Schumer gives gun control negotiations two weeks

Schumer gives gun control negotiations two weeks
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Or else what, exactly?

Negotiations between a group of Republican and Democrat senators seeking to find a compromise on gun control legislation is underway, but there’s no guarantee that any sort of agreement will be reached in the next two weeks (or two months for that matter). What happens if Schumer’s deadline comes and goes and the two sides are still far apart? Does he go ahead and hold a purely performative vote knowing whatever bill he puts up will fail to get 60 votes (and might not even get every member of his caucus to come on board), or will he decide to avoid a vote completely and still try to beat Republicans over the head for standing in the way of “commonsense gun control” between now and November?

It sounds like he’s keeping his options open, but it also sounds like Republican leadership is willing to “do something”… up to a point.

A small, bipartisan group of senators who have for years sought to negotiate legislation on guns met Thursday following the vote and emerged with areas “of potential agreement.” Those appeared to include providing grants to states to implement red flag laws — designed to keep firearms from people who could harm themselves or others — and updating an effort to expand background checks for commercial gun sales, including at gun shows and on the internet.

“We’ve got about 10 members, equal numbers on both sides,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who is leading the negotiations. “We have a good list of things to work on.” He added that the group plans to follow up with a phone call next week.

Murphy has been working to push gun legislation since the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six educators.

A member of the group, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., told reporters that a bill he has been working on for the past decade to expand background checks for firearm sales still does not have enough support but “I hope we’ll get there.”

None of the lawmakers could say definitively if any of the efforts will have the 10 Republican senators it needs to pass.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said little about gun legislation since the several tragedies have unfolded, told reporters he met with Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas earlier and encouraged senators to work together across the aisle on workable outcomes.

“I am hopeful that we could come up with a bipartisan solution that’s directly related to the facts of this awful massacre,” McConnell said.

“Directly related to the facts” is an interesting phrase. Presumably that would not involve background checks, since the murderer in Uvalde passed a NICS check before purchasing two rifles, but background checks are clearly a part of the discussions taking place on Capitol Hill. A ban on gun sales to those under the age of 21 would probably be the gun control proposal that’s most related to the facts of this shooting, but that doesn’t appear to be a part of the conversation, at least at the moment.

It also looks like there’s growing interest among senators to help states impose “red flag” laws, though talk about a federal red flag law appears to have cooled for the time being.

Blumenthal said he has been working with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., “for years” on legislation that would provide incentives for states to pass red flag laws. On Wednesday, Murphy reached out to Republicans, including moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who told him about her state’s yellow flag law, which allows law enforcement to confiscate someone’s firearm if both a medical professional and a judge sign off.

“I think that is the kind of law that could have made a difference in this case, since … it appears that he suffered from mental illness,” Collins told reporters. “It’s my understanding that he bought his weapon legally and passed a background check, so I really think our focus should be on looking at what some states have done, red flag or yellow flag laws.”

Another moderate senator, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., said she will be involved in the conversations. “There’s some shared agreement on red flags,” she said, “which I think might be a place to start conversations to actually get something done.”

I have a number of problems with “red flag” laws, but here’s what’s really bugging me about senators latching on to them as their solution to stop school shootings. As Susan Collins said, it “appears” the killer in Uvalde suffered from mental illness. But the vast majority of red flag laws on the books in 19 states have no mental health component to them at all. A judge determines that someone poses a danger to themselves or others, mandates that they can’t own firearms for a particular time period (which can be extended through another hearing), and then sends that supposedly dangerous person off to interact with the general public.

The “yellow flag” law in Maine at least requires a mental health professional to agree with a judge about a person’s dangerousness, but there’s still no mental health treatment mandated or offered once a petition has been granted. After the guns are gone, the “yellow flag” law has done its job, even though there’s still a person deemed to be dangerous by the state running around.

That seems more than a little odd to me, especially when supporters of these laws, like Collins, are generally quick to talk about how they can be used to prevent severely mentally ill individuals from acting out.

But Maine’s law suffers from another flaw as well, apparently. A number of mental health professionals refused to take part in evaluations after Maine’s law went into effect because they were concerned that patients might lash out at them after their guns were taken. Legislators ended up revising the law this past year to allow for evaluations to take place remotely, which might make doctors and counselors less nervous but could also make their assessments less accurate. So far, the revisions haven’t had much of an impact.

Major health systems in Maine aren’t currently providing evaluations.

A spokesperson for Northern Light Health told 8 Investigates they don’t have the staff, “capable of performing the assessment required by the law.”

MaineHealth said they’re working on a pilot program for patients, “already in our care who are being evaluated for involuntary psychiatric treatment.”

A spokesperson noted even then it would not be MaineHealth providers performing evaluations.

The fact that is the model that senators are looking towards is utterly depressing, though I suppose its also entirely predicable. Politicians love to “do something”, even if that something doesn’t do a damn thing to address the actual problem, which in this case is supposedly a dangerous person, and not one inanimate object that they might use to harm themselves or others.