Senate arms deal negotiations have stalled over details

Washington – Democratic and Republican senators were at odds Thursday over how to keep firearms away from dangerous people, while negotiators struggled to finalize details a gun violence compromise in time for their self-imposed deadline for holding votes in Congress next week.

Lawmakers said they remain at odds over how to define abusive dating partners who would be prohibited by law from buying firearms. Disagreements were also unresolved over proposals to send money to states that have “red flag” laws that allow authorities to temporarily seize guns from people judged by courts to be dangerous, and to other states for theirs own violence prevention programs.

Election-year talks appeared to be headed for a deal, with both parties fearing voter punishment if Congress fails to act on the carnage of last month’s mass shootings. A total of 31 people were killed in a grocery store Buffalo, New Yorkand an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. A draft deal was endorsed by President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a top GOP negotiator, appeared visibly unhappy as he left Thursday’s closed-door session after nearly two hours, saying he was flying home.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas and Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“That’s the hardest part because at some point you just have to make a decision. And if people don’t want to make a decision, you can’t get the result. And that’s where we are right now.” Cornyn said.

“I’m not frustrated, I’m done,” he added, although he said he was open to further discussion.

Lawmakers have said a deal must be in place and written in legislative language by the end of the week if Congress is to vote by next week. After that, a break begins on July 4th. Leaders want votes by then because Washington has long talked about responding to mass shootings, only to see lawmakers and voters quickly lose interest over time.

Other negotiators appeared more optimistic, saying much of the overall package was agreed and advisers were drafting the legal language.

“A deal like this is difficult,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., at the end of the meeting. “It involves a lot of emotion, it involves political risk for both sides. But we’re close enough to get there.”

The measure would impose only minor restrictions on firearms. Missing proposals from Mr. Biden and the Democrats to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines like those used in Buffalo and Uvalde, or to raise the legal age to purchase assault rifles from 18 to 21.

Still, it would be the most decisive move by Congress against gun violence since 1993. A ban on assault weapons enacted that year went into effect in 1994 and expired after a decade. Since then, numerous high-profile mass shootings out of Washington have produced only a partisan deadlock, largely because Republicans have blocked virtually all new restrictions.

Everytown for Gun Safety, which campaigns for gun restrictions, said Friday that 500 business leaders and CEOs had signed a letter urging senators to take action on gun safety. That number had more than doubled since the group first announced the letter a week earlier. Companies Everytown says are on board include: Levi Strauss & Co., Bain Capital, Northwell Health, Bloomberg LP, Yelp, Lyft, DoorDash, J. Crew, the San Francisco Giants and 49ers, and the Philadelphia Eagles and the newly crowned NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

Federal law prohibits people convicted of domestic violence against a spouse from acquiring guns, but leaves a loophole for other romantic relationships. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, 31 states ban convicted domestic abusers from buying firearms, including 19 covering violent dating partners.

Senators disagree on how to define such relationships, with Republicans working against a comprehensive provision. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, the other lead GOP negotiator, said negotiators take guidance from some state laws, though their laws are different.

“You have to make sure you catch anyone who’s actually beating up their girlfriends,” said Murphy, a Democrat.

In addition, 19 states and the District of Columbia have “Red Flag” laws. Cornyn and the other lead negotiator, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., represent states that don’t, and it’s unclear how the money in the bill would be split between them.

Senators have not said what the total price of the measure will be, although people following the talks have said they expect it to be around $15 billion or $20 billion. Lawmakers are looking for budget cuts to cover these costs.

Twenty senators, ten from each party, agreed on the outlines of a compromise measure last weekend. Top traders have since worked to translate it into details.

The framework includes access to the juvenile files of gun buyers aged 18-20. Both Buffalo and Uvalde shooters were 18-year-olds and both used AR-15 rifles, which can load high-capacity magazines.

The plan also includes additional spending on mental health and school safety programs, tougher penalties for gun trafficking, and requirements for slightly more gun dealers to obtain federal firearms licenses.

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