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Key US Gun Control Negotiator: ‘Meaningful Change’ Possible

FILE - Democratic Senator Chris Murphy is joined at left by Senator Alex Padilla, also a Democrat, as they speak to activists demanding action on gun control legislation, at the Capitol, in Washington, May 26, 2022.
FILE - Democratic Senator Chris Murphy is joined at left by Senator Alex Padilla, also a Democrat, as they speak to activists demanding action on gun control legislation, at the Capitol, in Washington, May 26, 2022.

A key negotiator on tightening U.S. gun control laws said Sunday there is agreement among Democratic and Republican senators “that we’re going to take some commonsense steps” to try to curb the surge in mass shootings that have shocked many Americans.

“We are talking about a meaningful change in our gun laws, a major investment in mental health, perhaps some money for school security that would make a difference,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut told CNN’s “State of the Union” show.

He said discussions among lawmakers are also focusing on stiffening background checks of gun buyers before sales are completed and nationalizing so-called “red-flag” statutes. Under such laws, police in some states can confiscate weapons of people considered to be a threat to themselves or others or exhibited mental instability.

With lawmakers divided for years over contentious gun control issues, Murphy said the senators engaged in the current talks will not attempt to ban the sale of assault weapons used in many massing shootings, including the killing of 19 children and their two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, May 24, or enact a wider “comprehensive” background check system for gun buyers.

In a prime-time White House address to the nation last week, Democratic President Joe Biden called for enactment of both the assault weapons ban like the 10-year prohibition he shepherded to passage in 1994 when he was a U.S. senator and closing loopholes that permit some gun purchases without background checks.

The president mentioned the assault weapons ban first among his string of proposals, saying, “Why in God’s name should an ordinary citizen be able to purchase an assault weapon that holds 30-round magazines that let mass shooters fire hundreds of bullets in a matter of minutes?”

Murphy said despite abandoning any effort to ban the sale of assault weapons, "I've never been part of negotiations as serious as these. There are more Republicans at the table talking about changing our gun laws and investing in mental health than at any time since Sandy Hook," the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 26 people nearly a decade ago.

A gun rights advocate, House Republican Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana, told the “Fox News Sunday” show, “We need to be focused more on stopping things before they happen ... it immediately becomes about Democrats wanting to take away guns.”

“The Second Amendment is not some guideline,” he said, “It’s part of the United States Constitution. Every day in America people use guns to defend themselves.” The right to bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Why don’t we talk about the root causes of these problems?” Scalise said. “There is some common ground (politically) to be found there. I’d like to see us go in that direction.”

Murphy acknowledged being involved in failed congressional gun control talks in the past. “So, I am sober-minded about chances,” he said.

In Congress, Democratic lawmakers almost uniformly support tighter controls, while Republicans just as adamantly oppose such proposals, saying they impinge on Americans’ constitutional rights.

The Senate negotiators will need at least 10 Republicans along with the unified group of Democrats in the chamber in order to approve gun law changes.

Murphy said none of the changes being considered would “compromise a law-abiding American to be able to buy a weapon. What we’re talking... is making sure that dangerous or potentially dangerous individuals don’t have their hands on weapons.”

The difference in the discussions this time, Murphy said, is that, “I think Republicans realize how scared parents and kids are across this country. I think they realize that this time cannot be nothing.”

“Frankly, it’s a test of democracy,” Murphy said. “It’s a test of the federal government as to whether we can deliver at a moment of just anxiety amongst the American public. We’re closer than ever; let’s see if we land it.”