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Analysis: What’s Mitch McConnell up to on guns?

Which might surprise you — especially because there hasn’t been a meaningful gun control measure passed through the Senate in nearly 30 years.

Remember first that McConnell doesn’t do anything — anything — without being aware of the political consequences and complications. Criticize him for that if you will (and you probably will), but his willingness to always make a raw political calculation is what has made him so successful.

McConnell knows that the slaughter of 19 kids (and two teachers) has galvanized the country in search of some sort of common-sense gun reform in a way not seen since mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012.

In the face of those calls for action, he doesn’t want his party to be seen as totally unwilling to talk or to negotiate. While guns have not been a dominant voting issue in the past, McConnell knows that this election — if past is prologue — should be a very good one for Republicans, and doesn’t want to do (or not do) anything to change that dynamic.

But a very public willingness to engage in bipartisan talks about guns is not at all the same thing as backing a major piece of gun control legislation.

All you need to do is look at the words McConnell used in his statement sanctioning the talks.

“I met with Sen. Cornyn this morning,” he told CNN Thursday. “As you know he went home yesterday to see the family members and begin the fact finding of this awful massacre and I have encouraged him to talk with Sen. Murphy and Sen. Sinema and others who are interested in trying to get an outcome that is directly related to the problem. I am hopeful that we could come up with a bipartisan solution.”

The key piece of that quote is this: “I have encouraged him to talk with Sen. Murphy and Sen. Sinema and others who are interested in trying to get an outcome that is directly related to the problem.”

“Directly related.”

What McConnell is signaling there is that he might be willing to support a narrowly cast piece of legislation that deals directly with the circumstances around how the Uvalde shooter got his guns and ammunition. McConnell didn’t offer any specifics on what that might look like. The shooter bought the weapons he used legally and had not had any reported issues with mental illness before.

McConnell’s view then may not be far from what Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said earlier this week: “If you want to stop violent crime, the proposals the Democrats have — none of them would have stopped this.”

Don’t get it twisted: McConnell’s sanctioning of bipartisan talks on guns should NOT be read as some sort of major change in the broader Republican view on gun control. The party remains broadly opposed to any sort of sweeping (or semi-sweeping) legislation that would fundamentally alter our relationship with guns in this country.

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