Congress could pass Senate gun deal, but a larger, fractious impasse is unlikely to shift

Democrats are pushing for more gun restrictions, fearful that mass shootings will continue to plague the U.S. The GOP is making gun rights a key part of midterm campaigns to win control of Congress.

  • The Senate gun deal is unlikely to end the fractious political debate over guns
  • These two main sticking points found bipartisan agreement
  • At least 15 Republican senators now appear to be supporting the bipartisan gun deal
  • Senators are already facing backlash to the gun deal

WASHINGTON – Despite efforts by both the right and left to kill it, Congress is on track to pass the most meaningful package of gun restrictions in decades – a rare bipartisan achievement.

Even if the proposed Bipartisan Safer Communities Act becomes law, the fractious political debate over guns suggests few will be happy with the results, and Republicans and Democrats will keep pushing for measures the other side is unlikely to ever pass.

The House Freedom Caucus, for example, a group of the most conservative congressional Republicans, vowed to fight "red flag" laws that they say "permit the preemptive seizure of firearms from Americans without due process."

In contrast, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said this bill is not everything that is needed – "not by a mile" – and she and others will seek tougher laws. 

Nevertheless, Murray said she supports the Senate package because "the most extreme option on the table is doing nothing at all."

The Senate voted late Tuesday to speed up debate on the gun bill, a procedural move supported by 14 Republicans, more than enough to secure passage.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was the brainchild of Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.; John Cornyn, R-Texas; Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.; and Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

"We've talked, we've debated, we've disagreed and finally we've reached an agreement," Cornyn said on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon. 

Why are the parties coming together now?

Senators from both parties agreed to the specific language of a gun deal shortly after the latest congressional hearing on the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, an investigation that has inflamed party tensions for more than a year and a half.

Republican predictions of a "red wave" this election because of Biden's struggles have also made it difficult for the parties to work together – until Uvalde.

The slaying of elementary school children in Texas in May renewed interest in gun laws. Members of both parties saw the tragedy as an opportunity to show voters they could work together for the common good in a moment of crisis.

Gun deal moves:Senate gun bill includes mental health funding, enhanced background checks, closes boyfriend loophole

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., has been leading bipartisan talks on a gun control deal since his passionate floor speech after the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, last month.

For awhile, the gun deal seemed to be on the brink of collapse. 

But Senate negotiators found bipartisan agreement after the weekend on the two main sticking points – the "boyfriend loophole" and "red flag" grants. 

Late Tuesday, the four leading negotiators released a statement saying they finalized "commonsense legislation to protect America's children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country."

What's in the Senate gun bill?

In announcing the deal, the four main Senate negotiators reiterated a frequent talking point: The legislation will save lives without infringing on Second Amendment rights. 

The 20 senators – 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans – who first supported the bipartisan framework have tried to strike that delicate balance throughout negotiations, striving to expand gun safety laws without making it harder for law-abiding citizens to buy guns. 

Their legislation would include about $15 billion for mental health and school safety services, which Republicans wanted.

Grants would be provided to every state as an incentive to adopt "red flag" laws, which allow courts to remove firearms from those deemed a threat to themselves or others. States that did not enact red flag laws could use the money for other crisis prevention programs, according to the legislation. 

The Senate package would close the "boyfriend loophole," a legislative gray area that leaves some women vulnerable to gun-related domestic violence.

Law prevents domestic violence offenders from buying guns if they abused their spouses or live-in partners with whom they had children. The Senate legislation would expand the law to include "boyfriends" or partners in a current or recent relationship "of a romantic or intimate nature" who have been convicted of domestic violence. 

"This provision alone is going to save the lives of so many women who unfortunately die at the hands of a boyfriend or an ex-boyfriend who hunts them down with a firearm," Murphy said. 

Another major feature of the proposed legislation is expanded background checks on gun buyers 21 and younger to include their mental health and juvenile justice records. It would provide a waiting period of 10 business days for the seller and authorities to complete the review.

Senators said such a review could have stopped mass shootings last month in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., told USA TODAY last week that a three-day waiting period in South Carolina is not enough and enabled a racially motivated mass shooting seven years ago in his home state.

"Nine souls were killed in Charleston," Clyburn said, referring to an attack in 2015 when a white supremacist gunman fired on Black worshippers at a church in Charleston. 

Background:Group of senators – including 10 Republicans – announce breakthrough

When might the Senate gun bill pass? 

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has been the lead Republican negotiator in Senate gun talks.

Lawmakers are racing to get the bill through the Senate before Congress leaves Capitol Hill Friday for a two-week recess around July 4. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday evening on the Senate floor he expects to pass the gun safety legislation "by the week's end."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he supports the bill, providing political cover for other Republicans to back the legislation. 

At least 11 GOP senators support the deal, which is enough to beat a filibuster: Cornyn, Tillis, McConnell, Mitt Romney of Utah, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rob Portman of Ohio. 

A procedural vote Tuesday night officially opened debate on the bill, and additional Republican senators were among the "yes" votes to advance the legislation, including Joni Ernst of Iowa, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Todd Young of Indiana.

If the legislation passes the Senate this week, it will be the most sweeping gun control to make it through either chamber in about 30 years. 

It's unclear when it could reach the House for a vote. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Tuesday she doesn't anticipate the House would need to delay the holiday recess to pass the Senate bill. 

She expected both chambers would pass the bill, setting up a question of not if but when. 

'I don't feel safe at school':11-year-old Uvalde survivor fears more shootings; other gun hearing takeaways

Resistance to gun deal

The pushback started before the legislative text was written and continued once it was released Tuesday. 

Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., broke with party leaders and voted against advancing the gun deal. Thune and Barrasso are the No. 2 and No. 3 Republicans in the Senate, respectively. 

Though most of the Republicans who back the Senate deal either plan to retire or aren't on the ballot for four years, others face political consequences. 

Cornyn was booed Saturday in Houston during his speech at the Texas Republican Party's annual convention. 

The party passed a resolution that formally rebuked Cornyn and other Senate Republicans who support the gun deal. 

Cornyn is up for reelection in 2026 and hasn't lost a political election in 40 years. 

Some voters in states where senators back the federal legislation said they would remember these votes in four years – though four years in politics can be an eternity, full of sharp changes and shifting political landscapes. 

Until this point, the GOP had been a firewall against gun restrictions. 

North Carolina Pastor Michael Fox told USA TODAY he "absolutely will not vote for" Tillis in 2026. Burr is not seeking reelection.

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

The National Rifle Association sent out a statement Tuesday opposing the Senate agreement.

Claiming infringement of the Second Amendment, the NRA said, "this legislation can be abused to restrict lawful gun purchases, infringe upon the rights of law-abiding Americans, and use federal dollars to fund gun control measures being adopted by state and local politicians."

Kari Lake, a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Arizona, said that if she wins, "Arizona will not recognize unconstitutional Gun Laws in our state." In a tweet, she said, "What are the Feds going to do? Fly down here and arrest a sitting Governor? Call my bluff."

Some Democrats and gun control groups lamented what they perceived as shortcomings of the bill, but they lined up to support it, if only as a first step.

Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, severely wounded by a gunman in 2011, said the proposed legislation "takes important steps needed to protect communities and save lives from gun violence," but she said more work needs to be done.

"I know that together we will keep fighting for our safety," Giffords said.

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

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