WASHINGTON — Key senators announced a framework agreement on new gun legislation Sunday, marking a breakthrough on a collection of measures to combat gun violence, including "red flag" laws and enhanced background checks on gun buyers.
The chief negotiators of the deal are Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., an outspoken proponent of gun safety laws, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a firm Second Amendment advocate who has promised the new measures won't affect the gun rights of law-abiding Americans. The final bill hasn't been written yet, sources familiar with the negotiations said.
"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," Murphy, Cornyn and other senators involved in the talks said in a joint statement. "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."
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Unlike the Democrats' series of gun bills that passed the House last week, the Senate deal has a better chance of becoming law because it has support from key Republicans, who wield effective veto power over gun legislation in the Senate because of the 60-vote filibuster rule. The joint statement backing the deal was signed by 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans.
A centerpiece of the Senate deal is to provide substantial resources for states to implement "red flag" laws, which allow individuals like police or family members to petition courts to keep firearms away from people deemed a risk to themselves or others.
Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have red flag laws on the books. The new provisions are aimed at growing that number and improving their implementation.
The agreement also establishes a more rigorous process for background checks on people between 18 and 21 years old, with an enhanced review that includes contacting state and local law enforcement for criminal records that could be disqualifying, and to appropriate state organizations for mental health information that could affect the decision.
The proposal also seeks to clarify ambiguities over who must register as a federally licensed firearm dealer for the purposes of conducting background checks.
"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. We look forward to earning broad, bipartisan support and passing our commonsense proposal into law."
It slaps new penalties on "straw purchasing" of firearms to improve the prosecution of traffickers. And it authorizes new money for mental health services and school safety.
The agreement would also include a provision to address the so-called boyfriend loophole on domestic violence, sources familiar with the negotiations said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he's "pleased that, for the first time in nearly 30 years, Congress is on the path to take meaningful action to address gun violence."
"After an unrelenting wave of gun-related suicides and homicides, including mass shootings, the Senate is poised to act on commonsense reforms to protect Americans where they live, where they shop, and where they learn," he said in a statement. "We must move swiftly to advance this legislation because if a single life can be saved it is worth the effort."