Key Republicans and Democrats announced a significant gun bill Thursday, striking a deal to push federal agencies to report more domestic violence records to the gun-buying background check system.
The deal includes Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican whose state suffered the recent church shooting, as well as Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, two Democrats from Connecticut who have been among the most prominent gun-control supporters.
“For years, agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence,” Mr. Cornyn said.
The new bill would punish agencies that fail to report their records on domestic violence to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which screens gun purchases from licensed firearms dealers.
It also pushes states to report more records.
The shooter in the Texas church massacre had a series of run-ins with the law, including while he was in the Air Force and served time in the brig for a charge that lawmakers say would be called domestic violence in civilian courts.
That should have gotten him flagged in the NICS, preventing him from buying a gun from a licensed dealer.
But the Air Force didn’t report his conviction. In fact, lawmakers said, the service listed just a single person for those kinds of domestic violence charges over the last decade.
Thursday’s bill is also sponsored by Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican whose state suffered a mass shooting in 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The shooter in that case also should have been denied a gun sale through the NICS check, authorities now say.
The bipartisan nature of Thursday’s deal was striking, giving how many previous gun massacres have devolved into partisan sniping and calls from one side to enact broad bans, and from the other side to stick with the laws already on the books.
Both sides acknowledged this latest bill is very limited — which they said was the nature of the deal.
“Our bill marks an important milestone that shows real compromise can be made on the issue of guns,” Mr. Murphy said, praising Mr. Cornyn for being willing to address the issue. “It’s no secret that I believe much more needs to be done. But this bill will make sure that thousands of dangerous people are prevented from buying guns.”
The danger for lawmakers now is a breakdown in cooperation when the legislation hits the chamber floor.
Past gun debates have started out limited but one side or the other has tried to expand their bill to include items on their own wish-list, often scuttling the entire effort.
Already Thursday outside groups were pushing for such an expansion.
The U.S. Concealed Carry Association said it supported having “all appropriate records” — including domestic violence convictions — in the NICS. But the group said it should be coupled with pro-gun rights legislation such as concealed-carry reciprocity, which would allow those licensed to carry in their home state to also carry in any other state they travel to.
“If Congress is going to consider new firearms legislation, national concealed carry reciprocity should part of that debate and included in the legislation,” said Tim Schmidt, president of the association.
Gun-control activists, though, are vehemently opposed to reciprocity, saying it would undermine the limits a number of states have set on concealed weapons.