Enhanced background checks on the table in Senate’s bipartisan gun talks

Enhanced background checks on the table in Senate’s bipartisan gun talks

A small group of senators at the center of bipartisan gun safety talks will meet Monday as they race to clinch a deal with mass shootings across the country continuing unabated and the fate of enhanced background checks up in the air.

The quartet of Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) is focused on a package that would reform background checks, state red flag laws, enhance school safety and provide new mental health programs, according to multiple people familiar with the talks. Those four senators will continue their discussions this week, anchoring a larger group of senators’ negotiations over the issue.

Cornyn, Murphy and Sinema will meet this evening, the Texas Republican said.

Nine years after Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) struck an agreement to expand background checks that most Republicans rejected on the Senate floor, the current bipartisan group is focused on significant yet more modest reforms that can win 60 votes in the chamber. One proposal under discussion is changing background checks for people younger than 21 — by opening up their juvenile records to more scrutiny or enacting a waiting period for their firearm purchases — according to one person with direct knowledge of the talks.

“It seems to me that if … you have mental health problems, if that happened when you’re a juvenile … maybe there’s some way to get access to that information to inform the background check system,” Cornyn said in an interview Monday. “It’s a little tricky because obviously in many states those records are sealed and even expunged. But there’s 100 different ideas out there and that’s just one of them.”

The small-group talks are fluid, and no final decision has been made. But if successful, such an idea would amount to the most substantive reforms to the background checks system in decades. In the evenly divided Senate, any such proposal would need the support of at least 10 Republican senators, a high bar that members in the gun safety group still think could be achievable.

“Time is their biggest enemy, because there are so many other issues that the public is concerned about,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) in a recent interview. “There’s the onrush of the fall elections, there’s the natural difficulty passing any compromise legislation in the Senate and there’s the distraction of lots of other issues.”

The group is also looking at providing states with more resources to set up so-called red flag laws that allow law enforcement to temporarily confiscate firearms from any individual deemed a threat to himself or others. Lawmakers are also discussing how much money to provide for new mental health programs and to increase school security.

There are other senators involved in the talks. A larger group includes Murphy, Sinema, Manchin, Toomey as well as Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). The Democratic caucus and Republican conference will hold larger discussions on the topic starting on Tuesday.

Murphy suggested over the weekend on CNN that the group needs to make a decision “in the next five days” about whether or not a package can come together. Urgency to act often subsides on Capitol Hill as memories fade over recent shootings, and it’s been nearly two weeks since the shooting of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas.

Cornyn on Monday warned against setting an “arbitrary” timeline.

“My hope is that, in the next couple of weeks, we could do something but around here it’s like pushing a wet rope, you can’t dictate the timetable,” he said. “I get the sense that there is some urgency felt … This is very much on people’s minds. And so I think that will help us get to a result.”

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Author: By Burgess Everett and Marianne LeVine