US senators have announced a bipartisan framework for a firearms safety bill following the United States’ latest spate of mass shootings, in a potential breakthrough toward the country’s first significant new gun law in decades.
The plan, lauded by President Joe Biden, includes support for state “red flag” laws keeping firearms from potentially dangerous people, tougher criminal background checks for gun buyers under age 21 and a crackdown on “straw purchases” by people buying weapons for others who could not pass a background check.
Crafted in the aftermath of last month’s massacres at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas and a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, the framework is far less ambitious than proposals offered by Biden and other Democrats for banning semi-automatic, assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines or at least raising the minimum age to buy those from 18 to 21.
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Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who led the negotiating effort alongside Republican Senator John Cornyn, said “the heavy lifting is behind us” after three weeks of intensive talks, though a “significant amount of work” remained.
Murphy said on Sunday he hoped for Senate passage by early August or sooner.
The deal was announced a day after tens of thousands of people rallied in Washington and around the United States to urge lawmakers to pass legislation to curb gun violence.
While an important breakthrough, the agreement does not ensure that legislation will be approved. Lawmakers still must hammer out legislative language that can attract enough votes to pass in the Senate and House of Representatives, each narrowly controlled by Democrats.
Republican opposition has been instrumental in thwarting Democratic-backed gun control proposals in Congress dating to the 1994 passage of an assault weapons ban that expired a decade later.
The United States has the highest rate of firearms deaths among the world’s wealthy nations. But it is a country where many cherish gun rights and its constitution protects the right to “keep and bear arms”.
Sunday’s announcement marks the furthest that gun reform talks have advanced in Congress since 2013, when legislation failed following a 2012 Connecticut elementary school massacre.
A National Rifle Association spokesperson said the influential group would not take a position until the detailed legislative text was finalised.
She said the NRA would oppose any effort depriving Americans of their gun rights.
With 10 Republicans indicating support, that would overcome the Senate’s “filibuster” rule requiring 60 of the 100 senators to agree to advance most legislation.
Republicans opposed to the plan are expected to mount procedural hurdles in a bid to block it.
Biden welcomed Sunday’s agreement.
“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,” Biden said in a statement.
“With bipartisan support, there are no excuses for delay, and no reason why it should not quickly move through the Senate and the House.”