Politics & Government

Gun safety win on the horizon for GOP-controlled Senate

Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, center, is trying to get colleagues to vote on his gun safety bill.
Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, center, is trying to get colleagues to vote on his gun safety bill. AP

A gun safety bill with support from both parties reached the critical 60-vote hurdle it needs to advance from the Senate Friday.

The proposal, crafted by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, brings together unusual allies: The National Rifle Association, the pro-gun safety group Everytown for Gun Safety and President Donald Trump.

No vote has been scheduled yet in the Senate. It would still need approval from the GOP-controlled House before going to the president’s desk. The House already passed a version of the bill, attached to a proposal that would allow people with concealed-carry permits to take their guns across state lines.

Cornyn’s bill penalizes federal agencies that don’t accurately share criminal records with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. That system is used to screen people seeking to purchase guns for criminal histories.

Cornyn says his “Fix NICS” bill could have prevented a shooting that left 26 dead in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in November. In that incident, felony records were missing from the shooter’s file, allowing him to pass a background check.

“We will save lives in the future by simply making sure the current law is enforced," Cornyn told Texas reporters this week.

Cornyn, his party’s second most powerful Senate Republican and chief vote counter, said his proposal is the only one with enough support to pass a Senate that has long been divided on gun legislation.

“We should start with what's achievable,” Cornyn said. “This bill could easily pass the Senate. It's already passed the House. And the president would sign it, as he told me when he called me last Thursday night.”

Six new co-sponsors joined the bill Friday morning: Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Thad Cochran, R-Miss. and John Boozman, R-Ark.

It now has the support of 62 senators, split evenly between Republicans and Democrats.

Sixty votes are required to cut off debate on most major legislation in the Senate. Republicans currently control 51 seats; Democrats control 49.

Gun safety advocates want Congress to do much more to curb gun violence than Cornyn’s bill. But, they support it as a first step.

“The Fix NICS Act is a no-brainer – it should have 100 co-sponsors,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “However, this modest piece of legislation does not meet the moment, and if it’s all that Congress does, it would be an inexcusable failure of leadership.”

Dozens of senators added their names to Cornyn’s bill after a shooter killed 17 people at a Parkland, Fla., high school last month.

After that incident, the White House invited lawmakers from both parties to a meeting to discuss gun safety, during which Trump pitched much broader proposals, including ones that many Republicans dislike.

Cornyn said Trump called him after that meeting, reaffirming his support for Fix NICS. Trump also met with the NRA, which supports Cornyn’s bill, that same evening.

Cornyn’s plan is one of a handful introduced by lawmakers this week.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is not a sponsor on Cornyn’s bill, reintroduced his own gun safety proposal Tuesday.

In addition to the addressing lapses in the NICS system, Cruz’s plan would criminalize “straw purchasing” of firearms for other people, expand gun rights for members of the armed forces, and target a controversial Obama-era program aimed at tracking firearms in the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

This story was updated on March 9, 2018 to include additional co-sponsors.

Andrea Drusch: 202-383-6056, @AndreaDrusch