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Collins, King optimistic about chances of a gun compromise in the Senate

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, stands in a subway car on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 9, 2022.
Patrick Semansky
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, stands in a subway car on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 9, 2022.

Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King said Monday that they are optimistic Congress is finally on the verge of passing gun safety legislation one day after they were part of a group that unveiled a bipartisan compromise.

The deal announced on Sunday doesn't contain everything that Collins and King would prefer to see to address the nation's mass shootings and the gun violence epidemic. And it makes far less sweeping changes than bills that were passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives – measures that would have expanded background checks, increased the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle and banned high-capacity ammunition magazines.

But Collins, a Republican, said the framework is a major step forward because it aims to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals while also investing in mental health and security initiatives. And after the recent spate of mass shootings, Collins said, ”people finally realize that the time has come – the time has passed, really – for us to act.”

"I view this as significant because it has been literally decades since the Senate has passed gun safety legislation,” Collins said in an interview Monday afternoon. “And it also would demonstrate to the American people that we can achieve some progress on a contentious and difficult issue."

Collins was among the dozen Republicans and Democrats who have been negotiating for weeks following killings of 19 children and two teachers dead in Uvalde, Texas, and the mass shooting at a Buffalo grocery store. The proposal would give authorities more time to check the mental health and juvenile records of people under age 21 who are trying to buy a long gun and would also prohibit sales to individuals who are accused of domestic violence against a dating partner.

The proposal also seeks to crack down on "straw purchases" and provides more federal money to strengthen security around schools. It would also provide federal resources to help states set up so-called "red flag" or "yellow flag" laws that allow police and the courts to temporarily confiscate guns from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. Maine has a “yellow flag” law that allows police to restrict someone’s access to guns if a medical professional has agreed that they pose a danger and if a court agrees.

"And constitutional rights are involved but we are not in any way harming the responsible gun owner,” Collins said of the Senate compromise. “So I think that we can put this together."

Like Collins, King was serving in the Senate when that chamber failed to pass any gun measures following the shooting deaths of 20 elementary school students in Newtown, Connecticut. But King said he sees "serious momentum" this time.

An independent who caucuses with the Democrats, King signed onto the proposal because it contains both gun control measures and resources for mental health in schools and communities centers.

"I think both prongs of this bill are important,” King said Monday morning. “And the reforms that they make are just common sense, so I am optimistic that we can hold onto the votes."

The deal announced on Sunday is only a framework. The actual legislative language has not been put together. And in order to get around the 60-vote filibuster, supporters will need keep at least 10 Republicans on board despite likely opposition from some opposed to any gun control measures. Some conservative Republicans have already come out against the proposal. And the compromise falls far short of the more aggressive reforms that gun control advocates say are needed to prevent more mass shootings.

But the plan was endorsed by 10 Republicans, including lead GOP negotiator Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

King and Collins said they are hopeful, however.

"Politics is the art of the possible and this is a far superior bill to nothing,” King said. “It has some very positive aspects that I think will save lives."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he hopes to bring the bill up for a vote before the Senate heads home for its July recess.