‘Absolutely not worthless’: Democrats are learning to love a small-scale gun deal

Tens of thousands showed up Saturday for more than 450 March for Our Lives rallies across the country, where speakers called for universal background checks and a ban on the sale of assault weapons – or, at the very least, the requirement for Americans to be at least 21 before they can buy an assault rifle.

On Sunday, the student-led group behind the rallies reluctantly endorsed an emerging gun violence deal in the Senate that would accomplish neither of those things.

In a less broken society, we would be able to require background checks every time someone wants to buy a gun, and we would ban assault rifles outright,” said David Hogg, co-founder of the group and survivor of the 17-person massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in 2018. “But if even a life is saved or a mass shooting attempt is prevented thanks to these regulations, we think it’s worth getting to beat.”

As a bipartisan group of 20 senators scramble to finalize what will likely be the first major gun control bill in three decades, Democrats are settling for a small victory, hoping it might downplay the GOP’s fear of a political backlash and leading the way. pathway for future action toward gun control. Democratic support for the legislation in Congress will be nearly unanimous.

“We might be able to score more political points against Republicans, but we wouldn’t save lives, and that’s my priority,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who helped negotiate the pack. “If Republicans learn that history and good politics err on the side of saving lives and they want to do more because it will get them both, okay.”

Still, a small group of Democratic operatives and strategists worry about the downsides of such an incremental deal, fearing it will allow Republicans to pretend they’ve taken action on a key issue while doing little to reduce 45,000 per year. the toll of victims of armed violence.

“It’s absolutely not without value. It’s a solid package. It’s going to save lives,” Robin Lloyd, chief executive of gun control group Giffords, told reporters on a conference call on Sunday. afternoon as details of the deal emerged “Even though it doesn’t have everything a lot of people would like to see, it’s still very important to do.”

The emerging deal on gun violence in the Senate will do far less than activists like March for Our Lives co-founder David Hogg hope, but they support it anyway.

Tasos Katopodis via Getty Images

Senators are still ironing out the final details of the deal and drafting the legislation, but an announcement on Sunday said the proposal would prompt states to pass so-called “red flag” laws to keep guns from falling between hands of people who are a danger to themselves or others, improving background checks on buyers under 21, removing the “boyfriend loophole” that had allowed some domestic abusers to buy guns , invest in mental health and school safety programs, and increase penalties for straw buyers who buy guns for others.

President Joe Biden, who has backed expanding background checks, banning assault weapons and eliminating a liability shield for gun manufacturers, backs the deal despite play a small role in its development.

“Does this framework have everything the president wants or everything the president has asked for? It’s not,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at Monday’s press conference, noting that families of victims of gun violence in Texas and New York had begged the president to “do something” when he met with them.

The momentum created for this legislation following the May 24 massacre of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and the racist killing of 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, on May 14.

But a previous wave of mass shootings in 2020, amid the Democratic presidential primaries, brought much more ambitious proposals: Former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas endorsed mandatory gun buybacks to reduce the number of guns in the United States (there are now about 121 guns for every 100 Americans) and Meaning. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts proposed gun licensing programs. Warren has backed big increases in gun and ammunition taxes.

In an interview on Monday, Warren backed the current deal and said the party must continue to exert political pressure on congressional Republicans, most of whom are not even expected to support the bipartisan deal.

“These are people who haven’t moved in decades with guns,” she told HuffPost. “It’s a sign of the heat they feel that they even move an inch. Our job is to push these Republicans as hard as we can. Nobody gives up. Once this bill is passed, we will come back to it by asking for a ban on assault weapons, by asking to raise the age of possession of firearms.

Years of stalemate have also taken their toll on progressives, who are eager to embrace any progress.

“Even moving the ball forward a few yards is worth it,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California) said. “I have been in Congress for six years. We haven’t done anything for six years of any substance.

Gun control remains politically popular: a NPR/PBS/Marist Poll survey earlier this month found that 59% of Americans say preventing gun violence is more important than protecting gun rights, the highest number in a decade, while 35% say the protection of gun rights is more important.

The same survey found that many provisions of the proposal were popular with the public: 86% of voters said they would definitely support a candidate who wants to increase funding for mental health, while 82% said the same. of a candidate who supports background checks and 78% would support a candidate who supported red flag laws.

Various gun violence proposals not included in the package were less popular. The public was divided on the assault weapons ban: While 56% of all voters said they would vote for a candidate who supported one, the proposal was underwater among independent voters. Allowing teachers to arm themselves was downright unpopular, with just 38% of voters saying they would support a candidate who supported the idea.

The popularity of gun control measures is part of the reason some Democrats fear a deal is a risk, potentially leaving the GOP, which has delayed serious action on gun violence for decades, politically off the hook. while doing little to solve the problem.

“The real question is whether this deal advances the cause of passing something that really matters or sets it back,” said Adam Jentleson, a top aide to the late Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. from Nevada, wrote on Twitter. “The illusion of progress can be a net negative.”

Igor Bobic and Arthur Delaney contributed reporting.

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