Follow Us:

Baby steps

Sunday’s announcement by US Senate negotiators that they had agreed on a bi-partisan outline for a narrow cache of gun safety measures is a critical step towards ending a prolonged Congressional impasse over the issue.

Statesman News Service |

Sunday’s announcement by US Senate negotiators that they had agreed on a bi-partisan outline for a narrow cache of gun safety measures is a critical step towards ending a prolonged Congressional impasse over the issue. The measures can boast sufficient support through the evenly divided chamber. The blueprint has been endorsed by 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats and it envisages funding for mental health resources, strengthening school safety, and grants for states to implement what they call “red flag laws” that allow the authorities to confiscate guns from people deemed to be dangerous. 

Also to be expanded is America’s background check system to include juvenile records for any prospective gun buyer under the age of 21. More basically, it includes a provision to address what is known as the “boyfriend loophole”. This is intended to prohibit dating partners ~ not just spouses ~ from owning guns if they had been convicted of domestic violence. The criminal background checks will cover convicted abusers of domestic violence and individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders. 

The outline, which is yet to be finalized, falls short of the sweeping reforms that President Joe Biden along with gun control activists and a majority of congressional Democrats have for long championed. But it excludes a ban on assault weapons. It is nowhere near as sweeping as a package of gun control measures passed nearly along party lines in the House of Representatives last week. This will ban the sale of semi-automatic weapons to people under the age of 21, prohibit the sale of large-capacity magazines, and implement a federal red flag law. But it does amount to notable, if narrow progress, considering the deep party divisions over how to address gun violence. 

Efforts to approve gun reform have repeatedly failed on Capitol Hill, where Republicans have thwarted action for years. In a sense, such opposition and the strident campaign for reform of gun laws do reflect the legislative fracture. Sunday’s backing of 10 Republicans for the outline would suggest that it could scale an obstacle that no other proposal currently under discussion has been able to. It has drawn the 60 votes necessary to break through a GOP filibuster and survive to see what they call an “up or down” vote on the floor of the Senate. 

It is significant that the gun violence agreement was announced on the sixth anniversary of the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, where a gunman killed 49 people. “Today we are announcing a common-sense, bipartisan proposal to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country,” the 20 Senators said in a joint statement. “Families are scared and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities.” While the signal of intent is welcome, America will have to walk the talk.