Michael Saechang/Flickr

From the Center

What comes after the sorrow and the heartbreak, and the frustration and the helplessness and the anger? As we know from Columbine and Sandy Hook and Parkland and too many other tragedies, the answer is usually… not very much.

But let’s suppose for even a moment that there are at least a small number of politicians on both sides of the gun debate who are willing to set aside the brinksmanship and the absolutism and the name-calling to devote even a small amount of time to see if we can find a way to keep so many Americans from killing each other quite so often.

Give credit to Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), who has been the Democrats’ leading voice on gun violence ever since 20 of his youngest constituents and their teachers were executed in their  Sandy Hook Elementary classrooms almost ten years ago. After past mass shootings, the two parties lay out their ultimate wish lists and attempt to browbeat the other side into capitulation. But Murphy has indicated that some forward progress is better than none, and rather than yet again allowing the perfect to be the enemy of progress, he has assembled a core group of senators from both parties in an attempt to find at least some common ground.

Murphy and his fellow Democrats are strong supporters of an "assault weapons" ban, comprehensive mandatory background checks and increasing the minimum age for purchasing many firearms from 18 to 21. But he and a growing number of his colleagues realizing that continuing to push more such ambitious changes that are unacceptable to most Republicans has only produced a series of stalemates in the past. So they have indicated a willingness to instead focus on measures such as an expansion of criminal background checks for buyers at gun shows and federal grants to encourage states to set up their own “red flag” systems. None of the Democrats involved in the negotiations believe such changes would be sufficient, but appear to recognize that some forward motion is preferable to continued gridlock.

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Roy Blount (R-MO) are the second and fourth ranking Republicans in that body and have historically been a strong opponent of most gun control measures. But they have both indicated an interest in red flag laws, which permit police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves. Cornyn, who withdrew from his scheduled speech to the National Rifle Association convention this past weekend, and his Judiciary Committee colleague  Thom Tillis (R-NC) has spoken favorably of state-level laws of this nature as opposed to a deferral mandate. So an effort to create federally funded incentives for states to adopt red flag laws of their own has the potential to draw in other GOP members.

Let’s not get carried away with this. There are about 35 Republican Senators who will never vote for gun control legislation under any circumstances, and under the rules of the filibuster, 10 of the remaining 15 would need to support a compromise. But retiring members like Rob Portman (R-OH) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), usual suspects like Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) and Mitt Romney (R-UT), and the three senior members listed above have all indicated an interest in some type of compromise and combine to make ten votes a plausible goal. Other Republicans have either joined Murphy’s meetings or indicated an interest in possible legislation around these lines.

Both party leaders Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are somewhat more cautious, but both are offering some support to the negotiators. Schumer is giving Murphy a window of two weeks before moving forward with doomed party-line bills that can give Democratic candidates an issue to run on in the fall. McConnell has specifically designated Cornyn as the GOP representative in the negotiations, and McConnell’s decision to formalize the involvement of such a high-ranking caucus leader indicates that the talks may have some level of plausibility – although certainly not probability.

It is entirely possible that the meetings will collapse in frustration and acrimony, and we’ll be back at loggerheads on this critical issue once again. But effort is the first step toward accomplishment, and kudos to even this small number of senators who are willing to buck their parties’ bases to try to find an elusive middle ground that can slightly lessen the possibility of so many of their constituents being murdered.

Dan Schnur is a Professor at the University of California – Berkeley, Pepperdine University, and the University of Southern California, where he teaches courses in politics, communications and leadership. Dan is a No Party Preference voter, but previously worked on four presidential and three gubernatorial campaigns, serving as the national Director of Communications for the 2000 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator John McCain and the chief media spokesman for California Governor Pete Wilson. He has a Center bias.

This piece was reviewed and edited by Managing Editor Henry A. Brechter (Center bias).

Want to talk about this topic more? Join Dan for his webinar "Politics In The Time of Coronavirus." Or read more of Dan’s writing at: www.danschnurpolitics.com.

Image Credit: Michael Saechang/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)