Assault weapons ban off the table as US Senate nears deal on 'meaningful change' in gun laws
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Bipartisan US Senate negotiations on how or if to respond to the latest wave of mass shootings are close to "some commonsense steps", according to a key Democrat negotiator, but will not include a return to the Clinton-era ban on assault weapons.
Democratic senator Chris Murphy, who is leading the talks with Republican counterpart John Cornyn, said options on the table included investments in mental health and school safety.
"We are talking about a meaningful change in our gun laws, a major investment in mental health, perhaps some money for school security that would make a difference," Senator Murphy of Connecticut told CNN's State of the Union show.
"That's the kind of package we're putting together right now. That's the kind of package I think can pass the Senate."
Senator Murphy said the senators engaged in the current talks would not attempt to ban the sale of assault weapons used in many mass shootings, including the killing of 19 children and their two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, or enact a wider "comprehensive" background-check system for gun buyers.
A 10-year ban on certain semi-automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns defined as assault weapons was signed into law by president Bill Clinton in 1994 but expired and was not renewed under president George W Bush in 2004.
US Senator from Connecticut Chris Murphy delivers an impassioned speech just hours after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, in south-west Texas.
The current talks will continue into early this week, when Congress returns from a Memorial Day break, and follow a prime-time speech last week in which Democratic President Joe Biden implored politicians to act.
"Why in God's name should an ordinary citizen be able to purchase an assault weapon that holds 30-round magazines that let mass shooters fire hundreds of bullets in a matter of minutes?" he said.
Mr Biden was a senator in 1994 and was instrumental in that year's assault-weapons ban passing Congress.
Researchers have found the ban had little to no effect on firearm deaths, which are normally caused by weapons not covered by the law, and there is inconclusive evidence it reduced the frequency of mass shootings.
Senator Murphy said despite abandoning any plan for a new ban on assault weapons, "I've never been part of negotiations as serious as these".
"There are more Republicans at the table talking about changing our gun laws and investing in mental health than at any time since Sandy Hook," he said.
Previous mass shootings like the ones that killed 10 black shoppers at a New York state grocery store, a pair of weekend shootings in Philadelphia and Chattanooga, Tennessee and the school shooting in Uvalde have led to similar talks but no action in the deeply divided Congress.
Texas has some of the loosest gun laws in the United States and Governor Greg Abbott last year signed into law several pieces of legislation to further ease restrictions.
Democrats control razor-thin majorities in Congress but Senate rules mean they need at least 10 Republicans to pass major legislation.
That is a tall order with less than six months before the November midterm elections when Republicans aim to retake the majority.
Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican member of the negotiating group, said some expansion of background checks was on the table, along with possible "red flag" laws that would allow states to maintain adequate due process.
"I think there is a place to land that is consistent with the second amendment," Senator Toomey said, speaking on CBS's Face the Nation program.
"It hasn't been finally resolved but something in the space of expanding background checks I think is very — well, certainly is on the table and I hope will be part of a final package."
The second amendment of the US constitution protects the right to keep and bear arms and Republicans defend a broad reading of that right, opposing most new limits on gun ownership.
While the White House and Congress struggle to agree on any response to the wave of shootings, the US Supreme Court this month is expected to rule on a New York case that could bring a sweeping expansion of gun rights.
"Red flag" laws allowing police to seize weapons from people with some mental illnesses have been implemented in 19 US states.
Gun rights advocates criticise such measures, saying they violate the second amendment and deny individuals the right to argue their cases with due process in court.
Senator Murphy, of Connecticut, where a gunman killed 26 children and educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, said parents in his state were worried.
"There's just a deep, deep fear for our children right now," he told CNN.
"And also a fear that government is so fundamentally broken that it can't put politics aside to guarantee the one thing that matters most to adults in this country — the physical safety of their children."
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