U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy ( D-Conn), outside the Capitol at a gun...

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy ( D-Conn), outside the Capitol at a gun control rally May 26, on Sunday said any gun bill in the Senate would likely not include an assault weapons or background checks. Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON — Sen. Chris Murphy, the Democrat leading negotiations for a bipartisan gun control bill, said Sunday any proposal put forward would likely stop short of including an assault weapons ban or expanded background checks, both backed by President Joe Biden.

Murphy (D- Conn.), appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” said a bipartisan Senate panel convened in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas is instead looking at legislation to address school safety, help states bolster “red flag laws” aimed at preventing high-risk individuals from purchasing guns, boosting mental health programs and “some modest, but impactful changes in gun laws.”

“We're not going to do everything I want,” Murphy said. “We're not going to put a piece of legislation on the table that's going to ban assault weapons, or we're not going to pass comprehensive background checks, but, right now, people in this country want us to make progress. They just don't want the status quo to continue for another 30 years.”

Murphy, who was tapped by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to lead the negotiations, said he was unsure if the panel could put forward a proposal by the end of next week as Schumer has requested, but said the lawmakers involved recognized the urgency of the moment.

“As late as last night, we were engaged in conversations about trying to put a package together, because I think Republicans realize how scared parents and kids are across this country,” Murphy said. “I think they realize that the answer this time cannot be nothing, that it's frankly a test of democracy. It's a test of the federal government as to whether we can deliver at a moment of just fierce anxiety amongst the American public. So we're closer than ever before. Let's see if we land it.”

Murphy pointed to Republican-led legislation passed by Florida lawmakers following the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, as a model of what his Senate panel is considering.

“I think the template for Florida is the right one, which is, do some significant mental health investment, some school safety money, and some modest, but impactful changes in gun laws,” Murphy said. “That's the kind of package we're putting together right now. That's the kind of package I think can pass the Senate.”

Murphy said the panel is also looking at exploring more regulation surrounding the purchase of guns by 18 to 21-year-olds. Biden and other activists have called for increasing the federal age to purchase semi-automatic guns to 21 from 18, noting that both shooters in Buffalo, where 10 people at a grocery store died, and Uvalde, where 19 students and two teachers in a 4th grade classroom died, were 18 and had legally purchased AR-15 rifles.

New York’s state legislature passed a sweeping series of gun reform bills last week including increasing the age to purchase an AR-15 style rifle to 21.

“There is interest in taking a look at that age range — 18 to 21 — and doing what is necessary to make sure that we aren't giving a weapon to anybody that has during their younger years a mental health history, a juvenile record,” Murphy said. “Often, those juvenile records aren't accessible when they walk into the gun store buying as an adult. So we're having a conversation about that specific population, 18 to 21, and how to make sure that only the right people, law-abiding citizens, are getting their hands on weapons.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R- Pa.), a member of the bipartisan panel, who for nearly a decade has pushed for expanded background checks for gun purchases, said Sunday he was hopeful that some component of background checks would be included in the compromise legislation being drafted.

“Something in the space of expanding background checks I think is very well — it certainly is on the table, and I hope it'll be part of a final package,” Toomey said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Toomey said there needs to be “a mechanism to increase the likelihood that” authorities and gun vendors can prevent “violent criminals and deranged, dangerously mentally ill people,” from legally purchasing a gun.

Asked about the likelihood of at least 10 Republicans providing the necessary votes to pass a piece of legislation in the evenly split Senate, Toomey said “there are things we could do that would be constructive, that are consistent with Republican values, and I'm hoping we'll get there."

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