McConnell Says Senate Will Weigh Background Checks in Gun Debate

Laura Litvan

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said gun legislation will be at the top of the agenda when lawmakers return from their August break, including expanded background checks and so-called red flag laws to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals.

In remarks Thursday to a Louisville radio station, the Republican leader gave the first hints of what he might consider for the debate on gun legislation, but offered no indication that he would throw his support behind any particular proposal.

McConnell, who’s opposed most gun control legislation in the past, said he and President Donald Trump spoke Thursday and both agreed bipartisan support will be needed for whatever direction the legislation takes. Trump, he said, is “very much open to this discussion.”

Pressure for new gun restrictions has intensified after two mass shooting last weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 people dead and dozen of others wounded.

“The urgency of this is not lost by any of us because we have seen entirely too many of these outrageous acts by deranged people,” McConnell said in an interview on Louisville radio station WHAS. He added, though, that he won’t bring the Senate back early from an August recess to act.

Background checks for firearms purchases and “red flag” laws intended to take firearms away from dangerous or mentally ill people are “two items that for sure will be front and center” for Congress, he said.

He pointed to an earlier proposal by GOP Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia as a possible starting point for developing tighter background check laws. Their measure, blocked in the Senate in 2013 in part because McConnell opposed it, would eliminate loopholes in required background checks in firearms transactions.

The Democratic House has already passed gun legislation that would make it harder for people to elude background checks, but those bills haven’t gone anywhere in the Republican Senate.

Trump ally and Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said this week that he and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a gun-control advocate, have agreed to push through draft legislation to help states adopt red flag laws.

‘Red Flag’

“I think probably background checks and red flag will lead the discussion,” McConnell said, but other approaches might come up. He said “there is a chance” that the partisan gridlock that’s stalled past attempts to tighten gun laws can be overcome.

Trump has a track record of backing away from proposed new gun laws. Two weeks after last year’s massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school, Trump convened an extraordinary meeting of top Democrats and Republicans. He indicated he would push through universal background checks and other measures that Democrats long have supported. He ended up backing away from universal checks in the face of opposition from the National Rifle Association.

The NRA released a statement Thursday saying the group “opposes any legislation that unfairly infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens. The inconvenient truth is this: the proposals being discussed by many would not have prevented the horrific tragedies in El Paso and Dayton.”

Michael Bloomberg, owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, founded and helps fund Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for universal background checks and other gun violence prevention measures.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Michael Shepard

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