Jun 14, 2022

A gun control deal in the Senate.

A gun control deal in the Senate.

20 senators say they have a deal on gun control. Plus, a question about mental health funding.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

20 senators say they have a deal on gun control. Plus, a question about mental health funding.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) has been leading the charge on gun control negotiations. Image: Paul Morigi
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) has been leading the charge on gun control negotiations. Image: Paul Morigi

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Quick hits.

  1. Stocks entered bear market territory yesterday after the S&P fell 4.9% and dropped 20% off its record high in January. (The numbers)
  2. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed a set of abortion bills to protect providers and patients coming to seek out abortions from out of state. (The legislation)
  3. The House is expected to clear a Senate-passed bill that will extend security to the families of Supreme Court justices today. (The bill)
  4. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the chair of the Jan. 6 committee, walked back comments that no more criminal referrals were planned from the committee's work. (The reversal)
  5. South Carolina, Maine, Nevada and North Dakota all have primaries today. (The primaries)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


Today's topic.

The Senate's gun control deal. On Sunday, a group of 20 senators said they struck a bipartisan gun safety framework, a major breakthrough in talks that have been ongoing since the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. 10 senators in each party announced there was support for the deal, signaling enough Republican backing for it to become law in the chamber (Democrats would need at least 10 Republican votes to pass any legislation). Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would get a bill to the floor "as soon as possible," and President Joe Biden called it "the most significant gun safety legislation to pass Congress in decades."

The bill is still being drafted, but many of the legislators involved say they hope to pass it before the July 4 recess. Here is what the group of senators said they had agreed to:

  • Funding and grants that would create incentives for states to adopt red flag laws. These laws allow family, friends and law enforcement to submit petitions to remove guns from people considered a threat to themselves or others. 19 states already have such bills.
  • A closing of the so-called "boyfriend loophole."  This would add domestic violence abusers and anyone subject to domestic violence restraining orders to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
  • Billions of dollars of funding for “school safety” and community health clinics. The number being floated in Congress is $7 billion for the clinics, which are already part of existing federal programs.
  • Enhanced background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21, including a short waiting period to allow time for juvenile criminal and mental health records to be reviewed.
  • Clarification on federal laws that would require more firearm sellers to become federally licensed, which means they would be required to run background checks.
  • A crackdown on straw purchases, which is when someone purchases a gun for another person who is prohibited from owning one.

Not included in the bill are universal background checks, a ban on any specific kinds of firearms, a higher minimum age to purchase weapons, or a limit on high-capacity magazines.

For our previous coverage of this issue, you can find our story on the Uvalde shooting here and the debate over red flag laws here.

Below, we'll look at some responses from the right and left, then my take.


What the right is saying.

  • The right is divided on the deal.
  • Some say the agreement is vague and could create problems for legal gun owners.
  • Others say conservatives should embrace the agreement, as it has something for everyone.

In The Federalist, David Harsanyi argued that there are many potential problems with the legislation.

"How bad is the deal? We won’t really know until we see the specifics of the legislation. According to Murphy — who not [long] ago long was telling reporters, '[s]pare me the bullsh-t about mental illness' — there will be 'billions in new funding for mental health and school safety,' including money for 'community mental health clinics.' I’m skeptical that more spending is any kind of remedy for mass shootings, but there’s no downside with bringing more focus on mental health concerns," Harsanyi said. "In virtually every recent shooting, from Parkland to Uvalde, the murderer exhibited violent antisocial behavior that was crying out for intervention. Certainly, enhancing programs to spot these troubled kids doesn’t intrude on the Second Amendment. Presumably this is a component everyone wants. After that it gets more complicated.

"'Red flag laws' — perhaps the only measure within the senators’ framework that could, conceivably, stop mass shootings — are beyond the federal government’s scope," he wrote. "So, 10 Republican senators have agreed to bribe states into participating in passing emergency risk-protection legislation that allows courts to take guns from those deemed a threat to themselves or others. When carefully written, red flag laws may have merit, but prudence is rare... The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, an amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968, already prohibits anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, or anyone under a restraining order, from possessing a firearm. The definition of a partner is somewhat opaque. If the new law merely includes boyfriends under the law, that’s great. In the past, however, Democrats have not only tried to expand the definition of partner, but also the reasons for losing your gun rights to include many types of non-violent misdemeanors. Not so great."

