By Ashok Nilakantan
New York, Jun 23 (IANS): The Senate's bipartisan new gun law drafted by 20 senators led by John Cornyn, Republican from Texas, often described in political circles as a compromise framework legislation, has been historic, though it has fallen much short of US President Joe Biden's wish-list as he has been continuously saying "meaningless violence must stop" making his best efforts to restrict gun violence in the country in the aftermath of the Buffalo and Texas shootings that claimed innocent lives.
The new gun law has actually emerged from asymmetrical negotiations in which the top Democratic negotiator always predicted he wouldn't get everything he wanted, while the top Republican always promised the bill wouldn't have anything he didn't want, claim Olivier Knox backed by research from Caroline Anders in a special dispatch in the Washington Post reporting the Bipartisan framework legislations proceedings.
The result of the work led by Sens. John Cornyn (Republican from Texas) and Chris Murphy (Democrat from Connecticut) is the most sweeping congressional response to gun violence since the 1990s. It's also pretty modest, falling well short of what President Biden had publicly hoped for just weeks ago -- and well short of steps that have the support of a majority of Americans.
Oliviers Knox's analysis points out that it's not clear whether the measures it includes would have prevented the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., which helped knit together the bipartisan will in Congress to do something, anything, to try to stem the tide of mass shootings in America.
A few hours before the Senate compromise came together, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety branded the police response in Uvalde an "abject failure" in which officers dithered while the gunman allegedly killed 19 children and two teachers with an AR-15 rifle (a semiautomatic weapon for which he had got the license at the age of 18 years).
Political upsides and pitfalls
From a crassly political perspective, the agreement could benefit its supporters in both parties, though there are some pitfalls on both sides as well. The deal seems to be on track to net the 10 GOP senators required to thwart a likely Republican filibuster and reach Joe Biden's desk. It got 14 GOP ayes Tuesday evening in a procedural vote, the post reports.
Democrats, who hope it's a first step, can point to its historic nature and give Biden something to sign into law at a time when voters are clamoring for swift action to stem gun violence that seems to be unending. The question is whether the framework legislation is too mild and riddled with concessions to GOP opposition that has doomed action to restrict guns for decades, apparently under the heavy influence of the National Rifle Association, the biggest gun lobbyist in congress and outside that seeks to block any law to restrict gun sales with conditions.
Republicans, who support the deal can tell Americans steeped in gun culture there are no hugely significant new restrictions on gun ownership, while pointing other voters (like suburban women) to the package to say they met the moment ahead of the November midterm elections.
But the questions for the GOP are: While an overwhelming majority will vote no (watch the House), how many of them will vote yes? How will those who vote yes face the rage of the small but vocal minority of their party, who see any new restrictions as unacceptable attacks on the 2nd Amendment?
The 2nd amendment was enacted in the 18th century (1791) along with the bill of rights legislation to include citizens rights to bear firearms and that right shall not be infringed upon by anybody. Gun sales increased to give Americans the right to buy and keep firearms in safety for self-defense against predators and perpetrators of violence to society.
This has been subsequently challenged in courts several times on grounds that such free unfettered sale of guns posed a danger to society and that it should be restricted by conditions.
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican, Kentucky) came out in favor of what he called "a commonsense package of popular steps that will help make these horrifying incidents less likely while fully upholding the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens."
The Bill in its details
So, what's in the 80-page bill? Emily Cochrane and Annie Karni summarized it Tuesday night thus in the New York Times:
"The 80-page bill, called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, would enhance background checks, giving authorities up to 10 business days to review the juvenile and mental health records of gun purchasers younger than 21, and direct millions toward helping states implement so-called red flag laws, which allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from people deemed dangerous [to themselves or others]. The measure would also, for the first time, ensure that serious dating partners are included in a federal law that bars domestic abusers from purchasing firearms."
"Senators also agreed to provide millions of dollars for expanding mental health resources (reportedly a federal funding of $18 billion) in communities and schools in addition to the funds devoted to boosting school safety. In addition, the legislation would toughen penalties for those evading licensing requirements or making illegal 'straw' purchases, buying and then selling weapons to people barred from purchasing handguns."
The NYT quoted its staffer Mike DeBonis and Leigh Ann Caldwell as having to say very interesting bit about the so-called "boyfriend loophole", which applies federal law barring domestic violence offenders from buying guns only if they were spouses, lived together, or had children together -- not if they merely dated.
The bipartisan negotiators agreed more than a week ago to add a "continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature". Defining precisely what constitutes such a relationship, however, was challenging, as was addressing GOP desires to create a process allowing offenders to have their gun rights restored. The bill released Tuesday would bar a misdemeanor domestic-violence offender who has a 'current or recent former dating relationship with the victim' from owning or buying a gun.
"What constitutes a 'dating relationship' is not precisely defined in the draft text, which would instead allow courts to make that determination based on the length and nature of the relationship, as well as 'the frequency and type of interaction' between the people involved. The text excludes casual acquaintanceship or ordinary fraternization in a business or social context," the NYT says.
In addition to taking an interesting look at the work of legislating, it's a good reminder that whatever Congress does, the courts will have their own say.