed in the Senate, it must also go through the House, which last week passed its own bill with stricter gun control regulations — the House bill has little chance of passing the Senate. By contrast, House Democrats may be persuaded to adopt the Senate version, which Democrats and gun control advocates have generally hailed as a step in the right direction.