Senate GOP signals an openness to talking about gun legislation
Senate Republicans are signaling an openness to talks with Democrats on gun violence in the aftermath of back-to-back mass shootings.
As pressure builds around gun reform on Capitol Hill following the shootings, Republican leaders have encouraged talks exploring a potential bipartisan course of action amid discussion on measures ranging from red flag legislation to background checks.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told CNN on Thursday that he tapped Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who recently returned to his home state after the Tuesday shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, to participate in bipartisan talks.
“What I’ve asked Sen. Cornyn to do is to meet with the Democrats who are interested in getting a bipartisan solution and come up with a proposal, if possible, that’s crafted to meet this particular problem,” he said, stressing proposals directly related to the Uvalde shooting.
Other GOP leaders have also said they’re supportive of bipartisan talks, while similarly pushing back on broad proposals that stray in focus from recent gun violence.
“I think that we have to at least listen to each other and see if there’s a path forward where we might be able to find solutions that actually address the problem,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican in the upper chamber.
Many Republicans were resistant to Democratic-led calls for gun reform last week, following a racist shooting at a store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 10 people.
But Democrats say more Republicans are expressing interest in a possible compromise as the issue of gun violence garners more public attention in the days following the Texas shooting, which left 19 children and two teachers dead.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who has been helping lead bipartisan talks around gun reform along with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), estimated on Thursday that about six to 12 Republicans have “indicated serious interest,” particularly on red flag legislation.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a national group focused on preventing gun violence, 19 states have implemented such laws designed to keep people at risk of harming themselves or others from temporarily accessing firearms.
There’s also interest in pursuing proposals to expand background checks, like the bipartisan legislation Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) previously brought up years back that sought to mandate background checks for all gun commercial sales.
“That is the centerpiece as far as I’m concerned of what might be done, and frankly there’s not much more than that that can be done,” Toomey told The Hill on Wednesday, adding that a red flag bill is “possible” but would be a “tough” lift.
Last week, Manchin also previously pointed to his and Toomey’s proposal, which also included exemptions for certain exchanges involving friends and family, as the best chance for passage in the 50-50 Senate. But he noted then that the Senate “can’t even get” that legislation, which was first introduced months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.
However, as talks have gained more steam in recent days, Manchin has appeared more optimistic about a potential compromise, telling reporters that it’s “encouraging” to see bipartisanship in current discussions.
“This feels different right now,” Manchin said on Thursday.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said on Thursday that recent comments from McConnell signaled “a glimmer of hope,” while noting Cornyn “was the person who helped find the last fix that we did on the background check system.”
Cornyn previously worked with Murphy on legislation aimed at strengthening reporting to the National Instant Background Check System following a mass shooting at a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church in 2017. Former President Trump signed off on the measure the following year as part of a government funding bill.
Additional proposals that have come up in talks include measures to incentivize states that adopt red flag legislation.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who introduced a bipartisan bill with the same aim following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., in 2018, told The Hill on Thursday that he recently talked to Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, and Thune about the measure.
Thune told reporters he thinks there’s a “general feeling” among Republicans that “it’s better to incentivize [states] than to come up with a national or federal, any kind of a federal requirement. We’ll see where that goes.”
Murphy said on Thursday that he’s still “trying to game out what’s possible” in talks with Republicans, which he added will continue through the coming recess.
“I’m glad that, today, there’s a lot of potential Republican partners who want to listen, who want to engage. There’s a sense of urgency, and then we move to specifics,” he said.
But other Democrats say they aren’t holding their breath just yet on chances of a compromise.
“I’ll believe that there are Republicans in the Senate who are ready to attack gun violence head on when I see it, and not before,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said on Thursday afternoon.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) also sang a similar tune, noting past inaction on gun reform on a national scale following mass shootings over the years.
“The truth of the matter is, from Columbine to Parkland to Newtown, now down in Texas, we haven’t seen any change here on the federal level,” he said. “So, we’ll see.”