Ari Hoffman said conservatives should support the legislation.

"The press is already calling this a compromise. But it's more accurate to say that there is something here for everyone," Hoffman wrote. "The new agreement does not raise the age to purchase a firearm, nor does it restrict magazine capacity. But for those on the Left who wanted gun control, the agreement provides for 'major funding to help states pass and implement crisis intervention orders (red flag laws) that will allow law enforcement to temporarily take dangerous weapons away from people who pose a danger to others or themselves,' according to Senator Chris Murphy, one of the leaders of the effort. Rather than squealing that they're coming for our guns, conservatives should support this measure. After all, the average American gun owner should not want someone running around making gun ownership look dangerous. Red flag laws, if properly enforced, help everybody.

"The agreement also proposes to close the 'boyfriend loophole,' meaning that a person convicted of spousal abuse will be barred from buying a gun," Hoffman said. "This, too, is an important provision. Consider that the fact that every month, an average of 57 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner. Preventing abusive spouses from purchasing guns is something conservatives should be able to get behind. Meanwhile, the agreement provides for what should be a top priority: securing our schools. For years, private schools and religious organizations have attempted to receive grants from the Department of Homeland Security to harden their facilities—often in vain, even after spending thousands of dollars in studies and evaluations. If passed, the new agreement will make funds for security more widely available."

In Spectator, Teresa Mull said "the proposed gun control package is just more manipulative language aimed at eroding Second Amendment rights."

"If agreeing to improve school safety and keep guns out of criminals’ hands were all it took, every member of Congress would have signed onto this bill," Mull said. "But they didn’t, and for good reason. Ten GOP senators joined ten Democrats to support it, with Chris Murphy of Connecticut leading the charge. On Twitter, he displayed a shocking level of ignorance, claiming the bill would include the 'First ever federal law against gun trafficking and straw purchasing. This will be a difference making tool to stop the flow of illegal guns into cities.' …because we all know would-be criminals will be sure to check the gun trafficking and straw-purchasing laws before bringing guns into cities.

"What does an 'enhanced' background check entail? The background check system we have in place hasn’t worked," Mull said. "Many times, mass shooters have passed background checks, because the heinous crime they commit is their first and last. And again, in most other instances, criminals don’t care about obeying laws and won’t bother with a background check. Research shows that at least 80 percent of the time, criminals don’t acquire their guns in retail stores where background checks are conducted. They steal their firearms, buy them on the black market, or acquire them through — gasp! — a straw-purchase. And even if criminals did go through background checks to buy their guns, chances are it wouldn’t stop them, as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is 'riddled with flaws,' per PBS… The purpose of this latest gun control charade is to further the narrative that the gun is the problem and that confiscating it is the only way to end violence."


What the left is saying.

  • The left mostly supports the bill, though some criticize it for being too modest.
  • Nearly everyone seems to agree the Senate should pass it.
  • After that, they hope Congress can go further in future bills.

In CNN, Stephen Collinson called it a real breakthrough.

"Critically, the size of the group of senators brings the promise of overcoming the Senate filibuster, the procedural block requiring 60 votes that has allowed conservatives to thwart previous efforts to pass gun reform legislation," Collinson wrote. "The symbolism of a new law would be significant since it would reverse the recent pattern that once the initial grief and fury that follows a massacre subsides, the impetus for tough political choices needed for Republicans to brave their own party's pro-gun base quickly subsides. It would also represent a victory over the extreme position of hard-line Republicans, that any small-scale tinkering with any law involving guns represents a slippery slope that would inevitably lead to the destruction of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.

"It's not possible to say for sure whether measures included in the compromise could have made a difference in the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, but they could come into force in similar situations in the future and save lives if a law is enacted," Collinson wrote. "It's unlikely, however, that the measure could stem the flow of mass shootings like those last weekend at bars, high school graduations and outside a funeral in a Kentucky church. But the fact that a set of measures that is so modest is on the verge of creating its own piece of history tells its own story about Congress' paralysis in the face of so much death."

