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Contentious Cross-Party Compromise on Gun Reform after Deadly Uvalde Shooting

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A bipartisan group of senators announced an agreement for gun safety legislation this month signalling a rare outbreak of cross-party compromise on the contentious issue.

The group of 20 Democrats and Republicans, led by Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican John Cornyn, unveiled the proposed framework of the first federal gun-control bill in more than 25 years. 

The plans include expanded background checks, major investment in mental health and suicide prevention programmes, and funding for school safety and community services including crisis and trauma intervention and recovery.  

Critically, the legislation includes a ‘red-flag’ provision granting states the resources to keep weapons out of the hands of individuals whom a court has determined to be a significant danger to themselves or others. 

Whilst not extensive, the modestly stricter gun laws represent the first bipartisan agreement on gun reform in three decades and could mark the start of a break-down in the heavily polarised party politics currently plaguing the US. 

This news comes amid renewed calls for gun reform after the third deadliest school shooting in US history occurred in Texas last month.

On May 24, the magnitude of the fatal shooting of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas provoked a global outcry. 

The shooting came just 10 days after 10 people were killed in a racially motivated supermarket shooting in Buffalo, New York on 14 May, bringing the total of mass shootings in the US to 269 before June began. 

Bringing guns to the forefront of the political agenda for a country in mourning, Hollywood’s Matthew McConaughey, Pop’s Olivia Rodrigo and Vice-President Kamala Harris are a few of many celebrities and world figures imploring Congress to reach a deal in the battle for gun control. 

In an act of bipartisan compromise, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longstanding opponent of gun control, has said Congress should act and endorsed the bipartisan reform agreement. 

He said: “I think if this framework becomes the actual piece of legislation, it’s a step forward on a bipartisan basis and further demonstrates to the American people that we can come together, which we have done from time to time on things like infrastructure and postal reform, to make progress for the country.”

A decade ago, when 26 were killed at Sandy Hook elementary school, McConnell extended his thoughts and prayers to families affected by the shooting and then utilised the filibuster to block a bipartisan bill on gun reform.

McConnell’s support for the new proposals reflects a shift in public opinion, as Republicans fight to win back suburban voters who have drifted to Democrats in recent elections.

As the attuned politician said after the 2020 election: “If you look at our situation, the Republican situation nationally, I think we need to win back the suburbs. 

“We need to do better with college-educated voters than we’re doing lately, and we need to do better with women.”

In a CBS poll taken earlier this June, 69% of American women and 65% of white college graduates said gun laws should be more strict, with just a quarter of them thinking they should stay the same. 

After a closed-door Senate GOP meeting McConnell emerged and told reporters: “Support for the provisions is off the charts, overwhelming.”

The minority leader’s announcement could also signal the Republican’s desire to prove the Senate can still function with the filibuster, a delaying tactic designed to halt laws in Congress most often attributed to Republican use, intact. 

With the support of 10 Republicans, the measure could overcome the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster in the Senate, something the Democrats could not do alone. 

Whilst earlier this month, the US House of Representatives passed a series of gun protection measures, recent attempts to tighten gun laws in the US have failed to get the required support in the Senate which is split 50:50. 

The gun legislation passed included prohibiting semi-automatic rifle sales to anyone under 21, ending sales of unserialised and untraceable guns, banning sales of high-capacity magazines, expanding background checks and specifying requirements for storage of guns. 

Despite widespread public support for these reforms, only a handful of House Republicans voted for them and Republicans abhorred them on arrival on the Senate floor. 

The US has the highest rate of firearms deaths among the world’s wealthiest nations, as weak gun laws have allowed easy access to AR-15-style rifles and resulted in deadly weapons landing in the wrong hands. 

But Uvalde, like Sandy Hook in 2012 and Virginia Tech in 2007, has again gripped the world’s consciousness with the US authorities’ ever-present failure to curb gun violence.

Despite decades-long legal gridlock and longstanding ideological divides, these recent mass shootings have created a sense of urgency for both parties to reach a deal.

However, some conflict has arisen as to how far these provisions should go. 

Republicans, who adamantly support the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms”, believe Democrats are trying too aggressively to curb access to firearms, whilst Democrats are pushing for Republicans to recognise the bloody reality of gun ownership in the US. 

In particular, opinion is split over closing what’s known as the ‘boyfriend loophole’.

Currently, those with domestic violence convictions are only barred from owning a firearm if they have been married to, lived with or had a child with the victim, excluding boyfriends who have been abusive domestically.

Closing this loophole has been one of the key longstanding goals for domestic violence advocates and gun reform advocates, but Republicans have pushed back against it for years believing it over-polices gun access. 

Now, amid a new stage of bipartisan conversation and compromise, lawmakers are re-evaluating who this domestic abuse restriction applies to, with Democrats wanting to keep the category broad and Republicans wanting to permit certain groups. 

One of Congress’s biggest obstacles is time pressure, with lawmakers scheduled to leave town as early as June 24 before the July 4 recess. 

If discussions are pushed past the recess they may be resumed in July, however many talks have fallen apart in the past as a result of a failure to quickly pass legislation. 

Whilst the legislation is yet to be passed many senators in both parties remain optimistic as the framework deal alone marks a sea change in the gridlock and polarised partisanship Congress has seen over the last decade. 

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