Gun safety legislation moves the needle — the right way

Compromise can be unpopular, but in a country where political differences are deep and often bitter, it is necessary. That’s why the announcement of a bipartisan agreement on federal legislation to pass gun safety laws is welcome.

And yet, at the same time, it is unsatisfactory.

On Sunday, the group of 10 Republican and 10 Democratic senators working on gun reform, which includes New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich, announced a framework had been reached — the implication being there will be at least 10 votes from Republicans in the Senate, which means the legislation cannot be filibustered if all Democrats vote for it.

This package will not reduce all gun violence in this country. In a nation as weaponized as ours, that’s an impossible goal.

But the reality that some lives will be saved if this reform package can be passed and signed into law remains cold comfort. Not enough lives will be saved.

Here’s what the law would do:

It would include incentives for states to pass their own “red flag” laws aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of those who potentially threaten others or themselves. New Mexico is one of 19 states and the District of Columbia that already has such a law — and to be honest, a federal law remains optimal — but incentives could persuade more states to sign on.

For states that already have laws, there will be increased funding to improve existing programs. Given the light use of this state’s red flag law, improvement seems necessary.

A significant part of the proposal would focus on investing in mental health, suicide and telehealth programs. Senators also propose closing what is known as the boyfriend loophole, which would allow the removal of guns from unmarried people convicted of domestic violence but in a serious dating relationship.

But the proposal does not increase the age to buy an assault rifle to 21 — or ban them altogether. It would institute a more thorough background check on buyers between 18 and 21, a period that could take up to 10 days if concerns are raised.

Well-intentioned proponents say this is a package of reforms that moves the needle in a fashion that would mean a decrease in gun violence and fewer deaths. Perhaps, even an incremental improvement does not mean the carnage is going to stop.

We tip our hat to the senators in both parties who tried to get something done. And their efforts were well-received by those who know about death on a mass scale all too well. David Hogg, a young man who survived a school shooting in Florida, had this to say on Twitter: “Today a bipartisan group of 20 Senators (10 D and 10 R) is announcing a breakthrough agreement on gun violence — the first in 30 years. Told you this time is different.”

Hogg is a co-founder of March for Our Lives, the student-led movement formed after 17 people died at his school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in 2018.

The “different” mention in his tweet is that the urgency of gun safety reform has grown with the spate of recent mass shootings in the United States. But this has happened before — after Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut a decade ago, most notably — and nothing at the federal level changed.

This year does seem different, and it’s hard to believe an opportunity wasn’t squandered. The common response, after the mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, has been, “Do something.”

Our response: Do more. In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately country, that has to be the next response.


Predictably, much could go wrong before any reform could be signed into law. Some Republicans refuse any regulation of guns, preferring to blame mental illness or proposing to turn schools into prisons. Some Democrats worry passing gun legislation will prove to be a winning issue for Republicans in the midterms, or purists could halt the legislation without the ban on assault-style rifles.

Either way, the pressure on Congress needs to increase, not fall silent amid the sales pitch: “Hey, we compromised.”