Sen. Chuck Schumer speaking on gun control on Capitol Hill

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, speaks to activists protesting gun violence and demanding action from lawmakers, on June 8, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

This 'Bipartisan' Gun Deal With Senate Republicans Is Worse Than Nothing

Accepting this do-nothing gun "compromise" just disillusions potential Democratic voters and makes it likely Republicans will retake Congress.

In the wake of the horrors of Uvalde, it looks like Senate Democrats are about to make a "bipartisan" gun deal with Senate Republicans that will likely accomplish next to nothing except let Republicans off the hook for opposing even minimal gun safety laws.

Here's what the deal does not include:

  • Any limit on civilian ownership of AR-15s and other military style assault weapons, not even the compromise Democrats were willing to accept that would raise the age to buy assault weapons from 18 to 21.
  • Any limit on the purchase of high capacity gun magazines which make it possible to shoot dozens of times without reloading.
  • Any legislative limit on the sale of bump stocks which let semi-automatic weapons fire even faster.
  • Any requirement that guns kept at home be stored safely.
  • Any expansion of background checks for gun sales.

These would be the bare minimum for legislation that would make some difference in reducing mass shootings and gun violence.

If I thought this "bipartisan" compromise could actually prevent any appreciable number of mass shootings, I'd reluctantly support it. But it doesn't.

As Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) who Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appointed to lead Republicans in the negotiations said when entering the negotiations, "We're not talking about banning a category of weapons across the board [e.g. military-style assault weapons], a ban for certain high-capacity magazines or changing background checks by adding additional disqualifying items." In other words, we won't even talk about anything that would matter.

And the Democratic negotiators and President Joe Biden accepted these Republican limitations on what was open for negotiations from the outset.

Here's all the "bipartisan compromise" would do, if enacted: close the "boyfriend loophole" about whether unmarried partners can keep guns if convicted of violence against a dating partner; provide funding for states that create new red flag laws (but keep in mind that many red states refused federal funding for Medicaid expansion); and provide some funds for mental health, although Republicans still oppose new funding; include juvenile records in background checks for 18-21-year-olds who want to buy an AR-15-type weapon.

As Monica Munoz Martinez, a MacArthur fellow who hails from Uvalde told the New York Times, "This proposed legislation doesn't restore a sense of safety in Texas. It's hard to celebrate legislation that fails so far short of what families in Uvalde and Buffalo asked for."

But congressional Democrats are now hailing this minimalist "compromise" as the most significant gun safety legislation in decades. And they're doing it with their usual bromides for their lack of courage. The No. 2 Senate Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois trotted out the usual Democratic excuse for doing too little: "We cannot let the congressional perfect be the enemy of the good."

But he left out the corollary: "The almost useless should be the enemy of the pretty good."

For example, although I'm a supporter of Medicare for All, I can buy the argument that while Obamacare is less than perfect, it's "better than nothing." But I just don't buy the argument that this almost useless gun legislation is "good" enough to celebrate.

CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein writes that "Pew Polling found that significant majorities of Americans support background checks (81 percent), an assault-weapons ban (63 percent), and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines (64 percent); a majority also opposes concealed carry of weapons without a permit."

Democrats hailing this next-to-meaningless "bipartisan compromise" as "the most significant gun legislation in decades" lets Republicans off the hook in the 2022 election and beyond. Republicans can claim they did something about gun safety, and the mainstream media seems to be buying it, taking away one of the Democrats most potent campaign issues. This is how Democrats repeatedly demoralize their own base while doing little to pick up so-called moderates or independents.

The Democrats' biggest weakness going into the midterms is the apathy of its supporters, many of whom are likely not to bother to vote. As Molly Jong-Fast writes in The Atlantic, "If the GOP is hostage to its base, Democrats are on the run from their core voters. Whether its voting rights or debt forgiveness, when it comes to delivering a win for their base, Democrats seem unwilling or unable to deliver."

If I thought this "bipartisan" compromise could actually prevent any appreciable number of mass shootings, I'd reluctantly support it. But it doesn't. It just let's Republicans claim they did something. And then they can endlessly yell "Inflation, inflation inflation! Crime, crime, crime! And Biden and the Democrats are all to blame!"

To have any chance of keeping its House majority and increasing its Senate majority by two to eliminate the power of Manchin and Sinema to block the Democratic agenda, Democrats have to stand tall and strong. They need to say, "Give us these majorities and we'll pass significant gun safety laws, protect a woman's right to choose anywhere in America, defend democracy and protect voting rights, lower prescription drug prices, protect renters, reduce student debt, and restore tax credits to low-income families."

Accepting this do-nothing gun "compromise" just disillusions potential Democratic voters and makes it likely Republicans will retake Congress and block any real progress on gun safety or anything else potential Democratic voters care about.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.