Reporter’s Notebook: “The Heavy Works” in the Senate Gun Bill

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It was late November 1993.

President Clinton hadn’t even been in office for a year. The Toronto Blue Jays have just won the World Series for the second consecutive season. “Home Improvement” and “Roseanne” were TV ratings juggernauts. Wayne’s World 2 hit the big screen. Gas prices were…

Well, let’s jump this a.

Let’s focus on November 30, 1993. That was the last time Congress approved major gun legislation.

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It was known colloquially as “The Brady Bill”, but officially titled “The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act”. Lawmakers named the legislation after White House press secretary James Brady. Gunman John Hinckley Jr. – fresh out of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC – had shot Brady and others as he attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

The bill imposed a five-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns. It only applied to states that did not have their own system for reviewing buyer histories. Part of the Brady Bill was amended in 1998 to apply to the sale of all guns, but not handguns.

Fast forward nearly 30 years, Congress is now closer to passing a major bill to address gun violence than it has been since that day in November 1993. It there is a general framework agreement, negotiated by a coalition of ten bipartisan senators. They are now tinkering with the text of the bill.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., spoke from the Senate after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
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Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., spoke from the Senate after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
(Senate Pool Video)

“I see this as a breakthrough,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., the top Democratic negotiator. “It’s no coincidence that this Congress for 30 years couldn’t deal with the epidemic of gun violence in this country because – again and again – it was easier to retreat into political corners than to make difficult compromises.

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In fact, Murphy went so far as to say “the heavy lifting is done.”

It is rare to hear a lawmaker engaged in such intense negotiations over a flimsy bill with a loaded history express such confidence. Congressional veterans know that the “longest mile” on Capitol Hill is often the last. The halls of the United States Capitol are littered with parliamentary carcasses of bills “to pass” and laws that were all but wrapped up.

The old Congressional mantra is that “nothing is final until everything is final.”

Things are certainly far from final on this bill. That’s why it’s unclear if the exuberance is irrational at this point.

=Sen.  Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, right

=Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, right
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

And don’t forget that the narrow, bipartisan agreement represents a fragment of a mega-canon agreement with teeth. It focuses primarily on tightening the rules for licensed federal arms dealers and protective orders for those who could harm themselves or others if they have a gun. These are commonly referred to as “red flag” regulations.

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The measure does not “confiscate” weapons. It does not ban high-capacity assault-type weapons as many Democrats advocate. In fact, the chief GOP negotiator in the talks, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., boasted that he refused to accept a Democratic demand to raise the gun purchase age from large capacity from 18 to 21 years old. In other words, such a line in the sand could help Cornyn’s good faith and bolster his credibility with the right in the talks.

Cornyn was direct in what he was willing to negotiate.

“This proposal will only impact criminals and those deemed (to be) mentally ill. Law-abiding gun owners will not be subject to any new restrictions. Period,” Cornyn said.

The parties must now work out the details of the bill and give lawmakers time to familiarize themselves with the text. There is also the issue of cost. Lawmakers on both sides want the bill paid. Otherwise, some lawmakers would have a reason to vote no. The package will likely require a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

“Red flag laws are notorious for requiring hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “But also, mental health will require billions. So we have to be prepared to compensate for that or provide money when needed.”

US Senator from Connecticut Richard Blumenthal

US Senator from Connecticut Richard Blumenthal
(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Whether “the heavy lifting is done” can be debatable. But there is still work to be done.

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“My goal is to complete the script this week and then present it next week,” Cornyn said.

Proponents of the plan must also sell the package to their colleagues.

“If passed, it will undoubtedly save lives and would be the most significant anti-gun action the Senate has taken in nearly three decades,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. DN.Y.

The plan also received a boost from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

“I’m comfortable with the setting,” McConnell said. “If the legislation ends up reflecting what the framework says, I will be supportive.”

A customer purchases a gun from a sporting goods store.

A customer purchases a gun from a sporting goods store.
(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

But some staunch gun supporters have accused fellow Republicans of selling out.

“I think Mitch McConnell and (Senator) Lindsey Graham, R.S.C., and others in the Senate — it’s their job to protect our Second Amendment rights. livid representative, Marjorie Taylor Greene. , R-Ga. “I’m really mad at Republican senators who are willing to pass this. They’re just helping Joe Biden push his agenda.”

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It’s not just Republicans who have reservations. The Senate plan is a shadow of a tough gun control measure the House passed earlier this month that has appealed to the left.

Progressives fear flooding schools with guns and police.

“I want to know more about the criminalization (of schools),” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y.

But other Liberals are more open to the Senate project.

“The main lines that I have seen, I support them. And I will vote yes on this bill,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, DN.Y. “It’s a floor. Not a ceiling.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y., speaks with reporters, Thursday, June 17, 2021, as she arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y., speaks with reporters, Thursday, June 17, 2021, as she arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington.
(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

“We don’t live in a perfect world. But we do live in a perfect world where compromise is necessary,” said Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va. “My dad always said, ‘You don’t go bankrupt by taking a profit.’ And it’s a small profit. But a profit in the right direction.”

The push to curb gun violence comes five years after a gunman nearly killed House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., during a congressional baseball practice.

Scalise is not committing to the Senate package.

“Details matter. They matter a lot. So until we see details, that’s something we’re going to continue to watch to see what comes out of the Senate,” Scalise said.

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The early days of the Clinton administration. The Toronto Blue Jays. Roseane. Wayne’s World 2.

It’s been nearly three decades since Congress last passed a big gun bill. All is not settled. But there’s a reason it’s been almost 30 years. That’s why lawmakers are rushing to finish this bill before the window of opportunity collapses.

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