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Congress may take action on gun safety legislation after decades of inaction


The nation could soon see Congress take action on gun safety legislation after decades of inaction. A bipartisan group of senators has announced a deal on a proposal that has the support of 10 Republicans - a critical number needed to get any major bill through the 50-50 Democratic-controlled Senate. It's not a done deal, but President Biden praised the early agreement as, quote, "important steps in the right direction." Now, there's no assault weapons ban. An 18-year-old can still buy an assault weapon. And there's no expanded background checks for all firearms sales. So what exactly did these senators agree to? Let's begin this hour with NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: This is definitely not as far as gun safety advocates would like to see, but it really is about as good as it can get in an evenly divided Senate. This is still a major breakthrough. It's been a generation since Congress has even come close to passing laws that affect gun ownership. The most significant part of this proposal, based on the outline that was provided by the senators, is that it would make it harder by requiring a more thorough background check for someone under the age of 21 to buy any gun, including high-capacity weapons like AR-15s. They couldn't get them fast.

Senators say it would also incentivize states to pass things called red flag laws that allow members of your family or law enforcement to take away a weapon from someone who could be a danger to themselves or other people. It would also increase penalties for gun traffickers - excuse me - and it would include more money for mental health services. But to be very clear, there is nothing in this bill that would affect how an otherwise law-abiding citizen can get a gun.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Now, even if all the details still need to get worked out, what do you make of the reaction?

DAVIS: It's a big deal. I mean, all of the major gun safety groups came out really quickly in favor of this bill. Any progress is good progress is how they see it. Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action. In a statement, she said the bill would break the logjam in Congress on the gun issue. This is a group that has been lobbying for action on this for more than a decade. And she said they are prepared to, quote, "fight like hell to get this historic deal over the finish line." Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the senators who negotiated the deal, but he did stop short of endorsing it until it's all put into writing.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so tell us about that because there's this framework. What has to happen now to turn that into law?

DAVIS: Well, they actually have to write the bill, and that can take several weeks to work out. The lead Democrat, Chris Murphy - he's from Connecticut. He told Reuters last night that aides are going to start working on that today. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has already said he will bring it up for a vote as soon as it's ready.

One thing to watch is how gun rights groups react. The NRA put out a statement last night basically saying they weren't going to weigh in on it until they see the full bill. But there's a lot of gun rights groups now, and one of them, the Gun Owners of America, attacked Republicans for signing on to this deal yesterday - so watching to see if groups like this can slow down or try to block this bill before it reaches the Senate floor.

This is also a lot less than the House supports. They just passed a far more sweeping gun control bill. But if the Senate can pass this, it's going to be really hard for the House to reject it, especially with President Biden saying he will sign it, even if it's not everything he wanted either.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Susan Davis. Susan, thanks a lot.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.