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Toiling to Complete a Gun Bill, Two Parties Part Ways on Its Reach

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WASHINGTON — As the primary bipartisan agreement on gun safety measures in years takes shape on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats are laboring to maintain their compromise heading in the right direction by sending disparate messages about its scope and implications.

Democrats, who wanted way more sweeping gun control steps, have noted that if passed, it could be essentially the most significant laws on the difficulty in many years. Republicans, frightened of crossing their anti-gun-control base, are focusing as a substitute on the proposals they kept out of the agreement, including bans on weapons or ammunition and raising the age for purchasing firearms.

The contrast between how Democratic and Republican proponents are describing the proposal — big and monumental versus targeted and limited in scope — reflects the tricky politics surrounding the difficulty, and the fragility of the coalition that has come together to try to interrupt a yearslong stalemate.

“It’ll unquestionably save lives and can be essentially the most significant motion on guns that the Senate has taken in nearly three many years,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of Recent York and the bulk leader, said on Tuesday.

Not long before, Senator John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who played an important role within the talks, displayed an oversize chart on the Senate floor headlined “Ideas Rejected in Negotiations,” as he rigorously explained what his party had agreed to and — just as essential — what it had not. He noted that the Democratic proposals rejected by Republicans included universal background checks, a high-capacity magazine ban and an assault weapons ban for 18- to 21-year-olds.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, said on Tuesday that he was “comfortable” with the bipartisan framework that had emerged and would support a final bill that followed its parameters, one other indication that Republicans are aiming to carry together the coalition behind the deal and show to their colleagues that it could be politically secure to support it.

The trouble comes at a critical stage, as negotiators in each parties are toiling to translate a deal in principle into legislative language that may draw 60 votes on the Senate floor. The measure under discussion would require enhanced background checks for prospective gun buyers younger than 21, make it harder for domestic abusers to get firearms and supply federal grants to states to enact so-called red-flag laws to maintain guns out of the hands of dangerous people, amongst other steps.

Democrats entered negotiations two weeks ago with modest hopes, eager simply to show that it was possible to interrupt the impasse and pass some type of gun safety laws within the wake of a mass shooting, and conceding that it could should be limited as a way to attract enough Republican support to pass.

The political stakes were high, even when expectations of any major breakthrough weren’t. With President Biden’s poll numbers sagging as he struggles to advance the majority of his agenda, he and Democrats are desperate for any legislative victory to buoy his presidency and their prospects for the midterm congressional elections.

At the identical time, after the shooting massacre of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Republicans recognized that they needed to meet up with their very own political reality: that the overwhelming majority of voters, including their very own, support not less than some gun safety measures, including enhanced background checks.

Still, they’ve been girding against a backlash on their right flank by attempting to play down the concept they gave any ground to Democrats on the difficulty of guns.

Appearing on Fox News this week, Mr. Cornyn assured viewers that “states that don’t have red-flag laws won’t be compelled to pass them” and that the proposal included “no recent restrictions for law-abiding gun owners.”

“A part of the issue we’ve encountered is that folks are reading things into the bill that aren’t there, so this can be a strategy of trying to elucidate what’s in and what’s out,” Mr. Cornyn said in a temporary interview on Tuesday.

That may be a matter of political necessity for Republicans as the proper wing mobilizes against the compromise. Representative Lauren Boebert, Republican of Colorado, has branded the senators who’ve signed on as “squishy RINOs” — Republicans in name only — while the American Firearms Association, a grass-roots gun rights group that’s fund-raising off outrage over a possible deal, referred to the Republicans involved as “treacherous bastards” who wish to “disarm this complete country.”

A spokeswoman for former President Donald J. Trump said he was livid on the Republicans who had embraced the framework. “Now we have to stop these RINOs from joining the Democrats,” the spokeswoman, Liz Harrington, said in an interview with a conservative media outlet, asserting that red-flag laws would turn america into “the Soviet Union.”

(After back-to-back mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, in 2019, Mr. Trump called for red-flag laws.)

“I believe we’re more interested by the red wave than we’re in red flags, quite truthfully,” Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota, said on Tuesday after Mr. Cornyn presented an overview of the emerging bill during a closed-door G.O.P. Senate lunch.

Democrats have their very own challenges in staying united behind the proposal, as progressives have raised concerns about its limited scope and approach.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of Recent York, has said she is anxious that the proposal, which might for the primary time allow law enforcement to review juvenile and mental health records for gun buyers younger than 21, may lead to the “criminalization” of kids.

Mr. Schumer has tried to speak up all that the bill would do, noting the importance of enhanced background checks for people under 21 and shutting the so-called boyfriend loophole, a longtime priority for gun safety activists.

Still, critical sticking points remain unresolved.

Mr. Cornyn told reporters on Wednesday that he was concerned that states without red-flag laws can be ineligible to receive funds for crisis intervention programs. Each Democrats and Republicans have also hinted at disagreements about who precisely can be covered by the closing of the boyfriend loophole, which goals to incorporate dating partners in a prohibition against domestic abusers getting guns. The ban currently applies to spouses.

“In some unspecified time in the future, if we are able to’t get to 60, we’re going to should pare a few of it down,” Mr. Cornyn said, warning that the bill-writing stage could stretch into next week.

Senator Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut, the lead Democratic negotiator, said that he didn’t expect anything within the framework to fall out of the ultimate bill, and that he was confident it could pass.

As they push divergent messages about what the gun agreement would and wouldn’t do, each Democrats and Republicans have a legitimate case to make.

Since the bar for a history-making breakthrough on guns in Congress is low — there has not been significant federal gun laws passed since 1993 — a modest move still counts as a significant moment.

That dynamic could also be unsatisfying for Democrats frustrated that they’ve to simply accept incremental progress and enact only a fraction of the policies they imagine would save lives, however it could amount to a political win-win for them, strategists said.

“They’ve a significant accomplishment to speak about, and in addition they still have a variety of turf left for a really fertile debate on what else must be done to handle gun violence and mass shootings,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster. “The fact of Senator Cornyn’s position is that the provisions that Republicans kept out of the bill are extremely popular with the big majority of voters. Those are the policies which can be going to get litigated within the midterm elections.”

And while the difference in emphasis may reflect how divided the country is on guns, some said it was also an indication of progress.

“The best way each Republicans and Democrats are messaging this means to me that they’re actually serious about getting something done,” said James P. Manley, a former top adviser to the previous majority leader Senator Harry Reid.

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