Much Ado About Nothing
The Washington Post headline, Gun Deal In Senate Moves Closer To Reality After Key Snags Resolved makes the featherweight deal appear somehow consequential. It isn't. The only thing that could make the country safer from gun mayhem is if Republicans get mad enough about it-- and I'm not advocating this-- that they lynch John Cornyn. So far all they've done is boo him and censure him. Cornyn, a gun nut working to pass a nothing-burger of a bill to give senators some kind of cover-- with the help of mass media toadies-- told the Texas Republican Party convention that he "fought and kept President Biden’s gun grabbing wish list off the table. Democrats pushed for an assault weapons ban, I said no. They tried to get a new three-week mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases, I said no. Universal background checks, magazine bans, licensing requirements, the list goes on and on and on. And I said no, no, 1,000 times no."
All true-- he said no to every single thing that would have been effective in protecting the country... and the Democrats kissed his ass for throwing them some crumbs and the Republicans want to kill him. And the media is fawning over the outrageous nothing-deal as though it means something. But if NRA extremists were to gun him and his family down-- or any bunch of GOP senators-- perhaps, just perhaps, the Senate would perhaps move and do their duty. They didn't do squat when Blue Dog Gabby Giffords was shot in the head by a far right extremist at a campaign event-- but she was only a House member and a Democratic one at that.
Mike Debonis and Leigh Ann Caldwell reported yesterday that the deal "would toughen federal gun laws and provide billions of dollars in new money to prevent future mass shootings." It toughens nothing of anything remotely significant and will prevent nothing at all. But the Washington Post needs some drama:
The breakthrough came more than a week after 20 senators-- 10 from each party-- signed on to a framework agreement that coupled modest new gun restrictions with some $15 billion in new federal funding for mental health programs and school security upgrades.
While agreement from 10 Republican senators on a deal in principle was a clear breakthrough, signaling there could be enough GOP support to beat a Senate filibuster, it did not guarantee that the negotiators would succeed in translating those elements into final text. But with the key disputes resolved, people involved in the negotiations said the text of the bill is set to be released as soon as Tuesday afternoon, with an initial Senate procedural vote coming just hours afterward.
If passed, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act would enact the most significant new gun restrictions since the 1990s, though it falls well short of the broader gun-control measures that President Biden and other Democrats have called for, such as a new assault weapons ban or restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
One sticking point resolved over the weekend concerned the “boyfriend loophole”-- a gap in current federal law that prevents domestic violence offenders from purchasing firearms if their victims were either their spouses or partners with whom they had lived or had children. The framework proposed expanding that class to include offenders who have been in a “continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature” with their victims.
Defining precisely what constitutes such a relationship, however, was challenging, as was addressing GOP desires to create a process allowing offenders to have their gun rights restored.
According to draft text of the provision obtained by the Washington Post, the bill would bar a misdemeanor domestic-violence offender who has a “current or recent former dating relationship with the victim” from owning or buying a gun. [What about Eric Greitens?]
What constitutes a “dating relationship” is not precisely defined in the draft text, which would instead allow courts to make that determination based on the length and nature of the relationship, as well as “the frequency and type of interaction” between the people involved. The text excludes “casual acquaintanceship or ordinary fraternization in a business or social context.”
Those offenders would be automatically entitled to regain their gun rights after five years as long as they do not commit any further violent misdemeanors or other disqualifying offenses.
Negotiations over the legislation have bumped up against a self-imposed deadline of getting the bill written and onto the Senate floor this week, so that it can be debated and passed before a scheduled two-week recess begins Thursday. Although leadership aides say that senators could stay a day or two longer to complete work on the bill, a longer delay has been seen as untenable by senators of both parties.
Despite the broad public popularity of the gun provisions in question, Republicans are facing a brewing backlash from the most conservative elements of their voting base.
Democrats, for their part, are wary of getting mired in protracted negotiations due to deep skepticism of the GOP’s willingness to consummate a gun deal. They also fear that it could sap political capital from their other priorities this summer-- including a possible resurrection of Biden’s party-line economic agenda, previously known as Build Back Better.
After their last in-person meeting Thursday, the four lead negotiators-- Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Thom Tillis (R-NC)-- pledged to work throughout the weekend to bring a deal to fruition.
Murphy, the lead Democratic negotiator, struck an optimistic note, saying progress continued. “We’ll find a way to get this done,” he said. But Cornyn, the lead GOP negotiator, publicly took a harder line, telling reporters on his way out of the room that he was “done” negotiating on key sticking points before he left for Texas for the weekend.
The next day, in Houston, Cornyn was heartily booed as he gave a speech to the Republican Party of Texas’s annual convention-- a vivid public display of the considerable political risk he and other Republicans are assuming by merely floating a deal to tighten federal gun laws.
...As the talks wore on last week, there was reason to think the deal could remain insulated from a right-wing backlash. For one, the framework won tentative backing last week from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)-- an important public vote of confidence from a powerful GOP player who had played a key role in snuffing out previous attempts at compromise. Of the 10 Republicans who signed onto the framework last week, four are not seeking reelection, and five others are not up for reelection until 2026.
Still, turning the framework into legislation proved to be difficult.
Besides the “boyfriend loophole” issues, another tricky area concerned federal grants to states that Democrats have publicly pitched as an effort to encourage red-flag laws, which allow authorities to keep guns away from people judged to represent a danger to themselves or others.
Many conservatives are deeply skeptical of those laws, so Republicans insisted on structuring the grants so that the money would be equally available to states that pass red-flag laws and those that do not.
According to a summary of the draft bill, an existing Justice Department grant program would be expanded to allow funding for state “crisis intervention programs,” including not only red-flag laws but also drug courts and veterans’ courts. The bill provides $750 million in new funding for those programs, the summary said.
The third major gun provision concerned how background checks are handled for gun buyers under 21. While that group is already barred from purchasing handguns, people over 18 can still buy rifles and shotguns, including the military-style semiautomatic rifles that have been used in numerous recent mass shootings.
The framework deal included an agreement to require a search of juvenile justice and mental health records for the youngest gun buyers for the first time. But because of disparate state systems and standards for searching and maintaining juvenile records, negotiators struggled with the mechanics of that provision.
The bill will include an “enhanced search” window for gun buyers under 21 to allow local authorities to scour confidential databases, according to the bill summary, with a total of ten business days available to complete a review of those young buyers if an initial search raises a potentially disqualifying issue.
While that structure stands to be especially contentious for gun rights advocates, who have long opposed the prospect of creating a de facto waiting period for purchasing a gun, the “enhanced search” provision is set to expire after 10 years-- after which, the bill’s architects envision, juvenile records will be routinely incorporated into the existing instant background-check system.
Other provisions include new federal gun-trafficking offenses and a broader definition of which gun sellers are required to register for a federal firearms license, which in turn would require them to conduct background checks on their customers.
Other elements of the framework included creating a broader network of “community behavioral health centers,” more federal support for in-school intervention programs, broader access to telehealth services for those in a mental health crisis and new funding for school security programs.
The new spending is offset through a one-year delay of a Medicare drug-rebate provision. According to the bill summary, the federal savings are estimated at $20.9 billion, which is being used to fund more than a dozen new mental health and school security programs. A Republican aide familiar with the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly describe the talks said the bill will not spend the full offset, only up to $15 billion.