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Senate Will Discuss Gun Proposals In September, McConnell Says

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is resisting calls for the Senate to return from August recess to take up gun reform measures after deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, last weekend.
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is resisting calls for the Senate to return from August recess to take up gun reform measures after deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, last weekend.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will discuss measures aimed at addressing gun violence in September. He said he expects background checks, assault weapons and "red flag" laws to be part of the debate.

"What we can't do is fail to pass something," McConnell told WHAS radio in Kentucky, adding, "the urgency of this is not lost on any of us."

The comments come following the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that killed 31 people. McConnell, a strong supporter of gun rights, said he is not calling the Senate back early but instead spending the next few weeks working with staff and Republicans and Democrats on key committees to develop something to get bipartisan support. He did not guarantee votes on the variety of proposals he mentioned and repeatedly noted there had to be bipartisan agreement on proposals.

But Democrats and Republicans are likely to disagree on what they should focus on.

McConnell expressed skepticism over a possible assault weapons ban, which was in place from 1994 but expired 10 years later and was not renewed.

"We had that ban for about a 10-year period. There's a good deal of dispute about whether it actually had an impact or not," McConnell told radio host Terry Meiners. "It's certainly one of the front and center issues. I think ... probably background checks and red flags will probably lead the discussion. But a lot of other things will come up as well."

Before departing to visit the affected cities on Wednesday, President Trump told reporters there was a "great appetite" for background checks, but "no political appetite" for banning assault-style weapons, even though public polling has indeed shown broad support for such a measure.

As to why he won't summon senators back to D.C. sooner, McConnell maintained that such a speedy reaction would only bring partisan rancor.

"I don't want to just engage in finger-pointing or making a point," McConnell said. "What's happened after every one of these shootings is that there's been a temptation to just engage in political discourse rather than actually passing something."

McConnell said Trump called him Thursday morning and that FBI Director Christopher Wray spoke to the GOP conference during a call on Monday.

Trump is "anxious to get an outcome and so am I, and I think the Democrats will have to just admit that it's better to get a result than just engage in this endless point scoring," McConnell said.

Democratic leaders also spoke with the president Thursday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer released a joint statement saying they "told him the best way forward to address gun violence in our country is for Leader McConnell to let the Senate take up and pass the House-passed universal background checks legislation and for the President to sign it into law."

In February, the House passed a background check bill that would only allow gun sales between individuals if a background check can be conducted, but McConnell has so far refused to take it up in the Senate, and Trump said he would veto it. There was another bill passed to expand the time federal officials have to finish background checks that also stalled in the Senate.

"The President gave us his assurances that he would review the bipartisan House-passed legislation and understood our interest in moving as quickly as possible to help save lives," the statement said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., have announced they will draft a bill to address the red flag laws, which would let local officials seize firearms from people determined to pose a risk to themselves or others. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., have said they intend to revive their bill to expand background checks to gun shows and Internet sales, which failed in 2013 after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre that killed 20 young children and six adults.

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Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.
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