Senate negotiators struck a bipartisan agreement Sunday on a series of gun safety measures that falls far short of reforms sought by President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats, but still represents a rare step forward on firearms in the evenly divided Senate.
The agreement was jointly announced by the offices of two Democrats and two Republicans, including Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a Democrat who has been a leading voice for gun legislation since the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre of 26 children and educators in his old U.S. House district.
The measure endorsed by a working group of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, would enhance background checks for buyers under age 21 and create a “red flag” tool to allow the seizure of firearms from troubled individuals.
The so-called “boyfriend loophole” in NICS, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, would be closed by requiring that domestic violence records and restraining orders be included.
“That’s very significant, the boyfriend loophole,” said Jeremy Stein, the executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence.
The summary also says the senators agreed on tougher penalties for “criminals who illegally straw purchase and traffic guns.” It also would invest “in programs to help institute safety measures in and around primary and secondary schools, support school violence prevention efforts and provide training to school personnel and students.”
But the details of exactly what that would mean were sparse, and it was clear the agreement did not include universal background checks for the purchase of firearms or restrict the sale of the military-style weapons and large-capacity magazines commonly used in mass shootings.
The deal comes after recent back-to-back mass shootings targeting Black shoppers in Buffalo and a school in Uvalde, Texas.
“Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities,” the senators said. “Our plan increases needed mental health resources, improves school safety and support for students, and helps ensure dangerous criminals and those who are adjudicated as mentally ill can’t purchase weapons.”
The second portion addresses gun owners.
“Most importantly, our plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans,” the senators said. “We look forward to earning broad, bipartisan support and passing our commonsense proposal into law.”
Stein, a former prosecutor who advocates for gun controls as the leader of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, struck a cautious note, praising a bipartisan deal as historic, while awaiting further details.
“I think it is a significant step in the right direction, but at the same time we still need to be doing more,” Stein said. “While this is a historical moment where we’re finally putting the safety of America before guns, we still have significant work to be done, including universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.”
Stein said Connecticut’s laws should be a model for the rest of the nation.
Murphy, who was not available for comment, had challenged the Senate to end its stalemate after the Uvalde shooting.
“What are we doing? Just days after a shooter walked into a grocery store to gun down African American patrons, we have another Sandy Hook on our hands,” Murphy said. “What are we doing?”
The Democratic caucus members behind the compromise are Murphy, Blumenthal, Krysten Sinema of Arizona, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Chris Coons of Delaware, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats.
The Republicans are John Cornyn of Texas, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.