WASHINGTON — Following the deadliest school shooting in a decade, a small group of Republican and Democratic senators have embarked on an urgent and arduous effort to compromise new gun laws, expressing hopes that a wave of collective outcry over the massacre of 19 children and two teachers could finally overcome a decade of congressional paralysis.
Members of the bipartisan group emerged from a closed meeting Thursday, determined to work quickly to try to reach an agreement on modest steps to limit access to weapons. They agreed to spend the Memorial Day recess examining a number of proposals, including ways to incentivize states to pass so-called red flag laws that aim to take firearms away from potentially dangerous people and expand criminal background checks. for gun buyers.
“We are at a point in this debate and in the gun violence trajectory where we need something,” said Connecticut Democrat Senator Christopher S. Murphy, who leads the talks. “We have to show progress. People are afraid. And so I’m probably a lot more willing to accept something smaller and more important, but incremental, than I was a few months after Sandy Hook.”
The massacre of 10 years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., had stark parallels to the massacre that took place this week at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The Sandy Hook shooting sparked an almost identical series of calls to action and displays of bipartisan determination on Capitol Hill, eventually pushing Congress on the brink of enacting bipartisan background check legislation in 2013. But the measure backfired in the Senate, with a majority of Republicans and a few Democrats in the opposition.
“Times are changing,” Senator Patrick J. Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican and a sponsor of that bill, said Thursday. “And there’s a possibility it could work this time.”
Leaders in both parties expressed tentative support for the effort, even as they sounded heavy tones of skepticism after years of failed Congressional efforts to tackle gun violence — each followed the same cycle of outrage and optimism for a deal that gave way. for partisan division and finally defeat.
Democrats said they would only let the talks go on until they insist that Republicans, who oppose or have blocked successive attempts at gun control measures, vote on the issue.
“We have no illusions that this will be easy — we have been burned in the past when Republicans pledged to debate only to break their promise,” said New York City Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader. “But even with great opportunity, the issue is so important, so raw to the American people, so personal to countless families who have missing children, that we need to take advantage of that opportunity.”
“Make no mistake,” he added, “if these negotiations fail in the near term, the Senate will vote on gun safety legislation.”
In an indication that Republicans believe the talks could potentially lead to an agreement, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, said he had asked Texas Senator John Cornyn, a close ally, to speak with Mr. Murphy. and other Democrats working towards a deal.
“I’m hopeful that we can come up with a two-pronged solution directly related to the facts of this horrific massacre,” McConnell told DailyExpertNews. He added: “I’m going to keep in touch with them, and hopefully we can get a result that can actually be passed and become law, rather than just scoring points back and forth.”
Mr Cornyn’s involvement indicated that Mr McConnell intends to closely monitor the discussions and give him the means to intervene if he deems it necessary to try to close a deal he considers politically dangerous. squelch or steer the talks toward something Republicans might accept .
In a stark reminder of the huge rift between the two parties over how to handle mass shootings in the United States, Republicans on Thursday blocked legislation introduced by Democrats to bolster the federal government’s efforts to fight domestic terrorism.
Democrats pushed the measure through the House last week in the wake of a racist massacre in Buffalo in which a gunman motivated by a white supremacist ideology killed 10 black people in a supermarket.
The bill, known as the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, would establish three new offices — each at the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security — to monitor, investigate and prosecute domestic terrorism. It would require bi-annual reports assessing the domestic terrorism threat posed by white supremacists, with a particular focus on combating “white supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration of the uniformed services.”
It was first introduced in 2017, but Democratic leaders quickly resurfaced after the Buffalo shooting. In that shooting, the shooter appeared to be inspired by the white supremacist “great replacement” theory, which holds that Western elites plan to disarm whites by replacing them with people of color.
Following the shooting at a school in Uvalde this week, Democratic leaders have drafted the Domestic Terrorism Act as the best means of swift action against gun violence prevention measures. Mr. Schumer promised to facilitate debate on proposed changes to both parties’ bill to address gun violence, if Republicans allow.
But in a party vote, Senate Republicans even balked at the measure, arguing that the bill was unnecessary and defined extremism in a way that could be interpreted too broadly by law enforcement. The vote was 47 to 47, leaving Democrats short of the 60 votes needed to move forward on the bill.
Its failure meant the Senate headed for the Memorial Day recess without any legislative action to address the two mass shootings.
Democrats have instead pinned their hopes on gun safety legislation on the two-party negotiations led by Mr. Murphy. Multiple senators said they preferred to see if a deal could be struck before another ballot was held on legislation doomed to fail in an evenly divided Senate.
“We’ve all made clear here many times where we stand on individual legislation,” said New Mexico Democrat Sen. Martin Heinrich. “What we haven’t done is legislated a damn lot of times, so I’m just trying to be open-minded.”
Murphy, who had asked Mr. Schumer for time to continue negotiations, hosted a group of senators at his hideout in the basement of the Capitol on Thursday, including several veterans of failed gun law negotiations.
In an interview later that day, Mr. Murphy admitted he was embarking on a difficult task: trying to find a solution to gun violence that 10 Republicans could get behind, enough to break a filibuster.
“We’re trying to get enough Republicans in the room, maybe not to get 60 guaranteed votes, but to have a much better shot,” he said. “And we’re realistic too.”
Republicans at the meeting included Mr. Toomey and Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; another Republican, Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, called out. Other Democrats in attendance included Mr. Heinrich and Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
The participants claimed that the inflamed images of Uvalde had created a new sense of urgency.
“This feels different,” said Mr. Manchin, nearly ten years after he and Mr. Toomey was working on background check legislation that failed to release a Senate filibuster. He added: “I have never been in this frame of mind. I can’t get my grandchildren out of my mind.”
The range of options senators are considering is narrower and more incremental than the gun-security measures Democrats and activists have called for in the past, such as bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
For example, Mr Graham said he was focusing on creating a grant program to incentivize states to enact red flag laws, which are designed to ban potentially dangerous people from having guns. A federal red flag law, he said, would be a no-start.
Florida Senator Rick Scott, a tough Republican, has also been in touch with Democrats in recent days about red flag laws, Murphy said.
Senators also discussed measures to expand background checks and provide additional support for school security, an issue Republicans have focused heavily on in the wake of the Uvalde shooting.
Talks were expected to continue during the break, with senators breaking into groups to discuss specific issues.
“We’re just beginning to figure out if there’s a way to come to a consensus,” said Mr. Toomey, “and we’ll see where it takes us.”