Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo
Wicker, Hyde-Smith vote no on moving gun compromise forward
From staff and wire reports
Mississippi’s two U.S. senators were not among the 14 Republicans voting to move the bipartisan gun violence bill forward for debate.
In the first action on a bill aimed at curbing gun violence in response to recent mass shootings in Texas and New York that shook the nation, Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, both Republicans from Mississippi, voted no on a procedural motion to consider the bill. The motion, which needed only a simple majority, passed with 64 votes.
However, the vote held greater significance in that it showed there was enough Republican support to break any attempt to filibuster a final vote. Ending a filibuster would require 60 votes. With all 50 Democrats in the Senate expected to support the measure, 10 Republicans are needed to vote for it.
Senate bargainers reached agreement Tuesday on the bipartisan gun violence bill, the parties' top two negotiators said, teeing up votes this week on an incremental but notable package that would stand as Congress's response to mass shootings in Texas and New York that shook the nation.
Nine days after Senate bargainers agreed to a framework proposal — and 29 years after Congress last enacted major firearms curbs — Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters that a final accord on the proposal's details had been reached.
The legislation would toughen background checks for the youngest firearms buyers, require more sellers to conduct background checks and beef up penalties on gun traffickers. It also would disburse money to states and communities aimed at improving school safety and mental health initiatives.
Resolving the two final hurdles that delayed an accord since last week, the bill would prohibit romantic partners convicted of domestic violence and not married to their victim from getting firearms. And it would provide money to the 19 states and the District of Columbia that have "red flag" laws that make it easier to temporarily take firearms from people adjudged dangerous, and to other states that have violence prevention programs.
Lawmakers released the 80-page bill Tuesday evening. Aides estimated the measure would cost around $15 billion, which Murphy would be fully paid for.
The legislation lacks the far more potent proposals that President Joe Biden supports and Democrats have pushed for years without success, derailed by GOP opposition. These include banning assault-type weapons or raising the minimum age for buying them, prohibiting high-capacity magazines and requiring background checks for virtually all gun sales.
Yet if enacted, the election-year agreement would spotlight a modest but telling shift on an issue that has defied compromise since Bill Clinton was president.
After 10 Black shoppers were killed last month in Buffalo, New York, and 19 children and two teachers died days later in Uvalde, Texas, Democrats and some Republicans decided that this time, measured steps were preferable to Congress' usual reaction to such horrors — gridlock.
Murphy said that after the Buffalo and Uvalde slayings, "I saw a level of fear on the faces of the parents and the children that I spoke to that I've never seen before." He said his colleagues also encountered anxiety and fear among voters "not just for the safety of their children, but also a fear about the ability of government to rise to this moment and do something, and do something meaningful."
This bill, Murphy said, was a partisan breakthrough that would "save thousands of lives." Before entering the Senate, his House district included Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six staff members perished in a 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"Some think it goes too far, others think it doesn't go far enough. And I get it. It's the nature of compromise," Cornyn said.
But he added, "I believe that the same people who are telling us to do something are sending us a clear message, to do what we can to keep our children and communities safe. I'm confident this legislation moves us in a positive direction."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said his chamber would begin debating the measure right away and move to final passage "as quickly as possible." And in a positive sign about its fate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voiced his support, calling it "a commonsense package of popular steps that will help make these horrifying incidents less likely while fully upholding the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens."
The National Rifle Association, which has spent decades derailing gun control legislation, said it opposed the measure. "It falls short at every level. It does little to truly address violent crime while opening the door to unnecessary burdens on the exercise of Second Amendment freedom by law-abiding gun owners," the gun lobby group said.
It seemed likely a majority of Republicans — especially in the House — would oppose the legislation. Underscoring the backlash GOP lawmakers supporting the pact would face from the most conservative voters, delegates booed Cornyn at his state's Republican convention in Houston Saturday as he described the measure.
What's uncertain is whether the agreement and its passage would mark the beginning of slow but gradual congressional action to curb gun violence, or the high water mark on the issue. Until Buffalo and Uvalde, a numbing parade of mass slayings — at sites including elementary and high schools, houses of worship, military facilities, bars and the Las Vegas Strip — have yielded only stalemate in Washington.
"Thirty years, murder after murder, suicide after suicide, mass shooting after mass shooting, Congress did nothing," Murphy said. "This week we have a chance to break this 30-year period of silence with a bill that changes our laws in a way that will save thousands of lives."
Congress' prohibited assault-type firearms in 1993 in a ban that expired after a decade, lawmakers' last sweeping legislation addressing gun violence.
The senators did not initially describe how they'd resolved the two major stumbling blocks that had delayed agreement on the plan's legislative language.
One was how to make abusive romantic partners subject to the existing ban that violent spouses face to obtaining guns. The other was providing federal aid to states that have "red flag" laws that make it easier to temporarily take firearms away from people deemed dangerous or to states that have violence intervention programs.