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Senate negotiators reach a final bipartisan agreement on a gun safety bill

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Legislation on gun violence leaves out just about everything Republicans and Democrats disagree on.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Universal background checks, the banning of military-grade weapons - but the Senate is planning to pass the first meaningful gun legislation in decades with restrictions the parties can agree on. It's a narrow set of measures, but the bill has support from Democrats and Republicans, including Mitch McConnell. Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut helped lead the negotiations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRIS MURPHY: This bill will be too little for many. It'll be too much for others. But it isn't a box-checking exercise. This bill is not window-dressing. This bill is going to save lives.

INSKEEP: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is on the line. Kelsey, good morning.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How did they decide what stays in this bill?

SNELL: Well, this was a compromise, through and through. This was about whatever lawmakers thought they could get 60 votes in the Senate, and that meant that they had to leave a lot of things that maybe have wide bipartisan support in the country off the table. The lead Republican in these negotiations, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, was booed at his state party convention last week for taking part in these talks. So it wasn't surprising that he went to the floor yesterday to explain how the bill does not infringe on Second Amendment rights.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN CORNYN: So unless a person is convicted of a crime or is adjudicated mentally ill, their ability to purchase a firearm will not be impacted by this legislation.

SNELL: And I should say gun rights groups, including the NRA, oppose the legislation as it exists.

INSKEEP: Even though it's very narrow, as we said. So how, if at all, would it limit access to guns?

SNELL: The bill includes more extensive background checks for prospective gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 21, and it gives states incentives to provide access to previously sealed juvenile records for those checks. The legislation also uses crisis intervention grants to encourage states to enact so-called red flag laws that would form a core process to remove guns from a person deemed to be a threat to themselves or to others. But the money would still be available to states who choose to pass other forms of crisis intervention.

INSKEEP: Kelsey, as you're talking, I can hear the compromise. It's not a ban on weapons for people under 21, but the background checks change. It's not requiring states to enact red flag laws or follow red flag laws, but it is encouraging them to do so.

SNELL: Yeah. And another compromise here is the way that they approach the rules for people who have been convicted of domestic abuse. Democrats have tried for years to expand the definition who - of who qualifies for a ban after that conviction to include dating partners, rather than just spouses or former spouses. Now, this bill does that, but it also includes a new section to allow people who are restricted from gun access under the bill to have their gun rights restored if their record remains clean for five years.

INSKEEP: How is mental health addressed here?

SNELL: Well, this bill includes funding for telehealth programs to allow expanded access to mental health care across the country, and there's money for school safety and training and community-based mental health programs. Cornyn called this the single largest investment in community-based mental health in U.S. history.

INSKEEP: Now, we've had two different announcements - that they agreed on a framework, that they've agreed on text of legislation. But isn't it never too late for the Senate to have an additional delay? Could this really get derailed?

SNELL: Well, this does have wide bipartisan support in the Senate. Ten Republicans and 10 Democrats wrote the bill, and 16 Republicans voted to get started on it. President Biden has urged Congress to pass the bill without delay, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she will bring it up for a vote swiftly.

INSKEEP: OK. Kelsey, thanks so much.

SNELL: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
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