'Upset no matter what happens': Senate gun deal leaves voters on both sides unsatisfied, frustrated

Some voters think any reform chips away at their Second Amendment rights, but for those who lost loved ones to mass shootings, the Senate gun deal doesn’t go far enough.

  • A pissed-off pastor in North Carolina said he won't reelect GOP senator
  • A Dayton, Ohio, business owner explains why she banned weapons in her store
  • The Senate gun deal is "a baby step" for Pittsburgh synagogue shooting survivors, member says
  • Independent voters offer mixed opinions on the Senate gun deal

Pastor Michael Fox is pissed. 

Actually, Fox, a 60-year-old Sanford, North Carolina, Presbyterian corrects himself: He's "very pissed."

Fox is among the Republican voters who feels betrayed by GOP senators for supporting a bipartisan gun deal they say chips away at their constitutional right to bear arms. 

North Carolina's two Republican senators are among a group of GOP lawmakers backing a gun reform deal in principle for the first time in about 30 years — legislation that was prompted by two mass shootings last month in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.

This is a massive shift in a party that has always been a firewall against any attempts to restrict gun rights.

But the 10 Republican senators supporting the deal say they can save lives without sacrificing Second Amendment rights. Most of them are either retiring or won't face voters until 2026. 

Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Rob Portman of Ohio are not seeking reelection. 

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is up for reelection in 2024. 

Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina aren't on the ballot again until 2026.

In a joint message Sunday, they all said their plan "saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans."

So far, the deal backed by a bipartisan group of senators includes funding mental health and school safety services; requiring juvenile records in background checks on gun buyers 18 to 21; and making it harder for threatening people to have weapons.

Senators are also considering grants for states to implement "red flag" laws, which allow courts to remove firearms from those deemed a threat to themselves or others, and criminalizing third-party straw purchases. 

Fox said he won't forget this in four years.

He said he "absolutely will not vote for" Tillis in 2026. 

"We didn't vote for them to take away our rights," Fox said of his senators. 

The Second Amendment right is important to Fox, a retired Army sergeant who served two tours in Afghanistan. 

"I saw war," he said. "A gun has saved my life." 

GOP and independent voters react to gun deal

Texas Sen. John Cornyn has been the Republican architect in the negotiations and said he believes the Senate deal protects constitutional gun rights.

Some Democrats and those who have lost loved ones in mass shootings say the proposed Senate deal doesn't go far enough.

Meanwhile, some Republican and independent voters in states where GOP senators are backing these measures have expressed concern and disapproval. 

Karen Ripple, a 52-year-old Republican from Spanish Fork, Utah, doesn't agree with providing funding for mental health services in schools: "That's a private matter that parents should decide on for their child. 

"Parts of this bill sound like they are on the right track, but any bill or law that takes away my full Second Amendment rights will not be tolerated by me or many of my fellow constituents."

Romney said in a statement Sunday that he was supporting the "commonsense, bipartisan proposal" because "families deserve to feel safe and secure in their communities." 

In Texas, independent voter Lori Alford is open to some reform, but is concerned about the gradual erosion of gun rights. 

"Once they start whittling away at our Second Amendment rights," Alford, a 64-year-old Ingleside resident, feared it wouldn't take long "until they are gone."

Cornyn, one of her senators, has been the Republican architect in the negotiations and said he believes the Senate deal protects constitutional gun rights. 

He said Monday that the enhanced background checks of juvenile court, police and mental health records would have disclosed "what everyone in the community knew" about the 18-year-old gunman in Uvalde, Texas, who killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers last month. 

"The shooter was a ticking time bomb," Cornyn said. 

Blind spot:Gun violence policy is focusing on mental health but federal records still lack some states

The 18-year-old Buffalo shooter also had a juvenile record that would have prevented him from buying the firearm he used to kill 10 Black shoppers at a Tops grocery store, senators said. 

"The tragedies in Uvalde and elsewhere cried out for action," Cornyn said in a statement Monday. "I worked closely with my colleagues to protect our communities from violence while also protecting law-abiding Texans' right to bear arms."

