CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bipartisan group of U.S. senators announced Sunday a gun safety proposal that includes steps preventing some people from accessing firearms, changes to background checks and increased investments in mental health care services.
The group’s announcement comes nearly two weeks since a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school. The senators did not produce legislative text, but rather a framework.
“Today, we are announcing a commonsense, bipartisan proposal to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country. Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities,” the senators stated in a release.
The group of 20 senators consists of equal representation from the Republican and Democratic caucuses; Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is part of the coalition. Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, led the negotiations.
The proposal includes resources so states can establish laws preventing certain people from accessing firearms. The “red flag” laws would be directed at keeping guns out of the hands of people deemed to be a significant threat to themselves or others as determined under state and federal laws.
People convicted of domestic violence or subject to domestic violence restraining orders would additionally be placed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, an effort to close the so-called “boyfriend loophole.”
The agreement also changes the review for purchasing a firearm for individuals between 18 and 21, in which the process would additionally focus on evaluating juvenile and mental health records.
The Senate plan calls for increased investments in mental health and suicide prevention resources, school-based services, school safety programs, and telehealth. It also addresses the registration of licensed firearms dealers and the straw purchases of firearms by clamping down on people who illegally buy and traffic guns
“Our plan increases needed mental health resources, improves school safety and support for students, and helps ensure dangerous criminals and those who are adjudicated as mentally ill can’t purchase weapons,” the senators said. “Most importantly, our plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he is pleased Congress is preparing “to take meaningful action to address gun violence,” and he will put the bill on the floor as soon as the senators finalize the legislation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the agreement shows “the value of dialogue and cooperation,” but he did not share support for the framework as presented.
“I continue to hope their discussions yield a bipartisan product that makes significant headway on key issues like mental health and school safety, respects the Second Amendment, earns broad support in the Senate, and makes a difference in our country,” he noted.
President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass the measure, stating the proposal “would be the most significant gun safety legislation to pass Congress in decades.”
“With bipartisan support, there are no excuses for delay, and no reason why it should not quickly move through the Senate and the House,” the president said. “Each day that passes, more children are killed in this country: the sooner it comes to my desk, the sooner I can sign it, and the sooner we can use these measures to save lives.”
March for Our Lives — a national organization created after the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida — said the framework was not perfect, but it would be a step forward.
“This will not put an end to gun violence, but this is a first step and we’ll continue to push for more aggressive policies,” the body tweeted.
Multiple March for Our Lives rallies were held Saturday to push Congress to pass legislation.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has noted there is interest among lawmakers in preventing gun violence, previously describing the May 24 shooting in Uvalde, Texas as a “pivotal moment.”
“I’m encouraged when bipartisan solutions are offered like we are seeing with this group,” Capito said Sunday. “Now that an agreement has been announced, I will thoroughly analyze these proposals and subsequent legislation once it is finalized so we can move closer to a country where these senseless tragedies do not occur.”
The House of Representatives passed legislation last week related to guns; the chamber approved a “red flag” law allowing federal courts to prevent some people from accessing firearms and a measure raising the age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21. West Virginia’s delegates — Reps. David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller — voted against both bills.
Miller is sponsoring a measure creating a tax deduction for gun training and concealed carry courses. The legislation also would provide a deduction for purchasing gun safes and other safety devices.
West Virginia officials, including Gov. Jim Justice, have shared their opposition toward “red flag” laws.
“There’s all kinds of problems with these ‘red flag’ laws,” Justice said during the June 6 coronavirus briefing. “For anybody on this planet that would think that I condone almost anything in the world that President Biden would be out doing, I just think — you’re talking about polar opposites. We are on polar opposite ends.”
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has described “red flag” laws as “the wrong solution to the violence we are seeing.”
The West Virginia Legislature passed a bill in 2021 prohibiting local agencies from enforcing new federal laws or presidential executive orders on firearms. It also requires the state Attorney General’s Office to challenge federal actions regarding firearms.