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Senators try to zero in on ways to address gun violence that might become law


A bipartisan group of senators is trying to address gun violence. The senators, including Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal, who will join me in a moment, are aiming to compromise on gun laws by zeroing in and negotiating on a narrow set of reforms. The efforts come after two shooting massacres last month alone. One was in Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed at an elementary school. Another was in New York, where 10 people were gunned down at a grocery store.

NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is following talks and tells us what the Senate is considering.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: They are still really in the very earliest phases of kind of figuring out what is even possible. So they're not necessarily writing the final policies or even just finessing the details. They're talking kind of big picture. What can they do? And I'm told they're looking at three major areas. One is creating incentives for states to create and implement so-called red flag laws. And there's a mental health component under discussion, a component related to school safety and security and possibly some very narrow changes to the way the existing background check system works. You know, when it comes to red flag laws in particular, which is kind of the thing that most members of Congress had been talking about, we're talking about, like, financial incentives to encourage states to pass new laws that allow family members or police officers or other very specific individuals the opportunity to petition a court or other legal system to temporarily remove a gun from an owner who might cause harm with that gun. They also want to see if they can change existing federal grant programs to help states make those programs a reality. So this is very narrow, and it's an attempt at nudging states in the direction of passing laws, not a situation where they would be, you know, passing negative repercussions if the states don't pass those laws.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, a lot of people, though, want Congress to do a lot more. Why is this such a narrow conversation?

SNELL: You know, I've had it described to me as senators confining their discussions to what can actually become law. They call it the art of the possible over and over and over again, as I've talked to them. You know, that means policies that can get at least 60 votes in the Senate with some combination of Democrats and Republicans. So that's not some sweeping change to background check laws, and it isn't an assault weapons ban. I'm also told that they want to confine the bill to changes that could have prevented the shooting in Uvalde specifically. You know, Republicans say this is driven by the circumstances of that shooting, not some big broader attempt. You know, it's very hard for them to agree on any element of this. Republicans oppose federal red flag laws - at least, many of them do - and they want to leave this to states. Democrats say focusing solely on mental health is a diversion and that while mental health issues exist across the globe, gun crimes happen in the U.S. because guns are easy to access in the U.S. So they're trying to kind of find some way to keep the blinders on and do something.

MARTÍNEZ: But does that mean there is little hope then that Congress will do something big on guns?

SNELL: Well, the House Democrats do have some ideas of their own for bigger policies, but those can't pass the Senate. I have heard a lot of optimism in the Senate about what they are working on. But like I said, it won't be a massive shift in federal gun policy. And there's a lot that still could go wrong, but they are still hoping that this can get done.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Kelsey, thanks.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
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.