WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday said he is comfortable with the bipartisan deal Senate Democrats and Republicans struck on gun control legislation, signaling that he will join in passing a bill when it comes to a vote.
“For myself, I’m comfortable with the framework,” the Kentucky Republican said during a press conference. “And if the legislation ends up reflecting what the framework indicates, I’ll be supportive.”
The push for gun legislation follows the second-deadliest school shooting in a decade, in which 19 children and two teachers were murdered in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24. It followed another mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, on May 14, where a white supremacist targeted a Black neighborhood and killed 10 Black people at a grocery store.
A bipartisan group of 20 senators — including 10 Republicans, the number needed to advance a bill past a filibuster — announced a framework early Sunday and are quickly moving to draft the bill’s specific wording, or text.
The lead Democrat on the framework, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, said a component of the bill would be an expansion of mental health, with somewhere in the billions for funding. But he did not give more details on how much money will be provided for those services.
“Given the opportunity to spend billions of dollars fixing our mental health system, we would be foolish not to take up that opportunity,” he told reporters Tuesday. “We certainly haven’t announced any numbers — we’re still working on that.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said on the Senate floor that once there is legislative text for the bill, he will quickly call a vote, aiming for passage before the July 4 recess.
“The bipartisan framework is far from perfect, but if passed it will unquestionably save lives and would be the most significant action on guns that the Senate has taken in nearly three decades,” he said.
“This is the best chance we’ve had in years to finally tell the American people that, yes, after the horrifying tragedies of Uvalde and Buffalo, this time, this time will be different.”
The framework would provide funding to states to establish red flag laws, which allow the courts or law enforcement to temporarily remove a firearm from an individual who is distressed and poses a harm to either themselves or someone else.
It would also close the “boyfriend” gun purchase loophole by requiring convicted domestic violence abusers and those subject to domestic violence restraining orders be included in background checks, including “those who have or have had a continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.”
It would also allocate funding for school resources such as mental health and violence prevention programs and require gun buyers under 21 to undergo a background check that includes a review of juvenile and mental health records.
Access to juvenile records
Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican who is part of the bipartisan coalition, said that an important component of the bill is having access to juvenile records if someone under 21 wants to purchase an assault weapon.
Democrats tried to raise the age of purchasing an assault weapon, the type of firearm used in most mass shootings, from 18 to 21, but the provision was stripped out during negotiations. The legal age to buy a handgun is 21.
“The person in Uvalde, who on his 18th birthday underwent a background check to buy a gun, and since you have no earlier records from 18 available, it’s like that person was born that day,” Blunt said at a press conference.
Blunt said the group is hoping to have the bill text written by the end of this week or next.
The Democratic-controlled House passed its own gun control package last week, but it has little chance of being brought to the Senate floor for a vote.
That collection of earlier bills raises the age of purchasing semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21, creates new requirements for storing guns in a home with children, prevents gun trafficking, requires all firearms to be traceable and closes the loophole on bump stocks, devices that increase the rate of fire of semiautomatic weapons, among other things.
The White House and Democratic leaders signaled their support for the Senate framework on Monday, and all pushed for more to be done.
“The framework announced this weekend would be a major step in the fight to save lives,” Georgia Congresswoman Lucy McBath, a leading advocate on gun safety issues, said in a statement Tuesday. “Gun violence is the challenge of our lifetime and the issue of our era, and we must do all we can to keep our loved ones safe, our families together, and our communities whole.”
The last time Congress passed major gun control legislation was in 1994, when former President Bill Clinton signed into law a ban on assault rifles, but it was temporary and ended in 2004.
The Senate Democrats and one independent in the bipartisan group along with Murphy are Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Chris Coons of Delaware, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Angus King of Maine, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.
The 10 Senate Republicans in the bipartisan group, including Blunt, are John Cornyn of Texas, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Gun rights groups
The National Rifle Association issued a statement following the announcement of the bipartisan agreement saying that the organization would not comment on the framework.
“We will make our position known when the full text of the bill is available for review,” NRA wrote in a statement. “The NRA will continue to oppose any effort to insert gun control policies, initiatives that override constitutional due process protections and efforts to deprive law-abiding citizens of their fundamental right to protect themselves and their loved ones into this or any other legislation.”
But another large gun rights group, the Gun Owners of America, has already come out opposing the framework and is pressuring senators to oppose the deal.
“There is absolutely NO compromise acceptable to (Gun Owners of America),” the organization wrote in a statement. “These are our rights, and we shouldn’t surrender an inch of them to anyone.”
Georgia Recorder Deputy Editor Jill Nolin contributed to this report.