The Washington Post editorial board said "we'd like to see more."

"But this agreement, if passed by Congress, would be the most significant piece of gun-safety legislation in more than 25 years, and for that, it should be applauded," the board said. "The 20 senators —10 Democrats and 10 Republicans — have put together a framework that would join some new gun restrictions with new investments in school security and mental health services. Among the gun provisions: incentives for states to pass and implement red-flag laws to remove firearms from potentially dangerous people; stricter gun background checks for people between the ages of 18 and 21 to include a mandatory search of juvenile justice records; and closing what is known as the 'boyfriend loophole' to bar dating partners — not just spouses — from owning guns if they have been convicted of domestic violence. Under the deal, billions of new federal dollars would go to mental health care and school security programs.

"Sunday’s announcement came a day after thousands of Americans turned out in D.C. and across the country in support of gun control," the board added. "The proposal has not been written into legislative text, and that can be a fraught process with no guarantee of final action. But the willingness of Democrats and Republicans to negotiate and find agreement on an issue that has so deeply divided the two parties for so long is noteworthy and a hopeful sign our government is not completely broken. Like Mr. Biden, we think other reforms are needed. Notably, addressing the danger posed by assault weapons and high-capacity magazines — either banning them or, at the very least, raising the minimum age for buying them from 18 to 21, the same as is required for handgun purchases. But the compromise that has been worked out — credit to Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.) — is reasonable and meaningful. No, it won’t save all lives lost to gun violence, but it will save some. We urge Congress to approve it."

Michael Cohen said the bill is a bandaid on a gaping wound, but nonetheless it should pass the Senate.

"For years Americans have been clamoring for Congress to do something on gun violence — and those calls have consistently fallen on deaf ears," he wrote. "Instead, after every mass shooting, Republicans declare it’s too soon for new laws or disingenuously claim that gun control measures won’t help. And nothing changes. This has clearly made the gun crisis worse, but it is also creating a crisis for democracy. How can Americans have any confidence in their elected leaders if they cannot do anything, even the barest measure, to stop this steady drumbeat of gun violence?

"Passage of gun control legislation, even if it’s at best a half measure, will send a message to Americans that their elected leaders are capable of responding, in real-time, to an actual crisis," he said. "If this legislation passes and the sky doesn’t fall, or jackbooted thugs don’t start confiscating guns from Americans, maybe it opens the path to further moves down the road. It’s a long shot, I know, but on guns, America needs to start somewhere. For example, if Republicans in Congress strengthen red flag laws, it could give political cover for state legislatures in purple and red states to do the same. That could save lives. Failure to pass legislation in the wake of Uvalde will further erode Americans’ dwindling faith in their democratic institutions. So, action is needed, even if it’s far less than it should be."


My take.

After the Uvalde shooting, Politico/Morning Consult did a poll. I think it is illuminating in the sense that it shows strong consensus among the general public:

  • Requiring background checks on all gun sales: 88% strongly or somewhat support; 8% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +80
  • Creating a national database with info about each gun sale: 75% strongly or somewhat support; 18% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +57
  • Banning assault-style weapons: 67% strongly or somewhat support; 25% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +42
  • Preventing sales of all firearms to people reported as dangerous to law enforcement by a mental health provider: 84% strongly or somewhat support; 9% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +75
  • Making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks: 81% percent strongly or somewhat support; 11% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +70
  • Requiring all gun owners to store their guns in a safe storage unit: 77% strongly or somewhat support; 15% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +62

One of the worst parts of watching gun violence unfold in America has always been the subsequent inaction — the 100% predictability of the pattern. Major event, terribly upset nation, expressions of sorrow, promises of change, and on to the next story — despite the numbers above.

So, right now, I'm encouraged.

This bill isn't exactly what I'd do, but that's the point. We don't have the text, but we have a fairly good idea of how it will be written. And it's not a big mystery. Most of the language that is going to be in this bill will be pulled from previous gun bills and mental health funding from the past. None of this is new material, and none of this is a new debate. If the group involved wants to get it done before the July 4 recess, which it sounds like they do, they're going to rip out text from existing bills, re-work it, and drop it in here.

