HomePoliticsReporter's Notebook: 'Heavy Duty' on Senate Gun Bill

Reporter’s Notebook: ‘Heavy Duty’ on Senate Gun Bill


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It was the end of November 1993.

President Clinton hadn’t even been in office for a year. The Toronto Blue Jays just won the World Series for the second straight season. “Home Improvement” and “Roseanne” were giants of television ratings. Wayne’s World 2 hit the big screen. The price of gasoline was…

Well let’s skip that a.

Let’s focus on November 30, 1993. That was the last time Congress passed major gun legislation.

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It was known colloquially as “The Brady Bill”, but was formally titled the “Brady Gun Violence Prevention Act”. Lawmakers named the legislation after White House press secretary James Brady. Gunman John Hinckley Jr., recently released from St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC, had shot Brady and others while trying to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

The bill imposed a five-day waiting period for the purchase of firearms. It only applied to states that did not have their own system for checking buyers’ backgrounds. A portion of the Brady Bill changed in 1998 to apply to the sale of all firearms, but not handguns.

Fast-forward nearly 30 years, Congress is now closer to passing major legislation to curb gun violence than it has been since that day in November 1993. There is an overall framework agreement, negotiated by a coalition of ten bipartisan senators. Now they are improvising the text of the bill.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., spoke from the Senate floor after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
(Senate pool video)

“I see this as a breakthrough,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., the Democratic lead negotiator. “It is no coincidence that this Congress for 30 years has been unable to deal with the epidemic of gun violence in this country because, time and time again, it was easier to retreat into political corners than to make difficult compromises.”

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In fact, Murphy went so far as to say that “the heavy lifting is already done”.

It’s rare to hear a lawmaker engaged in such intense negotiations over fragile legislation with a tense history that exudes so much confidence. Congressional veterans know that the Capitol’s “longest mile” is often the last. The halls of the US Capitol are littered with parliamentary carcasses of “must have” bills and legislation that were all but closed.

The old mantra in Congress is that “nothing is final until everything is final.”

Things are certainly far from final on this bill. So it is not clear whether the exuberance is irrational at this stage.

= Sen.  Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, left, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, right

= Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, left, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, right
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

And don’t forget that the tight bipartisan deal represents a sliver of a toothy mega deal. It primarily focuses on toughening rules for licensed federal gun dealers and protection orders for those who may harm themselves or others if they have a gun. These are commonly known as “red flag” regulations.

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The measure does not “confiscate” the weapons. It does not ban high-capacity assault weapons as many Democrats advocate. In fact, the lead Republican negotiator in the talks, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, touted the fact that he refused to accept a Democratic request to raise the age to buy high-capacity weapons from 18 to 21. In other words, such a line in the sand could help Cornyn’s good faith and build credibility with the right in the talks.

Cornyn was direct in what he was willing to negotiate.

“This proposal will only affect felons and those determined to have a mental illness. Law-abiding gun owners will not be subject to any new restrictions. Period,” Cornyn said.

The parties must now work out the details of the bill and give lawmakers time to familiarize themselves with the text. There is also the issue of cost. Lawmakers on both sides want the bill paid. Otherwise, some legislators would have a reason to vote no. The package will likely need a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

“Red flag laws are known to need hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “But also, mental health will require billions. So we need to be prepared to compensate or provide money where appropriate.”

United States Senator from Connecticut Richard Blumenthal

United States Senator from Connecticut Richard Blumenthal
(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

It can be debatable whether the “heavy lifting is done”. But there is still work to be done.

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“My goal is to finish the text this week and then present it on the floor next week,” Cornyn said.

Supporters of the plan must also sell the package to their colleagues.

“If passed, it would undoubtedly save lives and would be the most significant gun action the Senate has taken in nearly three decades,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y.

The plan also got a boost from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

“I’m comfortable with the framework,” McConnell said. “If the legislation ends up reflecting what the framework indicates, I will support it.”

A customer buys a gun at a sporting goods store.

A customer buys a gun at a sporting goods store.
(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

But some staunch gun supporters accused their fellow Republicans of selling out.

“I think Mitch McConnell and (Sen.) Lindsey Graham, RS.C. and others in the Senate: It’s your job to protect our Second Amendment rights. They are completely failing our base,” accused a furious representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. , R-Ga. “I am really upset with Republican senators who are willing to pass this. They are just helping Joe Biden pass his agenda.”

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It’s not just Republicans who have reservations. The Senate plan is a shadow of a tough gun control measure the House passed earlier this month that appealed to the left.

Progressives are concerned about flooding schools with guns and police.

“I want to learn more about the criminalization (of schools),” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y.

But other liberals are more open to the Senate plan.

“I support the main lines that I saw. And I will vote for that bill,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, DN.Y. “It’s a floor. Not a ceiling.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y., speaks to reporters Thursday, June 17, 2021, as she arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y., speaks to reporters Thursday, June 17, 2021, as she arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington.
(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

“We don’t live in a perfect world. But we live in a perfect world where compromise is necessary,” said representative Don Beyer, D-Va. “My dad always said, ‘You don’t go broke by taking a profit.’ And this is a small profit. But a win in the right direction.”

The push to curb gun violence comes five years after a gunman nearly killed House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Los Angeles, at a congressional baseball practice.

Scalise does not commit to the Senate package.

“Details matter. They matter a lot. So until we see details, that’s something we’re going to continue to watch to see what comes out of the Senate,” Scalise said.

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The early days of the Clinton administration. The Toronto Blue Jays. Roseana. Wayne’s world 2.

It has been nearly three decades since Congress last passed a major gun bill. Not everything is resolved. But there is a reason why almost 30 years have passed. That’s why lawmakers are rushing to finish this bill before the window of opportunity collapses.



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