A bipartisan group of senators announces a deal for school safety and gun measures

Updated June 12, 2022 at 8:57 PM ET

A bipartisan group of Senate negotiators say they have reached a deal on a package of safety and gun-related measures narrowly focused on preventing future shootings similar to the one in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed in their school.

The proposal, which has not been written into legislative text, includes money to encourage states to pass and implement so-called “red flag” laws to remove guns from potentially dangerous people, money for school safety and mental health resources, expanded background checks for gun purchases for people between the ages of 18 and 21 and penalties for illegal straw purchases by convicted criminals.

The agreement has the support of at least 20 senators who worked closely over the past several weeks to find the areas of common ground that could pass the closely divided Senate. The group includes 10 Republicans, meaning a final bill could potentially garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.

The negotiators called it a “commonsense” proposal that would reduce the threat of violence across the country.

“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 group said in a statement. “Most importantly, our plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.”

The framework calls for additional vetting for potential gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 21 to include previously blocked juvenile records on criminal activity and mental health. Lawmakers say the plan would also reduce what’s known as the “boyfriend loophole” to include dating partners in preventing convicted domestic abusers from buying a gun.

The provision on so-called “red flag” laws would provide federal funding to encourage states to pass such laws to take guns away from people who already own them but might pose a threat to themselves or others. Lawmakers say the money creates incentives for states that have not yet passed laws to allow that kind of review and would help ensure the laws are properly implemented.

The school safety and mental health sections include funding for school-based programs like mental health support, violence prevention and training for students and educators. The plan would also expand telehealth for mental and behavioral treatment and investments in children and family mental health services through community health centers.

However, mental health experts, like the National Alliance for Mental Illness, say the majority of gun violence is not perpetrated by people with a history of mental illness.

Aides have said that it could take weeks to go through the legal and technical process of turning a preliminary deal into a final bill. Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, the lead Democrat in the negotiations, told Reuters that aides would begin that work on Monday morning.

Growing support, despite detractors

Votes are not expected imminently on this agreement. Senators have been broadly optimistic that any bipartisan agreement will eventually pass the Senate, but the ultimate fate of the bill is not entirely clear.

President Biden expressed support for the deal in a statement. “Obviously, it does not do everything that I think is needed, but it reflects important steps in the right direction, and would be the most significant gun safety legislation to pass Congress in decades,” Biden said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., pledged to put a bill on the floor as soon as possible once legislation is written. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., released a statement praising the negotiators but stopped short of pledging support to an eventual bill.

At least two prominent gun safety advocacy groups are backing the legislation. Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action both released statements supporting the proposal.

“If the framework announced today gets enacted into law, it will be the most significant piece of gun safety legislation to make it through Congress in 26 long and deadly years,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement.

Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, called the framework “a major step in finally getting federal action to address gun violence.”

The National Rifle Association has not yet released a position on the proposal. In a statement, the group said they do not weigh in on frameworks and will wait until the final bill is complete.

“We encourage our elected officials to provide more resources to secure our schools, fix to our severely broken mental health system and support law enforcement,” the statement said. “The NRA will continue to oppose any effort to insert gun control policies, initiatives that override constitutional due process protections and efforts to deprive law-abiding citizens of their fundamental right to protect themselves and their loved ones into this or any other legislation.”

Other gun rights groups are already opposing the plan and criticizing the 10 Republican senators who are backing it. If they are able to convince any one of them to back away from the deal as the legislative details are hammered out, it could kill the legislation if no other Republicans join Democrats to support the proposal.

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Transcript :

CHERYL W THOMPSON, HOST:

After years of bitter division in Washington, a narrow bipartisan agreement on guns has finally been reached. A group of 20 senators say they have a deal on legislation aimed at reducing gun violence in America. The agreement includes money to encourage states to pass red flag laws, funding for mental health programs and school safety and some changes to background checks for young gun buyers. Passage is not guaranteed, but negotiators are calling it a significant breakthrough. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been following this, and she joins me now. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

THOMPSON: So what can you tell us about how this agreement came together?

SNELL: Well, negotiators said that they wanted to prevent another shooting like the one last month in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school. So this deal looks at school safety and security and getting guns out of the hands of people who, under existing laws and standards, should not have guns anyway. So we don’t have the full details of how each section will be worded, but the framework calls for an additional vetting for potential gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 21. Many lawmakers said they needed to do something to prevent young people with juvenile records or a history of mental health issues from obtaining guns.

And lawmakers say the plan would also reduce what’s known as the boyfriend loophole, so it would include dating partners in preventing convicted domestic abusers from buying a gun. Another section would provide federal funding to encourage states to pass so-called red flag laws, which would allow organizations and law enforcement to take guns away from people who already own them but might pose a threat to themselves or others.

THOMPSON: What about the elements around school safety and mental health? How would those work?

SNELL: The framework calls for funding for school-based programs like mental health support, violence prevention and training for students and educators. There’s also money to expand telehealth for mental and behavioral health treatment, although I should say mental health experts say the majority of gun violence is not perpetrated by people with a history of mental illness.

THOMPSON: Since this is just a framework so far and not an actual bill, what are the chances that Congress is actually able to pass all of this and that it will become law?

SNELL: Lawmakers have repeatedly told me throughout this process that the horror and tragedy of that shooting in Uvalde shifted the willingness in Congress to reopen gun talks that have been stalled for years. And there has been huge support for the plan since it was announced. The bipartisan group includes 10 Republicans. So it is possible that the plan could have sufficient support to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, which has been the main obstacle for gun legislation in the past several years. And President Biden did put out a statement today saying there are no excuses for delays and no reason why it should not move quickly through the Senate and the House. Plus, outside gun advocacy groups have been very supportive. Some, like Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, are calling it the most significant breakthrough in decades.

But some pro-gun groups are already opposed to the plan, and they will have time to pressure Republicans because turning a framework into legislative language takes time. It may be weeks before a bill is finalized and ready for a vote.

THOMPSON: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell, thanks for joining me.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.