Gun-reform deal reached in Senate with key Republican backing

WASHINGTON, June 12 (Reuters) – In a potential breakthrough toward the first significant new U.S. gun law in decades, a bipartisan group of senators on Sunday announced an agreement on a framework for a firearms safety bill with enough Republican support to advance in the narrowly divided Senate.

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.

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” remains. Murphy said he hoped for Senate passage by early August or sooner.

“We’re going to get to work writing (legislative) text first thing (Monday) morning,” Murphy told Reuters.

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 both 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 back 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’s Second Amendment 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 on the Senate floor following a 2012 Connecticut elementary school massacre. Murphy, who represents Connecticut, has dedicated a major part of his decade-long Senate career to gun control following that tragedy.

“Our plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans,” Murphy and Cornyn said in a joint statement.

The group agreeing to the framework included 10 Republicans, nine Democrats and one independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

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