Yes, the devil is in the details. Yet on the surface, the broad strokes are agreeable to me. Closing the "boyfriend loophole" is a no-brainer, especially given how much domestic violence and guns go hand-in-hand. Red flag laws, when done right, are something I support. Last week, I said the key to this was that they be administered by the states — which looks like what Congress is hoping to inspire. Purported crackdowns on straw purchases and unlicensed dealers is rather opaque, and is probably the legislative text I'm most interested in seeing. Enhanced school safety, so long as it doesn't arm teachers, is perfectly fine. And any time we talk about more funding for mental health issues, whether it’s gun-related or not, I think we're over the target. Americans are wading through a mental health crisis, and any legislation addressing that is welcome.

For now, in this era of inaction and partisanship, it's just nice to see 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats come together and agree on a set of provisions that the vast majority of the country supports, too. So, here's to hoping this deal doesn't fall apart.

Have thoughts about "my take?" You can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment if you're a subscriber.


Your questions, answered.

Q: Gun-related deaths are often attributed to mental health issues. Do you think there would be a drop in gun-related deaths and mass shootings if mental health care were widely available and free? Would this solution take the heat off the gun control debate?

— Levi, Iowa

Tangle: This is an interesting question. If we were living in a total hypothetical, where mental health care was widely available and free, then yes. I think gun-related deaths would absolutely go down.

Why? For starters, half of all gun-related deaths are suicides. So the connection there is obvious. But if you zoom out further, a lot of gun violence seems to be tied to angry outbursts, addiction-related crime, and domestic abuse. It seems logical that all of those impulse related issues would benefit from widely available and free mental health care.

That being said, it is important to be careful with our language here, too. As many on the left are keen to point out, the relationship between mental illness and violence is very complex. In simple terms, though, we know that the vast majority of people with mental illness are non-violent. So when I talk about mental health care, I'm not just talking about treating people who have some diagnosed mental illness — I'm talking about the overall benefit such counseling could have on the psyche of the country, especially given the shame many Americans so often associate with mental illness.

As for taking the heat off the gun control debate, I'm not so sure. Again, I think we'd definitely see a reduction of gun-related deaths. I imagine the sharpest decline would probably be related to suicides and mass shootings. But such a program would also be huge and expensive, which would become a political fight of its own.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


A story that matters.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said negotiators are close to extending a program that offers free school meals to millions of children. The program, which cost $11 billion and was passed at the onset of the pandemic, is set to expire June 30. It was extended in June of 2020, October of 2020 and April of 2021. It has become a major fight in Congress between Democrats who want to make it permanent and Republicans who want the program to be paid for. Negotiators from both parties have come together to discuss a three-month, $3 billion extension of the plan while the debate over making it permanent continues. Now it appears that deal is imminent. Punchbowl News has the story.


Numbers.

  • 71%. The percentage of college Democrats who said they would not go out on a date with someone who voted for the opposing presidential candidate.
  • 31%. The percentage of college Republicans who said they would not go out on a date with someone who voted for the opposing presidential candidate.
  • 37%. The percentage of college Democrats who said they would not be friends with someone who voted for the opposing presidential candidate.
  • 5%. The percentage of college Republicans who said they would not be friends with someone who voted for the opposing presidential candidate.
  • 20 million. The number of people who watched the first day of the Jan. 6 hearings last week, according to Nielsen data.
  • 20 million. The number of people who watched the Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford hearings in 2018, according to Nielsen data.
  • 13.8 million. The number of people who watched day one of Trump's first impeachment hearing in 2019.

Have a nice day.

All across the U.S., landfills are getting a second life as solar farms. Typically, landfills are unsuitable for development because of the contaminated and physically unstable contents below the surface. That often leaves rolling hills of waste that are untouchable and unusable. While landfills have at times been repurposed as golf courses, local governments across the U.S. are now embracing landfill solar projects, using the land area for one of the few things it can be safely used for. 21 landfill solar projects have now produced 207 megawatts of energy (one megawatt of energy can power anywhere between 400 to 900 homes in a year), and more are coming. TIME has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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