Bipartisan gun deal: Step forward or missed opportunity?

·Senior Editor
·7-min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

A bipartisan group of senators on Sunday unveiled the framework of an agreement for a slate of modest gun control measures that could become the first significant piece of gun legislation passed by Congress in decades.

The deal, which still needs to be written into formal legislation, was reached after weeks of negotiations between Democrats and a group of 10 Republicans following the mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y. and Uvalde, Texas. Although the framework does not include more sweeping reforms supported by a majority of the public, early indications are that there will be enough GOP votes to overcome a potential Senate filibuster from others in their party.

The plan includes a grab bag of limited measures, some directly addressing gun access and others aimed at violence prevention. If passed, the proposal would expand the scope of background checks for gun buyers of under 21, improve enforcement of gun-trafficking laws, close the “boyfriend loophole” that allows some people to get around laws barring domestic abusers from owning firearms, and create financial incentives for states to establish “red flag” laws that empower authorities to take guns away from individuals who are judged to pose a danger to themselves or others. It would also allocate billions of dollars for mental health treatment and school safety, although details on where exactly that money would go are sparse at the moment.

The framework is also notable for what has been left out, including a more comprehensive expansion of background checks, bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and a measure to raise the minimum age for semiautomatic rifle purchases to 21 — policies supported by the majority of Democrats in Congress, but that are non-starters for Republicans.

Why there’s debate

The release of the framework has sparked debate over whether these incremental steps — which gun control advocates widely agree are not remotely enough to solve the United States’ gun violence crisis — should be celebrated as signs of progress or lamented as an empty stand-in for true reform.

Many gun control groups and liberal politicians have applauded the senators for being able get anything done at all, given how immovable the GOP has been on gun control in recent decades. Former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was nearly killed in a mass shooting in 2011, called the plan “a lifesaving step forward.” Her statement echoed a frequently raised sentiment among supporters, who believe any bill that could prevent even a small number of gun deaths is worth pursuing. Others are hopeful that this deal will break the “log jam” in Congress and set the stage for more agreements on guns down the road.

But critics say it’s a mistake to treat the deal as anything other than a laughably insufficient response to the gun crisis. They argue that the provisions in the bill, though they may make some difference on the margins, will have no measurable impact on the extraordinary levels of gun violence in the U.S. There are also concerns that treating the agreement as a major breakthrough would give cover for pro-gun lawmakers and allow them to continue standing in the way of meaningful change. Gun rights groups, of course, oppose any gun control measures, and some conservatives also worry that enforcement of the plan could infringe on due process rights of gun owners.

What’s next

Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said he intends to bring the plan up for a vote as soon as a final draft of the legislation is written. It’s unclear how long that process may take or whether any disagreements over details of the bill might put the fragile consensus around the framework at risk.

Perspectives

Supporters

The deal could be the first of several steps to meaningfully address gun violence

“Beyond the merits of the new measures themselves, it would create undeniable momentum for further progress on our nation’s unacceptable—and solvable—epidemic of gun violence.” — Mark Follman, Mother Jones

Any gun deal is worth celebrating when the alternative is nothing

“This isn’t the gun bill that America deserves. Not after decades of death, not after gun violence has taken the lives of tens of thousands of Americans each year. … But change has to start somewhere, and if this bill does not manage to pass, the alternative right now is literally nothing. That can’t be the case, not again.” — Hayes Brown, MSNBC

The agreement is a hopeful sign that our government can actually work

“The willingness of Democrats and Republicans to negotiate and find agreement on an issue that has so deeply divided the two parties for so long is noteworthy and a hopeful sign our government is not completely broken.” — Editorial, Washington Post

Republicans successfully kept Democrats’ more radical ideas out of the plan

“All these measures included in the outline make it worthy of support, but so do those measures that have not been included. There are no vague, virtue-signaling demands for bans on ‘assault weapons,’ a term intended to mislead, nor is there a demand for a ban on big magazines, which are just a way of harassing law-abiding gun owners.” — Editorial, Washington Examiner

The plan can save lives and carries little downside

“There is real value in measures like closing the so-called ‘boyfriend loophole’ after numerous failed attempts, and even if the measure doesn’t call for a national red flag law, at least it would provide incentives for states to adopt them. And surely there’s no downside to allocating funds for mental health services and school safety measures.” — Editorial, Boston Globe

Critics

For all the backslapping from lawmakers, the plan won’t make a real difference

“The politicians might start breaking out the cigars and congratulating themselves, but anyone who really worries about the proliferation of guns in this country should be a little dubious of this deal that came about a bit too easily. Perhaps after another 12,000 people are murdered in the next year after its passage, we’ll realize we’ve been duped.” — Ross Rosenfeld, Daily News

The deal lets Republicans off the hook for standing in the way of meaningful gun control

“The bipartisan agreement is as likely to stop the next school shooting as an AR-15 would be at stopping the 1st Armored Division. That’s because the framework feels more like a Republican attempt to avoid the issue of gun violence than a Democratic attempt to solve it.” — Elie Mystal, The Nation

There’s no reason to believe this deal will lead to more action down the road

“I hope the thing passes. But I’m not going to fall for the alleged magical powers of the word ‘bipartisan’ to turn chickens*** into chicken salad. This is a good start in the same way that making sure your shoes are tied is a good start to a marathon.” — Charles P. Pierce, Esquire

The fact that this meager plan counts as progress shows how hopeless the gun control fight really is

“Rather than standing as a bipartisan concord on gun safety, the proposal demonstrates how far we are from achieving genuine gun safety legislation at the federal level. If this is the best that our federal lawmakers can do … then we are in a very bad place.” — Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times

The GOP shouldn’t support a bad law just so it can answer calls to ‘do something’

“Not all action represents progress. Not all momentum is virtuous. It is as true now as it was a month ago that one does not measure one’s empathy by the number of new laws to which one consents.” — Editorial, National Review

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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