Senator Chris Murphy is on the bipartisan committee for gun control legislation.

Senator Chris Murphy is on the bipartisan committee for gun control legislation.

US Senators Tackle Gun Legislation

It has been 28 years since meaningful gun control legislation was passed in Washington.

Senator Chris Murphy is on the bipartisan committee for gun control legislation.
Senator Chris Murphy is on the bipartisan committee for gun control legislation.

Bipartisan group drafts framework to implement gun control.

As we go to press, let us note that some Democrats and progressive, anti-gun groups are encouraged by the appearance of federal action in response to the recent mass murders of African American shoppers in Buffalo, NY, of 19 schoolchildren in Uvalde, TX, and of other groups of innocent children and adults elsewhere around the country.

A bipartisan group of 10 Democratic and 10 Republican senators, led by Chris Murphy (D-CT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) say they have reached agreement on “a framework” of gun control legislation.

This framework is considered remarkable primarily because it has been 28 years since meaningful gun control legislation was passed in Washington, when the 1994 assault weapons ban was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. That ban expired after 10 years, and the GOP, controlling the Senate in 2004, refused to renew it, resulting in a fast and steady resurgence of mass murders in the United States.

Strange Bedfellows

The group who have been meeting represent very different constituencies: Democrats who support serious gun control laws, and Republicans who support the NRA’s opposition to all such laws. Murphy and his Connecticut colleague, Richard Blumenthal, have worked avidly for such legislation since the Newtown massacre of 26 elementary school children and their teachers in Connecticut in 2012

Cornyn, on the other hand, is the proud owner of an “A+ Rating” from the National Rifle Association. He is described by the NRA as supporting gun shows; the right to carry weapons on federal lands; legislation that protects gun manufacturers and dealers from being sued; and opposes the District of Columbia’s ban on gun ownership, “universal” background checks; any bans on semi-automatic weapons and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

In reaching their “framework agreement,” therefore, it’s essential to note that few, if any, of the bill’s ideas actually control guns. Instead they make tepid advances toward restricting a small number of people from acquiring an even smaller number of gun types for an even smaller number of reasons: mental instability, age (under 21), and interstate sales.

Specifics of the Framework

The proposal would clarify when people selling guns need to be federally licensed dealers, though it would not restrict private sales or many gun show sales. “Enhanced background checks” would be required for purchases of some types of guns, and “a pause” would be established before sales could take place to anyone under age 21 trying to buy guns.

One feature actually could make a difference: a new federal law to address the trafficking of firearms for sale between states.

“I’ve talked to many legal experts who say this might be the most important piece of our compromise bill, because finally we’re going to have federal tools to go after the traffickers who buy all their weapons in South Carolina or Georgia, and bring them up to Hartford and sell them on the streets of this city,” Murphy said. “We finally have a tool to go after the gun traffickers who are flooding our cities with weapons.”

And, among other provisions, the framework would provide federal funding incentives for states to implement red flag laws to allow for courts to direct removal of firearms from people determined to be of significant risk to themselves and others.

While incentives would “encourage” states to set up such laws, no national red flag provision is proposed. As a result, it would still be up to state legislatures to enact such laws, and most state houses controlled by Republicans have exhibited little inclination to do so. No source or amount of such incentive funding has been specified.

The senators suggest—but don’t promise—that there will, in fact, be increased funding available to implement the legislation. Murphy, a member of the Appropriations Committee, notes, “We haven’t put any numbers out yet … but it’s safe to say we are talking about billions of dollars in mental health spending … and much of that money will be targeted to schools and to underserved communities.”

People Control, Not Gun Control

Underserved communities, however, are not the only ones that need funding for mental health. In fact, it is middle- or working-class white boys between 17 and 25 who commit nearly all school shootings and a vast majority of all other mass shootings. They may indeed be in need of mental health treatment—clearly they’re crazed with anger, hatred, self-loathing, racism, and, likely, other unresolved issues having to do with their masculinity and self-image—but they do not come from, or live in, “underserved communities” in the inner cities.

They are white suburban boy-men who—sometimes in their own public statements—resent the fact that people who don’t look like them have an opportunity to succeed, or enjoy supportive families, or benefit from government programs that make up for 10 generations of government oppression. They are, to put it bluntly, insecure, inadequate, unstable white supremacists or sympathizers.

What to Expect

The bottom line of this “framework” is this: the likelihood that legislation will be passed in the US Senate is still very small. Because of the filibuster, minority Republicans hold absolute power over majority Democrats.

Further, the gun lobby’s fingerprints, though hidden, are all over the bill, despite the insistence of negotiators that the NRA and other gun-rights groups have not weighed in. They don’t need to: the senators who are on the take, including North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, know the consequences if they step an inch out of line.

The two men, among the greediest of NRA senators, have received almost $12 million from the NRA during their government “service.” And while both have signed off on the “framework,” neither has committed to an actual vote for an actual bill, if one emerges.

If Not Now, When?

Because the urgency of “now” fades quickly in Washington, an actual bill will need to be written by June 18 to have any chance of passing before the July Fourth recess. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-NY, has promised high priority for any legislation that does emerge.

Speaking Monday on the Senate floor, Schumer praised the framework released Sunday, saying there is “a lot of work left to do before we actually pass a bill.” He said he will put the bill on the floor “as soon as possible” once it’s written.

 

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