WASHINGTON (UKTN) — The country has long endured a numbing succession of mass shootings at schools, houses of worship and public gathering places. None have forced Congress to respond with significant legislation – so far.
Last month, a white shooter was racially charged in the murder of 10 black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. Another gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
The killings of shoppers and school children just 10 days apart — innocent people engaged in everyday activities — have helped spark visceral public demand for Congress to do something, lawmakers from both parties say. Negotiators have produced a bipartisan gun violence bill that the Senate is set to approve later this week, with House action expected sometime after.
Here’s a look at the confluence of factors that helped produce a compromise.
It is an election year. Republicans are favored to take control of the House, now tightly controlled by Democrats, and have a solid chance of winning the Senate 50-50.
To bolster their chances, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., knows they need to attract moderate voters like the suburban women who will decide competitive races in states like Arizona, Georgia , Nevada and North Carolina.
Taking steps to reduce bloody shootings helps the GOP demonstrate that it is responsive and reasonable — an image tarnished by former President Donald Trump and hard-right Holocaust deniers from his 2020 election defeat.
Emphasizing the accent he prefers, McConnell hailed the gun deal, ostensibly telling reporters on Wednesday that he is taking significant steps to address “the two issues that I think he is focusing on, the school safety and mental health”.
The bill would spend $8.6 billion on mental health programs and more than $2 billion on safety and other school improvements, according to a cost estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Analysts put its overall cost at around $13 billion, more than paid for by the budget savings it also claims.
But it also makes juvenile records of gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 20 part of the background checks required to buy guns, prohibits guns for convicted domestic abusers who are not married or do not live with their victims and increases the penalties for the trafficking of firearms. It funds violence prevention programs and helps states implement laws that help authorities temporarily remove guns from people deemed to be at risk.
DEMOCRATS WANT A MIDDLE PITCH TOO
The measure lacks stronger restrictions supported by Democrats, such as a ban on assault rifles used in Buffalo, Uvalde and other massacres and the high-capacity ammunition magazines used by those shooters.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.N.Y., said Wednesday that this time, Democrats have decided they won’t “hold a vote on a bill with a lot of things that we would like but that had no hope of being adopted”. This has been the pattern for years.
Democratic senses Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and Republican senses John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, led negotiators in talks that lasted four weeks. Their agreement is the most significant congressional action against gun violence since the now-expired assault weapons ban enacted in 1993.
For nearly 30 years, “both parties sat in their respective corners, decided it was politically safer to do nothing than take risks,” Murphy told reporters. He said Democrats needed to show “we were willing to put some things on the table that took us out of our comfort zone.
GUN RIGHTS VOTERS
Gun rights advocates are disproportionately Republican, and the party crosses them at its peril. Trump, possibly preparing for a presidential election in 2024, issued a statement calling the compromise “the first step in the movement to TAKE DOWN YOUR GUNS.”
McConnell was careful to say that the measure “does not in any way affect the rights of the overwhelming majority of American gun owners who are sane, law-abiding citizens.”
Even so, the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups oppose compromise in what will be a test of their influence.
Supporting this legislation may not condemn Republicans with pro-gun voters.
McConnell and Cornyn spoke about GOP polls showing gun owners overwhelmingly support many of the bill’s provisions. And those voters are likely to be angry about sky-high gas prices and inflation and might vote Republican anyway.
VICTORIES FOR BOTH SIDES
About two-thirds of the 50 Republicans in the Senate are expected to oppose the gun measure. But congressional approval would be a GOP victory in preventing Democrats from using gun violence in their campaigns, Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said. “Taking this off the table as a potential issue for Democrats puts the focus back on inflation and the economy,” Newhouse said.
That’s not the case, according to Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin. He said the endorsement will allow Democrats to tout success in leading Congress and demonstrate they can work across party lines. Democrats can still campaign against Republicans for opposing tougher measures like assault weapons restrictions, issues where “Democrats clearly have high political ground,” Garin said.
Fourteen Republicans, including Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted on Tuesday to move the legislation one step closer to passage. It’s probably telling that she and Indiana Sen. Todd Young were the only two to be re-elected that fall. Three are retiring and eight, including McConnell, Cornyn and Tillis, will not race again until 2026.
WHAT THE LEGISLATIVES HEARD
The senators say they were struck by a different vibe back home.
Democratic Senate No. 2 leader Richard Durbin of Illinois said some people he’s known for a long time told him that ‘maybe it’s time to get my kids out of this country’ , which he called incredible. families are” after the recent shootings.
“What I heard for the first time was ‘Do something,'” Murkowski said. “And it wasn’t ‘Ban this, do that’, it was ‘Do something’.”
It was not true for everyone. Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana, where guns are hugely popular, said of his constituents, “They want to make sure their Second Amendment rights are upheld,” the constitutional provision that allows people to keep firearms.
UK Time News writer Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report.