Horrible shootings, political forces agree to get arms deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — The country has long faced a narcotic sequence of mass shootings at schools, places of worship and public gathering places. None forced Congress to respond with significant legislation — until now.

Last month, a white gunman was charged with racial motivation in the murder of 10 blacks in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. Another gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

The murders of shoppers and schoolchildren just 10 days apart — innocents engaged in daily activities — sparked a deep-seated public demand for Congress to do something, lawmakers from both parties say. Negotiators produced a bipartisan gun violence bill that the Senate is on track for approval later this week, with House action expected sometime after.

Here’s a look at the confluence of factors that contributed to a compromise.

REPUBLICAN MOTIVATION

This is an election year. Republicans prefer to take over the House, now closely controlled by Democrats, and have a solid shot at winning the 50-50 Senate.

To increase their chances, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.know they need to attract moderate voters like suburban women who will rule competitive races in states like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina.

By taking steps to reduce bloody shootings, the GOP can demonstrate its responsiveness and reasonableness — an image tarnished by former President Donald Trump and the hard-right deniers of his 2020 election defeat.

Underlining the focus he prefers, McConnell praised the arms deal by telling reporters on Wednesday that it is taking important steps to “address the two issues I believe it focuses on, school safety and mental health.”

The bill would spend $8.6 billion on mental health programs and more than $2 billion on safety and other improvements in schools, according to a cost estimate by the unbiased Congressional Budget Office. The analysts estimate the total cost at about $13 billion, more than paid for by budget cuts it also claims.

But it also makes the youth files of gun buyers ages 18 to 20 part of background checks needed to purchase firearms, bars guns for convicted domestic abusers who are not married to or does not live with their victims, and strengthens penalties for gun trafficking. It funds violence prevention programs and helps states implement laws that help authorities temporarily take weapons from people deemed risky.

DEMOCRATS ALSO WANT MIDDLE GROUND

The measure lacks stronger curbs backed by Democrats, such as banning the assault rifles used in Buffalo, Uvalde and other killings and the high-capacity ammunition magazines the gunmen used.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said on Wednesday that this time around, Democrats decided not to “hold a vote on a bill with a lot of things we’d like, but had no hope of getting passed.” That has been the pattern for years.

Democratic Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and Republican Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina led negotiators in talks that lasted four weeks. Their deal is Congress’ most significant gun violence measure since the now-expired ban on assault weapons passed in 1993.

For nearly 30 years, “both sides sat in their respective corners and decided it was politically safer to do nothing but take risks,” Murphy told reporters. He said the Democrats had to show “that we were willing to put some things on the table that took us out of our comfort zone.”

GUN RIGHTS VOTERS

Gun rights defenders are disproportionately Republican, and the party crosses them at its peril. Trump, who may be preparing for a presidential run in 2024, issued a statement calling the compromise “the first step in the movement to TAKE YOUR GUNS AWAY.”

McConnell took the trouble to say that the measure “doesn’t so much affect the rights of the vast majority of U.S. gun owners who are law-abiding citizens with common sense.”

Still, the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups oppose the compromise in what will be a test of their influence.

Supporting this legislation should not damn Republicans with pro-gun voters.

McConnell and Cornyn have discussed GOP polls showing gun owners overwhelmingly support many of the bill’s provisions. And those voters will likely be upset about skyrocketing gas prices and inflation and could vote Republican anyway.

WIN FOR BOTH SIDES

About two-thirds of the 50 Republicans in the Senate are expected to oppose the gun measure. But congressional approval would be a GOP victory by stopping Democrats from using gun violence in their campaigns, Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said. “By taking this off the table as a potential problem for Democrats, the focus is back on inflation and the economy,” Newhouse said.

Not so, says Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin. He said approval will allow Democrats to tout an achievement that leads Congress and demonstrates they can work across party lines. Democrats can still campaign against Republicans who oppose tougher measures like abolishing assault weapons, issues where “Democrats clearly have a high political stance,” Garin said.

Fourteen Republicans, including Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, voted Tuesday to move the legislation one step toward approval. It’s probably telling that she and Indiana Sen. Todd Young were the only two to be re-elected this fall. Three are retiring and eight, including McConnell, Cornyn and Tillis, will not be running again until 2026.

WHAT TO HEAR DIRECTLY

Senators say they have been struck by a different mood at home.

Democratic Senate leader Richard Durbin of Illinois said some people he’s known for a long time told him “maybe it’s time to get my kids out of this country,” which he called unbelievable. “That they would even consider that possibility tells you how desperate families are” after the recent shootings.

“What I heard for the first time was, ‘Do something,'” Murkowski said. “And it wasn’t, ‘Forbid this, do that,’ it was, ‘Do something.'”

That was not the case for everyone. Republican Senator Steve Daines of gun-popular Montana said of his voters, “They want to make sure their Second Amendment rights are defended,” the constitutional provision that allows people to keep firearms.

Associated Press writer Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report.

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