The United States Senate may be on the verge of taking some small but important steps to protect Americans from the scourge of gun violence.
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut announced today that a bipartisan group of twenty senators has agreed in principle to a package that does the following:
- Major funding to help states pass and implement crisis intervention orders (red flag laws) that will allow law enforcement to temporarily take dangerous weapons away from people who pose a danger to others or themselves.
- Billions in new funding for mental health and school safety, including money for the national build out of community mental health clinics.
- Close the “boyfriend loophole”, so that no domestic abuser — a spouse OR a serious dating partner — can buy a gun if they are convicted of abuse against their partner.
- First ever federal law against gun trafficking and straw purchasing. This will be a difference making tool to stop the flow of illegal guns into cities.
- Enhanced background check for under 21 gun buyers and a short pause to conduct the check. Young buyers can get the gun only after the enhanced check is completed.
- Clarification of the laws regarding who needs to register as a licensed gun dealer, to make sure all truly commercial sellers are doing background checks.
“Will this bill do everything we need to end our nation’s gun violence epidemic?” Murphy asked rhetorically, answering: “No. But it’s real, meaningful progress.”
“And it breaks a thirty year log jam, demonstrating that Democrats and Republicans can work together in a way that truly saves lives.”
Considering that the Senate has done pretty much nothing to protect Americans from the scourge of gun violence for decades, this is indeed a breakthrough. It is far from enough, but it is a start… and we have to start somewhere.
As unpalatable and unsatisfying as incremental change can be, sometimes it’s the only practical alternative to the status quo. Democrats don’t have a filibuster proof majority in the Senate nor fifty votes to reform the filibuster, and won’t until January 2023 at the earliest. This bipartisan agreement is the country’s best hope for federal level action on gun safety this year. Senator Murphy deserves enormous kudos for getting ten Republicans, who usually say no to everything, to buck the gun lobby and back some modest gun safety ideas.
It is worth noting that here in Washington, we’ve successfully used an incremental strategy to secure stronger gun safety laws since 2014.
We didn’t pass everything we’ve now got on the books in one go. We started with expanded background checks in 2014 (Initiative 594). Then, we passed extreme risk protection orders in 2016 (Initiative 1491). Then, we raised the age to buy firearms like the AR-15 to twenty-one in 2018 (Initiative 1639).
More recently, the Legislature has finally gotten engaged by passing bills to ban bump stocks, ghost guns, and high-capacity magazines, plus bar the carrying of guns at the Capitol, local government meetings, and election sites.
And we’re not done. When the Legislature next reconvenes, it needs to pass an assault weapons ban, which our polling shows most voters strongly support.
Republican-controlled states aren’t likely to pass *any* of the gun safety laws I just referenced, which makes the federal package that Murphy negotiated especially important. The gun safety laws Washington has enacted aren’t likely to be adopted in Idaho, for example, anytime in the near future.
President Joe Biden welcomed the work of Murphy’s group, urging swift follow-up.
“I want to thank Senator Chris Murphy and the members of his bipartisan group—especially Senators Cornyn, Sinema, and Tillis — for their tireless work to produce this proposal. 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,” said the President.
“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.”
“This framework represents progress — and contains real measures that can help save lives,” agreed Senator Patty Murray, who recently appeared with the Alliance for Gun Responsibility to call for action. “It’s not everything we need to end gun violence, so I will continue to fight and press for gun safety reforms like universal background checks and an assault weapons ban. But I have said I would work with anyone to pass anything that may keep our families safe from gun violence, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this framework passed and then I’ll keep fighting to do more.”
“This deal would not have been possible without a House under the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, without a Senate under the leadership of Senator Schumer,
and of course President Joe Biden,” said activist Fred Guttenberg. “Our votes from the last two elections mattered. If you wish for more, VOTE in November!!!”