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The Memo: Gun reform advocates will take what they can get from Senate talks

Any change to the gun laws after mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, looks sure to be modest. But the fact that it might happen at all is giving hope to reformers.

Talks in the Senate — spearheaded by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) — are for now focused on providing incentives for states to introduce “red flag” laws and expanding background checks.

Lots of changes that the anti-gun violence movement wants are off the table for now. 

There will not, this time, be truly universal background checks or a federal “red flag” law. An increase in the minimum age requirements to buy a semiautomatic weapon seems unlikely. 

There will certainly not be an assault weapons ban, even though President Biden called for one in remarks last week. 

And there is, of course, no guarantee that any Senate deal will pass at all.

But if some kind of legislation is enacted, advocates are prepared to take victories where they find them — so long as there are signs of tangible progress.

“There are two different questions,” Peter Ambler, the executive director of Giffords, a prominent anti-gun violence organization, told this column.

“Is incremental progress adequate? The answer to that question is ‘yes.’ We believe that persistent incrementalism is an effective strategy,” he said. 

Ambler asserted that the reform movement had helped pass more than 400 laws at the state level over the past decade.

“But ‘incremental’ doesn’t mean ‘toothless,’” he added. “We do need to make sure, as we are considering incremental progress, that ‘effectiveness’ is the banner word.”

The likely effectiveness or otherwise of the nascent Senate deal can’t be judged yet, because the specifics have not been settled. 

Murphy and Cornyn are working on a tight deadline because Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is insisting that the negotiators need to determine whether a deal is feasible. Schumer wants to ensure talks don’t drag on interminably and fruitlessly.

If a deal is to pass, it will need the support of 10 Republican senators, assuming all 50 Democratic senators vote for it. In addition to Cornyn, five GOP senators are involved in the bipartisan talks: Sens. Bill Cassidy (La.), Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).

Toomey, together with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), was the driving force behind a 2013 effort to expand background checks. Even though that push came while the nation was reeling from the December 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, it failed to garner the 60 votes it needed to advance in the Senate.

Murphy has evinced optimism about the current talks.

“We’ve been making process every single day,” he told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press NOW” on Monday. 

Murphy also took on the question of whether any deal would end up so narrow as to be essentially meaningless.

“I hear the skepticism about how big this package can be. But I’m not going to support anything that doesn’t save lives,” he told Todd. “I’m not going to support something that just checks a box. And so in order to get a bill that makes a meaningful difference, it’s going to take a little bit of time.”

The question of what constitutes meaningful action against the plague of gun violence is a vexing one. 

The per capita rate of murders by gun in the United States is exponentially higher than in other developed nations. So too is the availability of firearms. There are, infamously, more guns than people in the U.S.

But the provisions of the Second Amendment, the reluctance of most Republicans to enact any restrictions on gun rights at all and the political implausibility of any kind of wide-scale firearms confiscation mean the focus is on more modest measures.

The political crosscurrents are fierce. Rep. Chris Jacobs (R-N.Y.) announced Friday that he would not seek reelection, roughly a week after saying he was open to an assault weapons ban. 

Jacobs represents a district adjacent to Buffalo, where 10 people were killed at a grocery store in a racist attack last month. But his statements on possible gun restrictions drew intense blowback from conservatives.

In this atmosphere, reformers — and liberals more generally — are ready to welcome any progress, however slight.

Tad Devine, a veteran Democratic strategist, summed up the predicament:

“If the Republicans in the Senate can do something with the Democrats, then that per se is a good thing,” he said. “Now, in terms of the issue, it is wholly inadequate.”

Devine said that he would not criticize any bipartisan deal that might be reached, because it would mean that “at least there is a crack in the wall” of GOP opposition — and to the ability of pro-gun groups to maintain a united front.

Reformers know they are only at the beginning of the journey when it comes to federal action on guns.

Right now, they just want proof that Washington can take the first steps.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

Source: The Hill

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