The proposed package boosts early intervention measures and delivers a few real wins, but does not address AR-15s.
Over the weekend, a group of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans in the Senate came to an agreement on a series of gun control provisions that amount to the first significant attempt to reduce gun violence in the U.S. in more than 30 years. The framework, which should have enough support to pass in the Senate and House, consists of new “red flag” laws, background check requirements, and expanded funding for mental health services.
Perhaps the most significant agreement is the introduction of funding for crisis intervention orders, more commonly referred to as “red flag” laws. These allow law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from people who have been shown to be a danger to themselves or others. Paired with that is increased funding for mental health services, including major expansions of community behavioral health centers across the country and new spending on school-based mental health services. Additionally, the package calls for more funding for telehealth services to make mental and behavioral health more accessible.
On top of pouring lots of cash into these early intervention methods, the senators have also agreed to new restrictions that should keep guns out of the hands of people with violent histories. Domestic abusers will be prevented from buying new firearms, including abusers who are dating their victims but not married. Previously, federal law only prevented purchases by those who are married, live with, or have a child with their victim — a blind spot known as the “boyfriend loophole.”
Another part of the framework will expand background checks, especially for buyers who are under 21 years old. The enhanced review process will require an investigative period that will review juvenile and mental health records before allowing anyone to buy a gun. In order to ensure background checks are being done, the law will also set new standards for who qualifies as a firearms dealer, as anyone who qualifies must complete the federally required checks. Then, to make sure people actually undergo a background check, the senators also agreed to the first federal law to prohibit straw purchasing, which occurs when a person who is unable to pass a background check has someone else buy a gun for them.
Notably absent from the bipartisan agreement is a ban on AR-15s, the weapon of choice in many of the most deadly mass shootings in America. There is no ban on semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines in the agreement, and no attempt to raise the buying age for any of these more dangerous weapons.
The deal is far from perfect, especially for those who were hoping that another series of harrowing tragedies across the country just might be enough to finally move the needle. Instead, this amounts to something closer to “the most we can do without doing what gun control advocates really want.” But it is something — and that is more than we’ve gotten in a long, long time.