Wicker, Hyde-Smith vote against advancing gun safety legislation

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Jun. 22—JACKSON — Mississippi's two U.S. senators weren't among the 14 Republicans who voted to move a bipartisan gun safety bill forward for debate.

In the first action on a bill aimed at curbing gun violence in response to recent mass shootings in Texas and New York, Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, both Republicans from Mississippi, voted against a procedural motion to consider the bill. The motion, which needed only a simple majority, passed with 64 votes.

Wicker, from Tupelo, said in a statement that the proposal introduced too many unanswered questions about due process and the Second Amendment.

"In my conversations with law enforcement officers following the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, I have learned they are principally concerned with addressing the serious mental health challenges that lead to mass shootings," Wicker said.

Hyde-Smith, in a similar statement, said that protecting Second Amendment rights must be weighed carefully against any attempt to write gun control legislation.

"I'm all for improving school security and stopping mass shootings," Hyde-Smith said. "However, the negotiated package being rushed through the Senate raises many concerns, including infringing on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens as federal agencies and individual states are given new opportunities to determine just who shouldn't have firearms."

Hyde-Smith, who is from Brookhaven, also cosponsored legislation that forbids the federal government from entering into contracts with an organization that discriminates against firearm or ammunition industries.

Despite the Magnolia State's two U.S. senators voting against the proposal, the vote held greater significance in that it showed there was enough Republican support to break any attempt to filibuster a final vote.

As written, the legislation would toughen background checks for the youngest firearms buyers, require more sellers to conduct background checks and beef up penalties on gun traffickers. It also would disburse money to states and communities aimed at improving school safety and mental health initiatives.

Nine days after Senate bargainers agreed to a framework proposal — and 29 years after Congress last enacted major firearms curbs — Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters that a final accord on the proposal's details had been reached.

Resolving the two final hurdles that delayed an accord since last week, the bill would prohibit romantic partners convicted of domestic violence who aren't married to their victims from purchasing firearms. It would also provide money to the 19 states and the District of Columbia that have "red flag" laws, which make it easier for law enforcement agencies to temporarily take firearms from people adjudged dangerous, and to other states that have violence prevention programs.

Lawmakers released the 80-page bill on Tuesday evening. Aides estimated the measure would cost around $15 billion.

The legislation lacks the far more potent proposals that President Joe Biden supports and Democrats have unsuccessfully pushed for years in the face of stringent GOP opposition. These include banning assault-type weapons or raising the minimum age for buying them, prohibiting high-capacity magazines and requiring background checks for virtually all gun sales.

If enacted, the election-year agreement would spotlight a modest but telling shift on an issue that has defied compromise since Bill Clinton was president.

It's unclear when the U.S. Senate would take a final vote on the proposal, but congressional leaders have predicted that it would likely occur before Saturday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

taylor.vance@djournal.com