Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly part of group reaching deal on guns, mental health

Gun Rights

A bipartisan group of 20 senators has forged a deal intended to stem gun violence in America, and — if the coalition holds — it could pass the most far-reaching steps on the issue in a generation.

The agreement outlined Sunday in Washington includes both of Arizona’s Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly. But it is the presence of 10 Republican senators along with 10 Democrats who make the deal a potential breakthrough. 

The agreement includes provisions to add scrutiny of juvenile records to gun sales for those under 21 years old and adds penalties for those buying weapons for someone else, but much of the proposed legislation would add resources for states to create systems to better ensure those with mental health issues don’t have firearms.

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It includes provisions to expand mental health treatment in schools and add security to schools. It also closes the “boyfriend loophole” prohibiting gun ownership for those convicted of domestic violence attacks on dating partners.

It does not restrict access to assault rifles or broadly raise age requirements for gun sales, as many Democrats have sought.

The various provisions in the deal are seen as complimentary and politically possible on an issue largely defined by political stalemate in Washington even as mass shootings proliferated over the past 25 years.

The negotiations began after recent massacres in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, and many of the senator-to-senator discussions took place in Sinema’s offices.

Sinema was one of the four lead negotiators of the deal, along with Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

Sinema and Cornyn have worked closely on border-related matters for years.

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In a statement, President Joe Biden singled out Murphy, Cornyn, Sinema and Tillis “for their tireless work to produce this proposal.”

“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. With bipartisan support, there are no excuses for delay, and no reason why it should not quickly move through the Senate and the House. Each day that passes, more children are killed in this country: The sooner it comes to my desk, the sooner I can sign it, and the sooner we can use these measures to save lives.”

Politico reported that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., pledged to move forward with the proposed legislation.

In a joint statement, the Senate group said the deal would “protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country.”

“Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities,” they said.

“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.”

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Other senators in the group include Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Bill Cassidy, R-La.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Chris Coons, D-Del.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.; Angus King, I-Maine; Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Mitt Romney, R-Utah; Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; and Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

The bipartisan deal stands in contrast to Democratic-only efforts that have failed to advance.

On Wednesday, for example, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a bill that would raise the legal age to purchase most semiautomatic rifles and ban high-capacity ammunition magazines.

But that measure, following wrenching testimony on Capitol Hill from a survivor of the Uvalde attack, was always expected to languish in the Senate.

By contrast, the Senate deal announced Sunday could find adequate support in the House.

Decades of relative inaction in Washington after mass shootings have made at least some Democrats open to a deal of almost any kind.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., voted for the House bill on Wednesday, but said in a May 25 interview with The Arizona Republic that he would vote for even small changes at this point.

“Any break in this wall that’s been set up by Republicans in the House and the Senate and the gun manufacturers and the NRA … I support because there hasn’t been one to date,” he said.

According to those involved in the deal, their proposed legislation would:

  • Provide resources to states and tribes to ensure weapons are kept away from individuals deemed by a court to be a significant danger to themselves or others.
  • Expand community behavioral health centers and access to mental health and suicide prevention programs. It would increase telehealth access to such programs as well.
  • Add convicted domestic violence abusers and individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders in the federal background-check system, including those who have or have had a continuing intimate relationship.
  • Expand mental health and support services in schools for early identification and intervention programs and school-based mental health services.
  • Help institute safety measures in and around primary and secondary schools, support violence-prevention efforts at schools and provide training for staffers and students.
  • Further punish criminals who evade licensing requirements or who illegally purchase and traffic guns for others.
  • Require an investigative period to review juvenile and mental health records for those under 21, including checks with state databases and local law enforcement before a gun sale is made.

Reach the reporter Ronald J. Hansen at ronald.hansen@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4493. Follow him on Twitter @ronaldjhansen.

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