Senate gun law proposal is unloaded but may disarm anti-violence activists

The US Senate has announced a bipartisan proposal to pass the first national gun violence prevention policies in decades but some are questioning if the bipartisan legislation will have any impact without a ban on large-capacity magazines or military-style weapons or universal background checks.

U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) say they have agreed to a “a commonsense proposal” to curb gun violence in the wake of the devastating mass shooting in Ulvade, Texas, that left 21 people dead at Robb Elementary School.

“What I’m interested in is keeping guns out of the hands of those who, by current law, are not supposed to have them,” Cornyn said. “People with mental health problems, people … who have criminal records. Again, this is about the art of the possible.”

Today, over 200 leading voices in the entertainment industry signed an open letter published in Variety, agreeing to creatively depict firearms in ways that do not glamorize violence.

The letter follows several weeks of high-profile mass shootings and an outpouring of concern from Americans of all walks of life who want to see an end to gun violence.

The letter is a recognition that all Americans are able to take action to address gun violence, and that the stories and imagery created by the entertainment industry has a unique power to effect positive change.

In a major development, 10 Republicans are among a bipartisan group of 20 senators who signed onto the bipartisan framework, which means any legislation based on its principles has a good chance of mustering 60 votes and overcoming a filibuster on the Senate floor.

Democrats have been pushing for restrictions that include universal background checks and raising the age to purchase a firearm.

The nine-point bipartisan plan would send federal resources to set up red flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of people deemed dangerous to the community, invest billions of dollars in children and family mental health services, fund school-based mental health services, fund new safety measures at schools and strengthen criminal background check requirements for gun buyers younger than 21.

The bipartisan framework would establish a waiting period for purchases for individuals under 21 years old, close the deadly so-called “boyfriend” loophole, strengthen requirements for gun sellers to obtain a federal firearms license, and establish clear penalties for straw purchases and gun trafficking, and more.

The policies included in the framework are supported by the vast majority of Americans. They address easy access to firearms that too often results in tragedy and also invest in mental health solutions in communities across the country.

The tentative deal includes a mix of modest gun control proposals and funding for mental health.

It would incentivize states to pass “red flag” laws, which are designed to keep guns out of the hands of individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others; boost funding for mental health services, telehealth resources and more school security; permit juvenile records to be incorporated into background checks for purchasers under the age of 21; and crack down on the straw purchase and trafficking of guns.

David Hogg, a March For Our Lives co-founder and survivor of a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., is applauding a bipartisan group of senators for their framework on a gun reform package, saying it should not be the end of Congress’s work on the issue.

“We’ve said this time is different, and it’s clear it is,” said the 22-year-old Hogg, right after the senators announced their deal on Sunday. “Thousands of Americans this weekend, including Democrats, Republicans, and gun owners in 450 cities made clear that the Senate must bring this plan to a vote. We cannot wait any longer–lives literally hang in the balance.”

“We need to be clear: there is more work to be done to save more lives, including requiring background checks for every single gun purchase nationwide. This bill, the first of its kind in 30 years, should be the beginning and not the end of Congress’ work,” Hogg said. “We must build upon the life-saving foundation it provides to go further and expand these laws until we bring an end to the epidemic of gun violence.”

“We applaud this bipartisan coalition, led by Sens. Murphy and Cornyn, for leading this push to address our nation’s raging gun violence crisis, and we call on their colleagues to answer the call of history, and honor the victims and survivors of gun violence with long-overdue action,” said John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety.

“Every day, more than 110 Americans are killed with guns, so it is well past the time for Congress to enact lifesaving measures that restrict firearms and ammunition, so they do not end up in the hands of criminals, terrorists or deranged maniacs like those who have shot up our schools, churches and shopping markets,” said gun safety advocate Lisa McCormick.

Extreme risk laws provide families, household members, and law enforcement agencies with the ability to petition courts for an “extreme risk protection order” (“ERPO”), a civil (non-criminal) order to temporarily suspend a person’s access to firearms before they commit violence.

ERPOs temporarily disarm people at risk of harming themselves or others and have been shown to prevent mass shootings and gun suicides. These laws fill a critical gap in the law while ensuring critical legal protections for respondents. 19 states and the District of Columbia have adopted extreme risk laws, many passing with bipartisan support.

Under current federal law, a purchaser must be 21 years old to purchase a handgun from a federally licensed firearms dealer but only 18 years old to purchase rifles or shotguns, including semiautomatic assault rifles.

Young people disproportionately commit gun homicides: 18-20-year-olds comprise just 4% of the US population, but account for 17% of known homicide offenders.

Under current federal law, a licensed gun dealer may transfer a firearm to a prospective purchaser as soon as he or she passes a background check. If the background check system is unable to complete the check within three business days, the dealer may complete the transfer by default.

The deal would continue to allow a person under age 21 to purchase a long gun, but would require additional investigative steps to review juvenile records and the opportunity to consult with local law enforcement.

“While this agreement does not include strong gun safety policies many of us have been demanding, such as universal background checks or a ban on large capacity magazines, it does promise to establish a grants-to-states program for extreme risk laws, reduce the dangerous dating partner loophole, and establish an enhanced background checks review process for 18- to 21-year-olds to purchase long guns,” said McCormick.

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