Ginny Kerr, a 76-year-old Republican from Manteo, North Carolina, said there's a simpler solution because "we already have laws on the books."

"Why spend time writing another bill when all you have to do is enforce the laws that we have," she said. 

Baina Perkins, a 53-year-old bartender in Troy, Ohio, who said she doesn’t identify with either political party, used to work in a gun store and believes more gun control is needed. 

She is supportive of "red flag" laws, which allow family and law enforcement to petition courts to remove firearms from those deemed a threat to themselves or others, and believes the background check system is flawed. 

Perkins remembers buyers going to the gun store and having to wait three days for a background check. If the seller didn't get a response on the third day, they had to sell the buyer the gun. Sometimes, on the fourth day, the gun store would get a call saying the gun shouldn't be sold to that buyer. 

The Senate deal would leave it up to states to implement their own red flag laws, and lawmakers are still sorting out the language and length of background checks – a sticking point in negotiations. 

Perkins is skeptical that anything will actually get done and have any teeth.

“I’ll be surprised if anything actually happens,” she said. “Obviously, we can’t continue down this path.”

Karen Marvin, president of AimHi Family Firearms Center in New Albany, Ohio, said she doesn’t “envy people coming up with solutions” to mass shootings in America, but was skeptical about some of the details in the bipartisan proposal.

She pointed out that straw purchases already are illegal, for example, and has questions about the types of “red flag” laws the legislation would incentivize. But Marvin said she supports universal background checks.

Marvin also is concerned about how the shifting regulatory framework aligns at both the state and federal level. While Congress is poised to adopt new gun regulations, Ohio is making it easier for gun owners by eliminating permits to carry concealed firearms among other changes.

Gun buyers often are already confused about how the variety of laws across the country apply to them, Marvin said, sometimes asking whether laws in other states apply to Ohio.

“I feel like there will probably be people on both sides who are upset no matter what happens,” she said from behind the counter at her gun shop. “It won’t be enough for one side, and it will be too much for the other.”

'A baby step' in the fight for reform

A makeshift memorial stands outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018 in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at the synagogue. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

The proposed Senate deal comes after numerous mass shootings have shocked the American public for decades. 

But previous calls to action have been met with congressional inaction. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged that he was racing against the clock and said he wants to pass gun reform before the chamber's July 4 recess. 

Gun deal negotiations:Hang-ups on bipartisan gun deal remain. Can Congress pass legislation by July 4 recess?

Gun safety advocates are pleased the Senate is taking some action, but they say it doesn't go far enough. 

For a 56-year-old veterinarian from Fox Chapel, a suburb of Pittsburgh, the reform package falls short. 

Dr. Dana Kellerman used to pray in the Tree of Life synagogue at the corner of Wilkins and Shady avenues, a busy intersection in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh that on Oct. 27, 2018, became the site of the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States.

Since then, she's been praying for action.

Kellerman is one of the founding members of Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence, a group that formed after the mass shooting at Tree of Life. 

"It's a baby step," she said of the proposed gun deal. 

The Senate deal won't heal her Dor Hadash congregation that worshiped at Tree of Life and lost a member in the attack that killed 11 people and wounded six, Kellerman said, speaking as the political director for Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence. 

She's not a professional advocate for gun safety. It's something she's been forced to learn while processing loss. 

Rebuilding:Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh to receive Pa. funds to rebuild after deadliest antisemitic attack in US

"I feel loss and grief and anger because our elected officials haven't done anything," she said. 

Kellerman was mostly pointing to the Republican-led legislature in Pennsylvania that did not enact the reforms the survivors or Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf called after the October 2018 shooting. 

In fact, the state's Republican lawmakers have moved to loosen the laws since then. 

"Governor Wolf is the only thing that has stood in the way of expanding the access to guns," Kellerman said. 

Wolf is term limited and can't run for re-election this year. Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has supported reform, and Republican Doug Mastriano, who supports expanding gun rights, are running to replace him.

