U.S. Markets closed

Key Texas GOP Senator John Cornyn Joins Gun-Safety Talks, Cites School Shooting

·5 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Democratic and Republican senators grasping for some common ground on gun laws and school safety after the massacre of 19 students and two teachers in Texas are working under a short timetable, but there are prospects for a limited deal around so-called “red flag” laws and increasing school defenses.

Most Read from Bloomberg

Texas GOP Senator John Cornyn said the mass killing in his state on Tuesday could provide “some impetus” to action, but warned against taking away gun rights from “law-abiding citizens.” Providing incentives to states to adopt “red-flag” laws that offer a way to get a court to take weapons out of the hands of dangerous people, is an option but isn’t “a panacea,” Cornyn said.

Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, one of the Senate’s leading advocates for gun control legislation, said a compromise must be found by the time the Senate gets back from a week-long recess that begins on Friday.

“I am hopeful there is growing momentum. But I have failed plenty of times before,” he said, adding later that, “We have a pretty tight window so what we need to have is a bill.”

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a key Democratic vote in the 50-50 Senate, said the push for consensus on gun legislation “feels different right now,” and thinks a compromise could get 70 or 80 votes.

“This is about basically protecting children. If they can’t rise to that they should dig deep inside and find out why in the heck we’re here,” Manchin said.

But in a sign of the partisan deadlock over how to address the rising number of deadly massacres in the US, Senate Republicans blocked a bill to put a greater focus on the threat from White supremacists.

The legislation was put on the calendar after the racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, on May 14 that killed 10 Black shoppers at a grocery store. The 47-47 vote blocking the bill came after Republicans said the measure was unnecessary because federal law enforcement already has tools to combat domestic terrorism.

The bill now joins the cluster of measures serving largely as election-year messaging that highlight what Democrats support but can’t muscle through the Senate, bills that also have included voting and abortion rights.

Rather than forcing a similarly doomed vote on a background check bill, Democrats are trying to strike a deal with Republicans on a compromise that can become law.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats will give “a little more time” to see if Republicans can agree to a package of gun-safety measures, adding that “we cannot leave a single stone unturned.”

A compromise could emerge around giving incentives to states to set up red-flag laws. Murphy told reporters red-flag laws are best administered by the states, Cornyn is open to the concept and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham backs the idea. Murphy said expanded background checks, school-safety initiatives and supporting law enforcement also are on the table.

Cornyn on Thursday endorsed training teachers to defend students and hardening schools. Democrats, meanwhile, have favored gun controls almost all Republicans oppose like more expansive background checks on gun purchasers, and generally oppose moves like arming teachers.

“One thing we should not do is to pass something that will have absolutely no impact on this just to score political points or make ourselves feel good,” Cornyn said.

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell indicated that he was looking for a narrowly crafted measure. He told reporters he encouraged Cornyn to meet with Democrats to try to “come up with a bipartisan solution that’s directly related to the facts of this awful massacre.”

He didn’t specify what that might be. Texas authorities have said the suspected gunman in the attack had no criminal record that would have triggered alarms on an instant background check when he bought the semiautomatic rifle used in the shooting.

Last year, Murphy and Cornyn tried to reach a compromise requiring background checks on commercial gun sales, but the talks collapsed.

Background Checks

Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said he also was talking to Murphy and others about gun legislation.

“My focus is on the legislation that I have been promoting for 10 years now which is to require background checks for all commercial gun sales,” he said.

After the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut -- where 20 children and six teachers died -- a gun background check bill negotiated between Toomey and Manchin was blocked by a Republican filibuster.

Schumer said if the new round of negotiations doesn’t bear fruit, “the Senate will vote on gun safety legislation when we return.” Such a move would almost certainly result in them being blocked from consideration by Republicans.

The domestic terrorism legislation blocked Thursday would authorize the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to have domestic terrorism offices and require them to assess the White supremacist threat and report back to Congress. They also would create an inter-agency task force to combat White supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration of federal law enforcement agencies and the military and other uniformed services.

The House passed the legislation last week on a 222-203 vote, with only one Republican -- Adam Kinzinger of Illinois -- voting in favor. Some Republicans argued that the Biden administration could use the new authorities to target ordinary Americans over their political beliefs, including parents who protest at school board meetings. Just two years ago, similar legislation passed the House on a voice vote.

(Updates with Murphy remarks in fourth paragraph, Manchin in sixth paragraph, McConnell in 13th)

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.