The Senate's in recess but the gun control negotiations continue

AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane

A group of Republican and Democratic senators are planning to meet remotely today as they continue to work towards a legislative response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas in which 21 people, including 19 children, were murdered. Sen. John Cornyn, tasked by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to lead the talks from the Republican side, says today’s discussions are centered around whether or not “a basic framework about how we go forward” can be found.

The two big policy proposals floating around continue to be an expansion of the current background check system as well as “red flag” firearm seizure laws, though it sounds like Republicans are also pushing to include ideas that don’t center around new gun control laws.

“I mentioned access to mental health treatment and diagnosis is absolutely critical,” Cornyn said, adding that Covid-19 had isolated many young people during “an important period of social development.”

He also said background checks have to be a national conversation as well. Cornyn noted other possible “limitations under federal law of what sort of firearms you can buy and own and maintain, if you have a criminal or mental health record,” and said, “we’ll be looking at all of that.”

What exactly is Cornyn talking about here? Under current federal law, those convicted of felony offenses and domestic violence misdemeanors are already prohibited by law from possessing all firearms and ammunition, and those adjudicated as “mentally defective” are also barred from owning guns and ammo. Cornyn’s statement sounds like lawmakers may be trying to figure out a way to enact a ban on possession of so-called assault weapons by those who would fall under an expanded category of prohibited persons, though his comments were vague enough that its hard to get a read on what, specifically, he’s talking about.

Cornyn said that in the negotiations he will “try to lean forward and meet my colleagues across the aisle halfway.”

“One thing I hope does not happen is that the various parties sort of fall back into their typical talking points,” he added. “I hope we will try to look in a clear-eyed way at what happened, and ask this question – what can we do to fix this problem? And if we can’t fix it, what can we do to make it better?”

Any clear-eyed look at how the murders in Uvalde could have been been prevented needs to start with the suspect himself, especially given the detailis about his troubled past that have emerged in recent days. It sounds like there were plenty of opportunities for law enforcement and the suspect’s family to have intervened long before the 18-year old spent more than an hour inside Robb Elementary School before he was confronted and killed by officers, but no steps were ever taken to his increasingly concerning behavior. Because there was no intervention, however, the suspect had no criminal record or mental health adjudication and wasn’t prohibited under state or federal law from legally purchasing a long gun once he reached adulthood.

Then there’s the law enforcement response itself, which almost certainly led to more loss of life than what would have taken place had officers immediately engaged the suspect, and lapses in school security that allowed the shooter to enter the school unimpeded thanks to an open back door. All of those decisions were major factors in the attack on Robb Elementary School, but they’re not likely to be addressed by any federal legislation.

Despite Cornyn’s statements about hoping to get away from typical talking points, it sounds like what’s being floated have far more to do with politics than actual policies; a way for both Republicans and Democrats to claim they’re “doing something” in response to the murder of 19 fourth graders and two teachers, even if that “something” is more politically popular than effective at preventing these types of attacks.