Senate negotiators say they are making progress toward a deal to address gun violence, but they aren’t there yet.
Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the lead Republican negotiator, on Monday said negotiators are “hovering above the target” but haven’t nailed down anything.
Cornyn said negotiators need at least another week to resolve their differences and urged Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.), who has warned he will only give negotiators a short period of time to reach a deal, not to rush anything to the floor.
“Good consensus legislation takes time,” Cornyn said in remarks on the Senate floor. “So I hope Sen. Schumer will let his members work. There’s no use in rushing a vote on a doomed partisan bill like the House is expected to vote on this week.”
The House is set to vote this week on legislation to raise the legal age for buying some semi-automatic rifles to 21, create tax incentives for gun dealers to create safe storage equipment and ban the sale of large-capacity magazines. But that legislation is doomed in the Senate, where it will not garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.
Senate negotiators say proposals to ban assault-style rifles, such as the AR-15–style weapons that were used in recent mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Uvalde, Texas, and to require background checks for all gun sales and transfers are off the table.
Instead, they are focused on more modest proposals to encourage states to set up red flag laws, promote safe storage of firearms and provide more money to address mental health.
They are also looking at strengthening and reforming the background check process and raising the minimum age for purchasing an AR-15–style rifle from 18 years old to 21.
But a Senate Republican aide familiar with the negotiations said whatever proposal emerges from the negotiation will not expand background check requirements like the amendment crafted by Sens. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) in 2013 would have done.
The aide said Republicans are looking at “strengthening and reforming” the process for conducting background checks but not expanding the universe of transfers that would require them.
“We are not talking about restricting the rights of current law-abiding gun owners or citizens,” Cornyn emphasized on the Senate floor Monday afternoon. “This is a constitutional right, as much as that may go against the grain of some of our colleagues who like to do things to restrict the rights of American citizens under the Second Amendment.”
One proposal under discussion is to include juvenile crime records into the background check database to flag people in the 18-21 age group who recently committed crimes but might still be able to pass an FBI check.
Manchin, who voted against a proposed assault weapons ban in 2013, on Monday said he “wouldn’t have a problem” with raising the minimum age for owning an assault-style rifle.
“Why do we have driver’s licenses? Why is there a certain age for everything that we do in this society?” Manchin told CNN. “I don’t see how this one thing can be any different than other things we do.”
But Cornyn later said that restricting law-abiding citizens from purchasing assault-style rifles is off the table.
Asked about raising the age limit for purchasing assault weapons, Cornyn said: “I think the president said that, and I think Sen. [Chris] Murphy, sounds like he’s taken that off the table.”
Murphy (D-Conn.) is the lead Democrat in the negotiations on gun legislation.
Cornyn on Monday emphasized identifying people who are dangers to themselves or others and providing more resources for mental health treatment and more money for securing schools as his top priorities.
“If our schools need more resources to harden their infrastructure and to evaluate their physical security measures and to make necessary improvements, that’s something we can agree on and we need to do,” he said.
Democrats are desperate for an accomplishment on gun control but acknowledge it will be tough getting 10 Republicans even for a modest proposal to create incentives to set up red flag laws.
“We’re going to struggle to get 10 votes, but I think it’s possible,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
Durbin acknowledged the political headwinds facing any gun control deal in reaction to House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) denouncing red flag laws as unconstitutional.
“They literally come into your house and take away your gun without you even knowing that there was some kind of proceeding where somebody said, ‘Oh, I think that gun might be a threat,’” Scalise said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Durbin predicted that whatever emerges from the negotiation will likely secure the votes of all 50 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus.
He noted that two key swing votes, Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), are personally involved in the negotiations with GOP colleagues.
Murphy and Cornyn planned another meeting of the negotiating group on Monday evening with Sinema and Sen. Thom Tillis (RN.C.).
The other members of the extended negotiating group are Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Martin Heinrich (DN.M.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (RS.C.).
Murphy conceded during a live panel discussion with gun control activists on Monday that the Senate won’t vote this week on gun violence legislation despite talk last month about setting a 10-day deadline. He said he hopes the Senate will act “in the following weeks.”
Schumer warned before the Memorial Day recess that he would force Republicans to vote on gun control legislation in June if they didn’t agree to compromise legislation to curb gun violence soon.
“If these negotiations do not bear any fruit, the Senate will vote on gun safety legislation when we return,” he pledged on May 26.
A Democratic aide, however, said that Schumer does not plan to schedule a vote on a gun control bill this week, as the Senate is already scheduled to consider nominees and legislation to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.
This story was updated at 6:25 pm