Meanwhile, Democrats stateside are expressing cautious optimism and looking for a deal following the recent elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas — suggesting that this might be the tragedy that breaks a decades-long stranglehold on new gun legislation and proves to Republicans “that the sky will not fall politically for them” if they vote to change gun laws, according to Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the top Democratic negotiator.
Other Democrats are trying to capitalize on momentum even if they don’t think a deal will solve the problem of gun violence.
President Joe Biden had kind words for the “rational Republicans” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, noting “there’s a recognition on their part they can’t continue like this.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said on CNN on Sunday he senses “a different feeling among my colleagues after Uvalde.”
What Democrats want
Democrats’ preference is to raise the age limit to 21 to buy certain guns and reinstate the federal assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004. But they will have to accept something much less if they want to get anything done. It takes a supermajority of 60 to pass major legislation through the 100-member Senate.
What Republicans are saying
McConnell signaled his vision for compromise gun legislation during an appearance in Kentucky on Tuesday when he described the bipartisan talks without using the word “gun.”
Rather, in McConnell’s view, negotiators will be “discussing how we might be able to come together to target the problem, which is mental illness and school safety.”
Takeaway: McConnell does not think the problem is guns.
The Trump side of things
At the NRA’s annual convention in Houston over the weekend, former President Donald Trump — who still holds sway in the party and particularly among base Republican voters — said there should be more guns in schools.
“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Trump said in his speech.
Turning schools into fortresses is what Trump and some of his fellow Republicans are endorsing.
What are some sensible gun restrictions?
Even some NRA members can see the need for some new gun restrictions, according to CNN’s Eric Bradner and Jeff Zeleny, who reported from the convention.
They wrote: Max Shirley, an NRA member from Round Rock, Texas, said he would support “sensible measures” to stop the cycle of school shootings. He said he believed the age limit to buy an automatic weapon should be raised to 21 and the clip size for ammunition should be lowered.
“If the person you’re defending yourself against is not down or the threat is not diminished after 10 rounds or 10 shots, then you’ve got bigger problems,” Shirley told CNN. “Or you’re a bad shot.”
What’s on the table?
Those kinds of restrictions that Shirley would accept don’t even appear to be on the table in Washington.
Cornyn told reporters in Texas on Monday that he would be focused on mental health and potentially red flag laws already enacted in some states to allow authorities to seize guns from people in crisis.
“I mentioned access to mental health treatment and diagnosis is absolutely critical,” he said.
Cornyn focused on the need to make background checks part of the national conversation and other possible “limitations under federal law of what sort of firearms you can buy and own and maintain, if you have a criminal or mental health record. And we’ll be looking at all of that.”
Understanding opposition to all new gun regulations
The most instructive thing I saw on the gun debate over the weekend was the interview that CNN’s Dana Bash had with Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican, on “State of the Union.”
Why he opposes red flag laws at the national level
Crenshaw: “I think there’s a lot of problems with red flag laws, especially at a national level. When it comes to criminal law, that really should be democratically decided at the local and state level, but, even so, you have to look at these and wonder what the actual purpose is.”
Why he opposes red flag laws in Texas
Crenshaw: “What we are essentially trying to do with a red flag law is enforce the law before the law has been broken. And that’s a really difficult thing to do. It’s difficult to assess whether somebody is a threat.
Now, if they’re such a threat they’re threatening somebody with a weapon already, well, then they have already broken the law, so why do you need this other law?”
What’s wrong with universal background checks?
Crenshaw: “People have to understand what universal background checks mean. That means that I can no longer sell a gun to my friend. If my neighbor, let’s say her husband is gone for the week and she wants to borrow my gun, that would make us both felons.
That’s the problem with universal background checks. And the people who are least likely to adhere to universal background checks are the criminals who intend harm. So, again, it’s an outcome problem. I don’t think they would have the outcome people think they would have.”
What’s wrong with restricting sales of certain guns to people under 21?
Crenshaw: “Well, look, I’m not very impressed by our current swathe of 18-year-olds and their maturity level, so maybe we should have that conversation. But then it has to apply broadly. It has to mean that you’re not an adult until 21.
And then what happens then? When we see a 22-year-old commit an atrocity, are we going to raise it again, and are we going to raise it again?”
But the human brain isn’t completely developed at 18
Bash noted that the National Institutes of Health has said that a person’s brain isn’t finished developing until the mid-20s.
Crenshaw: “Yes, that’s true. That’s true. And does that mean that we — I think it’s 26, actually. So, does that mean you’re not an adult until 26?
I think I was on my second deployment by then. So it’s — these are hard questions.” (Crenshaw served in the military.)
What would he support?
Crenshaw: “I think what needs to change is the things that would have the most immediate and succinct effect and tangible effect on these things. And that’s actual security at a school. So, it’s not as if Republicans have never proposed anything.”
There are more guns than people in this country. That’s not a problem?
Crenshaw: “No. I think, culturally, we’re a country that has long had a Second Amendment that believes in the right to self-defense. I don’t think it’s a problem that I own guns.
And I know that, if I destroyed all my guns, it would have zero effect on crime. It would have zero effect on gun homicides, because I’m not the person who goes and shoots somebody. I am a person who might protect somebody from being shot.”
Did the framers envision these weapons of war?
Bash noted that the Second Amendment calls for a well-regulated militia, and she asked if Crenshaw thinks the founding fathers intended for people to have weapons of war.
Crenshaw: “Let’s talk about the weapons of war thing for a second, because you brought that up. So, having been to war and having used many, many weapons of war, I don’t really classify these rifles as weapons of war.
We use them, but we use them — they’re more a self-defense weapon. And I would say that if a SEAL team or an infantry team goes on offense, they’re using much, much bigger weapons that are not available to your common civilian.”