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U.S. senators strike initial agreement to address gun violence

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators announced Sunday a framework for potential legislation on gun safety, in response to recent mass shootings in parts of the country.

The outline includes measured gun curbs, and bolstered efforts to improve school safety and mental health programs.

“Our plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans,” the group, led by Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy and Texas Republican John Cornyn, said in a statement. “We look forward to earning broad, bipartisan support and passing our commonsense proposal into law.”

The proposal falls short of tougher steps long sought by President Joe Biden and many Democrats.

In a statement, Biden said the framework “does not do everything that I think is needed, but it reflects important steps in the right direction, and would be the most significant gun safety legislation to pass Congress in decades.”

WATCH | Senator explains bipartisan framework to address gun violence in U.S.:

U.S. senators reach framework for possible gun safety deal

A bipartisan group of senators has agreed on an outline to address gun violence in the wake of recent mass shootings

Given the bipartisan support, “there are no excuses for delay, and no reason why it should not quickly move through the Senate and the House.”

If the accord leads to the enactment of legislation, it would signal a turn from years of firearm killings that have yielded little but stalemate in Congress.

Leaders in the Senate hope to push any agreement into law quickly — possibly this month — on the heels of the deadly shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., at a Tops supermarket and in Uvalde, Texas, at an elementary school, as well as other mass gun killings. 

A day before the fifth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, a visitor looks over a display with the photos and names of the 49 people killed on June 12, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. Sunday marked the sixth anniversary of the mass shooting. (John Raoux/The Associated Press)

The agreement was announced a day after tens of thousands of people in Washington, D.C., and at hundreds of other places across the United States rallied to demand that lawmakers pass legislation aimed at curbing gun violence. It also comes on the sixth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, the deadliest attack on the LGBTQ community in U.S. history that left 49 dead and 53 wounded in Orlando, Fla.

Lawmakers cite ‘scared’ families 

Twenty senators, including 10 Republicans, are calling for passage of the framework agreement. In the 50-50 Senate, at least 10 Republican votes would be needed to attain the usual 60-vote threshold for approval.

“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,” the lawmakers who developed the framework agreement said in a statement.

Senate negotiators said details and legislative language would be written over the coming days.

But here’s some of what’s included in the framework:

  • The juvenile records of gun buyers under 21 would be available as part of background checks. (The individuals accused in the killings of 10 Black people at a grocery store in Buffalo, and 19 students and two teachers at the Uvalde school were both 18.)
  • Money would be offered to states to implement red-flag laws, and bolster school safety and mental health programs. {A red-flaw law allows courts to issue a special protection order that authorizes police to temporarily confiscate guns from people who show concerning behaviour, such as issuing threats.}
  • More people who sell guns would be required to obtain federal dealers’ licences, which means they would have to conduct background checks of purchasers.
  • Domestic abusers who do not live with a former partner, such as ex-boyfriends, would be barred from buying firearms.
  • It would be a crime for a person to legally purchase a weapon for someone who would not qualify for ownership.

Congressional aides said billions of dollars would be spent expanding the number of community mental health centres and suicide prevention programs, but that other spending figures remained undecided.

It’s unclear how long it would take to finalize the agreement. But the parties’ shared desire to demonstrate a response to the recent shootings suggested momentum toward enactment was strong.

Mass shootings led to closed-door talks

The mass shootings in Texas and Buffalo prompted two weeks of closed-door talks among groups of senators, led by Murphy, Cornyn, North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis and Arizona Democrat Krysten Sinema.

But while lawmakers are acting on constituents’ heightened desire for congressional action, Republicans still oppose more sweeping steps sought by Democrats.These include banning assault-style firearms such as the AR-15-style rifles used in Buffalo and Uvalde, or raising the legal age for buying them. AR-15s are powerful semi-automatic weapons that can fire high-capacity magazines, and have been used in many mass shootings in recent years, including in the Pulse nightclub killings.

A protester at Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza Park holds a sign behind the crosses bearing the names of victims of the Uvalde, Texas, shooting last month. The New York protest was among the March for Our Lives rallies against gun violence that were held across the U.S. on Saturday. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

Democrats have also wanted to ban high-capacity magazines and expand required background checks to far more gun purchases.

The Democratic-controlled House approved sweeping bills this past week barring sales of semi-automatic weapons to people under 21 and large-capacity magazines, and giving Federal Courts the power to rule when local authorities want to remove guns from people considered dangerous. Currently, only 19 states and the District of Columbia have red-flag laws.

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