A flood of gun-control proposals has inundated Congress in response to a terrifying spate of mass shootings but, lawmakers say, the growing stack of bills only weighs down negotiations and makes a deal less likely.
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who is part of the bipartisan negotiations, said there’s just not enough political will to get a big, expansive deal for new gun laws.
“We’re talking about some minor expansions of background checks, getting more sales through the background check system. We’re talking about red flag laws,” Mr. Murphy said during an appearance on PBS News Hour. “Those are the kinds of things that we might be able to find 60 votes on. But we will see.”
The talks in the Senate, where there must be a bipartisan deal for a bill to pass, center on incremental changes to background checks and federal incentives for states to adopt “red flag” laws to confiscate firearms from people a court deems to be dangerous.
The senators, with Sen. John Cornyn of Texas leading the talks for Republicans, also are discussing bolstering funding for mental health and school security.
All of those measures fall far short of what President Biden and House Democrats have prescribed in response to the recent bloodshed.
Both sides of the gun debate agree that the carnage must stop after a series of mass shootings including the massacre of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Both sides also reject most of the other’s ideas as impractical or ineffective, including Democrats dismissing Republican proposals to fortify school security.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans for her chamber to pass an ambitious package of gun-control measures dubbed the Protecting Our Kids Act. The legislation would raise the federal age to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21, create “safe storage” laws for gun owners and ban “high-capacity” ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 bullets, though existing magazines are “grandfathered.”
It would codify President Trump’s ban on bump stocks that allow rifles to fire rapidly similar to a machine gun, and it would impose background checks for “ghost guns” kits to assemble handguns.
“Saving our children can and must be a unifying mission for our nation,” said Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat.
Mrs. Pelosi also announced plans to consider a ban on military-style semiautomatic rifles or “assault weapons” and legislation allowing courts to issue extreme risk protection orders that ban purchasing or possessing firearms.
The House Democrats’ bill is dead on arrival in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. But House Democrats say the legislation will up public pressure on Senate Republicans to back some type of change to gun laws.
Mr. Biden attempted to add to the pressure.
In a prime-time address, he urged lawmakers to adopt much of the Democrats’ proposals and went further, calling for a national red flag law and stripping liability protection from gunmakers so that they could be sued by victims of gun crimes.
Mr. Biden also wants gun owners to face penalties for not locking up their firearms.
“This isn’t about taking away anyone’s rights,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s about protecting children, about protecting families. … It’s about protecting our freedom to go to school, to a grocery store, to a church without being shot and killed.”
The volume of gun-control proposals has unnerved senators involved in the bipartisan talks. The focus on get-tough bills that have no hope of passing, they say, is only stoking partisan ire.
“Look, we’re talking about background checks,” Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat, said after the Uvalde shooting. “If we talk about anything more than that it’s just silly … [an assault weapons ban] isn’t going to pass if you can’t get background checks done.”