The senators trying to finalize a bipartisan gun safety bill left Washington on Thursday, missing a self-imposed deadline to transform their landmark framework agreement into legislative text. “We’re not ready to release any smoke,” lead GOP negotiator Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) said as he walked out of two hours of closed-door negotiations with Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). “I’m not frustrated, I’m done.”
“I’m not as optimistic right now, but we’re continuing to work,” Cornyn said. “I’d say it’s fish or cut bait,” he added later. “I don’t know what they have in mind, but I’m through talking.”
Other negotiators were more hopeful. “A deal like this is difficult,” Murphy said. “It comes with political risk to both sides. But we’re close enough that we should be able to get there.” Tillis said the legislation could be finalized by the end of Friday, setting it up for vote next week, before a two-week break.
The main sticking points involve a provision to incentivize states to adopt “red flag” laws and a measure to close the “boyfriend loophole” for domestic abusers. The red flag provision “appeared to be back on track after Cornyn on Wednesday raised concerns that the program would disfavor states who choose not to enact those laws,” like Texas, The Washington Post reports.
But Senate negotiators are having a tough time deciding what level of relationship qualifies for new abuse-related gun restrictions.
“Part of it, it’s a definitional issue,” Cornyn said. Federal law “already covers people who are married, people who have a child in common, and people who are cohabitating, and Democrats want to extend it to other relationships and I’m not clear exactly what it is they want to cover,” he added. “This has got to be something other than, you know, one date.”
“I’m of the view that if you beat the hell out of your dating partner, and you end up getting convicted for that crime, there should be consequences,” Murphy said. “There is already well-developed law both at the federal and state level around what a dating partner is,” he added, so “the definition is there for the taking.” Tillis made a similar comment.
Some of Cornyn’s protestations may be a little performative, Axios reports, intended to quell a “growing conservative backlash” from a handful of GOP colleagues who are unlikely to vote for any gun bill.