November 26, 2022

A bipartisan group of senators met during lunch Thursday to talk about a path forward on gun safety legislation, according to two sources, two days after a gunman shot and killed 21 people in Uvalde, Texas, Tuesday.

Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy, Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, Martin Heinrich and Richard Blumenthal attended the lunch with Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Pat Toomey, Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, who joined by phone.

This was their second gathering, one of the sources said, and while it’s still very early in their discussions, a few of the senators suggested that there might be the most consensus around red-flag and yellow-flag laws. 

Red-flag laws have been implemented in 19 states, several since the Parkland shooting; they allow the courts to temporarily confiscate firearms belonging to people deemed to be a risk to others or themselves. These extreme risk protection orders (ERPO) allow family members and law enforcement to ask a state court judge to issue an order that takes the guns of an individual who they believe poses a threat to their safety. Petitioners must present evidence to the court on why individuals pose a threat.

Yellow-flag laws allow law enforcement — and only law enforcement — to petition the courts to temporarily take guns away from those considered to be a threat to others or themselves. Republican Sen. Susan Collins pointed to her home state, which has such a law on the books. 

“Our emphasis should be keeping guns away from those who pose a threat to themselves and others,” said Collins. 

The more-common red-flag laws differ from yellow-flag laws in that red-flag laws allow family members to petition the courts to keep firearms away from a person.

“If there is a gun violence prevention measure, I feel pretty sure that red-flag law will be part of it,” said Blumenthal, who worked with South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in 2019 on a bipartisan proposal. “Lindsey Graham has been a real partner in this effort. It’s been bipartisan. Now we have other Republicans saying it’s time for that kind of red flag. It might have prevented some of these killings.” 

Blumenthal, who was Connecticut’s junior senator during the Sandy Hook shooting, described what’s under discussion as a system that would both incentivize states that adopt new red-flag-type laws and also “reward states and enable them to implement existing laws.” The incentives would be awarded “based on the best of the state laws in terms of protecting constitutional rights, but also public safety.”

Murphy, who was the congressman representing Newtown, Connecticut, when the Sandy Hook school shooting took place, was one of the first lawmakers to insist that lawmakers act this time. He and the bipartisan group of senators are acting quickly to establish what gun safety measure might find enough consensus — at least 60 votes — to pass the Senate. He said he’s encouraged so far and doesn’t think the upcoming holiday break will be an impediment, adding that it’s easier to leave Washington to negotiate. 

“We need at least a week to work through these tough issues,” Murphy said. “Frankly, it’s easier to work those issues outside of Washington rather than when we’re here.” Murphy also says there will be a series of meetings next week to try to produce a bipartisan measure. 

He told reporters the bipartisan group believes it can make progress on reforming background checks and red flag laws and providing more support for school security. 

“We have a number of areas that we think we can make progress on — background checks, red flag laws, additional support for school security. And we’re going to work throughout the weekend, and all through next week to see if we can find some common ground.”

But Murphy clarified that he does not want to overstate his optimism. “I’ve been Charlie Brown enough times to know that up until now, the football has been pulled out from under me every single time,” he added. “Maybe this time is different.” 

On Thursday morning, Texas Sen. John Cornyn met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who encouraged him to engage in the bipartisan discussions being coordinated by Murphy and Sinema. Just before he walked into McConnell’s office, Cornyn told reporters, “I’m not taking anything off the table except for denying people their constitutional rights who are law abiding citizens.”

Murphy was glad to hear that McConnell approves of Cornyn’s involvement in the bipartisan discussions. 

“There’s a lot of Republicans that are interested in talking,” he said. “I was encouraged by Senator McConnell’s willingness to have these talks go forward. I suspect there was purpose in what he said. And my hope is that that signals to Republicans to keep their mind open to what we’re what we’re working on.” 

Blumenthal  told CBS News talks with Republicans “went really well” Wednesday night. He, too, said he would continue to talk to colleagues over the next ten days, mostly by phone or Zoom.  

Other ideas being discussed include increasing the age limit or requiring a special license for semi-automatic weapons sales. 

Congress has little to show for its efforts to confront in the recent past — most of the gun safety legislation written between the horrific Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012 and this week’s massacre of a classroom of fourth graders and their teachers in Uvalde, Texas, has gone nowhere. 

But this week’s school shooting was the starkest reminder of that decade of legislative failure, and lawmakers of both parties seem determined to break the cycle this time.  

“I’m not interested in making a political statement. I’m not interested in the same old tired talking points,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor Thursday. “I’m actually interested in what we can do to make the terrible events that occurred in Uvalde less likely in the future.”

Kathryn Watson contributed to this report.

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