Kellerman is thankful that a group of 10 Republican senators, including Toomey of Pennsylvania, are supporting some kind of reform, but she's disappointed because it does nothing to remove the AR-15-style assault rifle the Tree of Life gunman used. 

She's worried that if the Senate passes the gun deal, it will be "the last thing that happens for who knows how long."

Especially if Shapiro loses in Pennsylvania.

Kellerman added: "We're not going to stop every single act of violence, but we can certainly do a lot more." 

Fear persists after Dayton shooting

Renotta Davis, a 38-year-old Dayton business owner, put up this sign prohibiting weapons after a man asked if he could bring his military-style knife in with him the same week as the Uvalde shooting.

Renotta Davis wasn’t in the Oregon District – a stretch of bars, restaurants and other shops that bustles with summer evening nightlife in Dayton, Ohio – when a man using an AR-15 style rifle and an extended ammunition magazine killed nine people in 2019.

But the fallout from the shooting and other gun violence still rings in her head.

Davis, who owns a drug testing center in the Oregon District, feels uneasy when a client begins to act erratically. When clients started asking whether they could bring a gun or knife with them into her business, she put up a sign prohibiting it.

“I don’t put anything past nobody anymore,” Davis said, so she was glad to hear that a bipartisan group of Senators, including Portman, had struck a deal on gun regulation reform.

She wasn’t surprised that Portman, a conservative Republican who will retire at the end of the year, was part of the group that had developed the framework.

“It’s just different words, Democrat and Republican,” said Davis, who identifies as a Democrat. “He’s human, too.”

The hashtag "Dayton Strong" was the big rallying cry in the city after the 2019 shooting and there are still some decals in bar windows.

Davis said she supports deeper background checks that make it harder for people to get guns and setting a minimum age for ownership as high as 25. Even with the Senate poised to pass legislation, though, she still thinks government officials can do more to curb gun violence.

“I don’t think they’re doing enough at all,” said Davis, 38. “I know there’s something more they can do.”

She understands why someone would want a gun, though. Davis opened her business in the Oregon District in December, more than two years after the shooting there. She said she’s careful when she closes up shop and walks the area.

“I’m really scared for real,” she said.

A 'Band-Aid' for Buffalo

Attorney General Merrick Garland visits the grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., on June 15, 2022, the site of a May 14 mass shooting in which 10 Black people were killed. Garland was in Buffalo to announce federal hate crime charges against the 18-year-old shooter.

Betty Jean Grant spent 17 years in city and county government, but on May 14 she was a Buffalo resident who lost a lot of friends. 

An 18-year-old gunman used a military-style assault rifle in the mass shooting that killed 10 Black shoppers and injured three others at a Tops grocery store, according to police. The FBI said the shooting was a racially motivated hate crime. 

Grant, who retired from public office in 2017, wants to see a ban on the type of gun that was used that day, which is not part of the Senate framework. 

"It's a Band-Aid, not a solution," she said. 

Grant, 74, also disagrees with providing grant money to states if they want enact their own red flag lawssaying the programs should be mandatory. 

"This is a national issue," she said.

The gun deal is especially personal for Grant, who had shopped at the Tops on Jefferson Avenue since 2004. She was there a couple of days before the shooting, and arrived 20 minutes after the shooting. 

"I've been there every day since," she said. "We're not ready to let go of the victims."

Though Grant lost multiple friends that day, she was closest to 72-year-old Katherine Massey, a community advocate who spent most of her life fighting for Buffalo's Black residents. 

"I have to reconcile that Katherine is gone, but I also have to make sure she's not forgotten," she said. 

That means renaming a road as Katherine Massey Way on July 3. That means a Memorial Walk on July 17 from Tops to Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Buffalo. That also means continuing to call for more gun reform. 

"We need a real solution," Grant said, "not just the Band-Aid."

Opinion:As Buffalo shooting victims testify in Congress, race and history circle us

Candy Woodall is a Congress reporter for USA TODAY. She can be reached at cwoodall@usatoday.com or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.

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