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Democratic senators call on Republicans to do something about gun safety

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

U.S. senators are in the midst of heated discussions to develop new gun legislation after Uvalde, Texas, where 21 people were killed, 19 of them children. It's not clear a deal can be reached next week when they meet. But some are expressing cautious optimism that a plan to at least set some limits on gun purchases could be in the works. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales has more.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: A desperate crowd outside the Capitol chanted for Congress to pass gun safety legislation.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: We need them to pass the bills and the laws now - not later, now.

GRISALES: The demonstrators included gun violence survivors who wanted to hear about action from lawmakers.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Now. Now. Now. Now. Now.

GRISALES: But as is often routine, only Democratic lawmakers were there to greet them.

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KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: It is crippling to be this angry and this infuriated by the lack of action by people who hold all the power.

GRISALES: That's New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. While her party holds control of the White House and Congress, they fall 10 votes short in the Senate to approve bills to address the country's mass shootings. Back on the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says while Democrats have been burned before, they're going to try for a deal with the GOP again.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: Not trying everything is not acceptable to the families who have lost their loved ones.

GRISALES: Schumer now says if these new talks fail, a vote will be on tap regardless to show where every senator stands.

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SCHUMER: I want to be clear - this is not an invite to negotiate indefinitely.

GRISALES: One of those key negotiators is Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, who visited the scene of the shooting. Back on the Senate floor on Thursday, Cornyn said it was supposed to be the end of the school year for Robb Elementary.

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JOHN CORNYN: Instead of celebrating the last day of school, 21 families are making funeral arrangements.

GRISALES: Cornyn has led past negotiations for Republicans on narrow limits to gun access. Cornyn said the shooting has shattered the small town.

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CORNYN: Uvalde is about a town of about 15,000 people, about 65 miles from the U.S.-Mexican border. There's one high school football team, one H-E-B grocery store and one post office. The families in Uvalde have known each other and loved each other's children for as long as they can remember.

GRISALES: Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said he encouraged Cornyn after his Texas trip to negotiate with Democrats. Cornyn, like other key Republicans, has been in discussions with Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy. Back at the rally outside the Capitol, Murphy says there's still hope for a deal.

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CHRIS MURPHY: We will be engaged in bipartisan conversations to try to find a path forward.

GRISALES: Murphy was elected to Congress just before the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in his home state 10 years ago and has worked since on gun control measures. Murphy admits it can be a long and arduous journey, but says relentless commitment is what leads to major social change.

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MURPHY: They are so confident that the status quo will finally break that they never, ever give up. And we are never, ever giving up.

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GRISALES: The coming days will dictate if both parties can reach a bipartisan deal or once again serve as a reminder that Congress is powerless to stop such future attacks.

Claudia Grisales, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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