A bipartisan group of 20 members in the U.S. Senate – 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans – announced on Sunday they had reached an agreement on additional gun regulations. 

Although the Senators didn't release the proposed bill language, a one-pager on what was green-lighted included making it harder for the 13 million American adults under age 21 to legally get guns, increasing the pool of individuals who can have guns seized, and making it harder to sell personally-owned firearms without a license. Most of that, however, isn't mentioned in the joint statement released over the weekend. 

Our plan increases needed mental health resources, improves school safety and support for students, and helps ensure dangerous criminals and those who are adjudicated as mentally ill can’t purchase weapons. Most importantly, our plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. We look forward to earning broad, bipartisan support and passing our commonsense proposal into law.

The plan includes:

  • "Enhancing" background checks for firearms transfers conducted by a Federal Firearms Licensee to adults between the age of 18 and 20. This would include a lengthier process that may search previously sealed juvenile and mental health records, including checks with state databases and local law enforcement. 
  • Sending taxpayer dollars in the form of grants to states, territories, and tribes from the Department of Justice for the implementation of existing "Red Flag" gun seizure laws while incentivizing new states to pass similar schemes.
  • Expanding the current prohibition on domestic abusers – both those convicted and on a restraining order pending a verdict – from buying or possessing guns beyond spouses to those they have had almost any romantic relationship with. 
  • Zeroing in on just what the ATF considers "engaged in the business" of selling personally-owned firearms without a Federal Firearms License. The ATF currently does not define how many guns one needs to sell to require a license but instead relies on a host of other factors that accompany the unlicensed sales such as advertising, selling, and payment methods. For instance, presenting oneself as a licensed dealer on business cards and accepting credit cards could be a factor. However, the agency may issue a warning if these factors are present “when only one or two transactions took place.”

Other, more benign measures hinted to but not fully explained would include funding more school safety resources and telehealth programs offering mental and behavioral health services for youth and families. 

Finally, there is a promise to crack "down on criminals who illegally straw purchase and traffic guns," something that is already a federal crime subject to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the first offense, one that the DOJ regularly pursues charges over

Further, the package doesn't appear to include any gun reforms such as the Hearing Protection Act, nationwide concealed carry reciprocity, or NFA restructuring, pointing to what could have been very one-sided negotiations between the two sides of the issue. Even the circa 1986 "Firearm Owners' Protection Act," which included the Hughes Amendment that ended modern consumer machine gun production, won protections for individuals making occasional sales or repairs from having to obtain an FFL, ended the logging of all centerfire ammunition sales in a bound book, included an agreement by the federal government not to maintain a firearms registry of non-NFA guns, and codified the "safe passage" of those traveling across state lines with firearms. 

In short, the proposal seems to include lots of extra incremental seizures, refusals, and restrictions, without even a minor win to present to gun rights advocates other than, "It could have been worse." 

Who were the 10 Republicans?

The 10 Republicans who joined with the group of often-staunch anti-gun Democrats include Senators John Cornyn (Texas), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Bill Cassidy (La.), Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Mitt Romney (Utah), and Pat Toomey (Pa.). As the Senate is evenly split 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris casting a deciding vote, the figure of 10 GOP lawmakers ready to cross the aisle and join a united group of 50 Dems is a magical one as it is enough to overcome, at 60 votes, any filibuster attempt mounted by more pro-2A members of the chamber. 

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, talking on the floor at the 2018 NRA Annual Meeting. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, talking on the floor at the 2018 NRA Annual Meeting. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

The Republicans in support of the package are largely insulated against immediate blowback from their constituents, which, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell directing who would be involved in the negotiations with Democrats, may have been intentional. 

Of the 10 aisle-crossing Senators, four – Burr, Blunt, Portman, and Toomey – have previously announced they are retiring from public office this year. Most of the rest – Cornyn, Tillis, Cassidy, Collins, and Graham – won reelection in 2020, many while giving big talk on pro-gun issues, and won't see a ballot again until at least 2026. Romney, 75, has a term that expires in 2024 but has been so far out of agreement with his Caucus in recent years – supporting the Trump impeachment vote as well as the January 6 Commission, and backing Biden's nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court – that it is unclear if he plans to run for office again as a Republican.

Biden, anti-gun groups, excited

President Biden issued a statement minutes after the bipartisan group's own, praising Cornyn and Tillis by name along with Democrats Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Chris Murphy (Conn.). He also bemoaned the fact that the proposal didn't include more regulation, but nonetheless urged its rapid passage to his desk. 

"Obviously, it does not do everything that I think is needed, but it reflects important steps in the right direction, and would be the most significant gun safety legislation to pass Congress in decades," said Biden, who has repeatedly called for a federal ban on most semi-auto firearms. "With bipartisan support, there are no excuses for delay, and no reason why it should not quickly move through the Senate and the House."

Likewise, national gun control organizations such as Brady (formerly Handgun Control, Inc) Everytown (formerly Mayors Against Illegal Guns), and Giffords – whose co-founder, U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, was one of the Democrats involved in the group of 20 – embraced the news of the bipartisan effort. The groups urged fast action. 

"We urge every Senator to listen to their constituents and to vote to pass these meaningful policy changes into law," said the Brady campaign. "There is no time for complacency: the time is now and the moment is here. This is a historic initial breakthrough towards progress in our fight to prevent gun violence."

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