Briefing

The state of America's gun legislation negotiations

'How much more carnage are we willing to accept?'

In the wake of the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which left 19 children and two teachers dead, a bipartisan group of senators started negotiations for gun legislation. President Biden has called on Congress to take steps that could prevent similar massacres, including banning assault weapons and enacting red flag laws. Here's everything you need to know:

Who is participating in the talks?

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has been calling for stricter gun control measures since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, is the top Democratic negotiator, while Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is the lead Republican negotiator. Other lawmakers involved in the talks are Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). They've been holding in-person meetings, and when Congress was on recess during the week of Memorial Day, they spoke on the phone and met virtually via Zoom.

What are their discussions centering around?

Murphy said the negotiators are focusing on background checks, red flag laws, mental health, and school security. Red flag laws, also known as extreme risk laws, allow law enforcement or relatives to petition a court for an order to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing guns. "These laws can de-escalate emergency situations," Everytown for Gun Safety says. "Extreme risk laws are a proven way to intervene before gun violence — such as a gun suicide or mass shooting — takes more lives."

"When you are talking about red flag laws and background checks, you are talking about mental health," Murphy told NBC News. "We're talking about keeping guns out of the hands of people with criminal records but also people with significant histories of mental health."

Cornyn said the lawmakers are also looking into whether juvenile records could be added to the information looked at during a background check. Often, these records are sealed or expunged once a person turns 18. Cornyn suggested to The New York Times on Monday this could have stopped the 18-year-old gunman who attacked Robb Elementary School from buying a semiautomatic weapon. "Nothing that happened in his past was part of that background check," Cornyn said. "We are reaching out to see if there is maybe a mechanism that could make that information available, just like if they were an adult. They would either pass or not pass based on their criminal and mental health record. It is a real gap."

What did Biden ask Congress to do about guns?

Last week, Biden spoke to the nation about gun violence, saying an "overwhelming majority" of Americans agree there is a need to enact "rational, common-sense" gun measures. He called on Congress to renew the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and said if that is not possible, "then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21." He also wants lawmakers to strengthen background checks; add storage and red flag laws; and repeal the immunity that protects gun manufacturers from liability. "How much more carnage are we willing to accept?" Biden asked.

How are Republican senators reacting to Biden's call for action?

Cornyn told the Times there won't be a fast fix. "It has to be incremental," he said. Cornyn, who received the National Rifle Association's highest rating, also said renewing the assault weapons ban and raising the age to buy a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21 are off the table.

After the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), then the state's governor, signed a law banning 18- to 20-year-olds from purchasing semiautomatic rifles. On Monday, he said he opposes the federal government imposing the same ban. "All this stuff ought to be done at the state level," Scott said. "Changing the laws is easier at the state level."

Have any lawmakers changed their minds about gun control measures?

Yes. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he now backs raising the minimum age to buy a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21, a spokesman said Monday. "There's no red lines," Manchin told reporters. "We've got to do something. We've got to start bringing what we call 'gun sense' into America." Manchin also questioned why an individual would need to have an AR-15-style weapon.

When are the lawmakers expected to reach a deal on gun legislation?

Murphy told NBC News on Monday his goal is that an agreement is reached "by the end of the week. The discussions have been really positive. I still am hopeful we'll be able to get a product." He cautioned that the lawmakers might release an "outline" rather than detailed legislative text. Cornyn also spoke with NBC News on Monday, and said he believed the team is "making progress." The negotiators talked about "a framework," Cornyn added, and "I think we're trying to figure out how to fill in the details."

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