Senate gun group eyes finish line as ‘boyfriend loophole’ remains a major hurdle

WASHINGTON (AP) — The four U.S. senators leading negotiations on an arms deal met for hours in a Senate basement Thursday seeking a final deal, but emerged with a major unresolved issue.

The meeting between Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Sen. Thom Tillis, RN.C., did not produce a resolution on how to close the “boyfriend loophole” involving gun rights for abusive partners.

As they craft federal language, the group is looking at “state statutes” that currently prohibit couples convicted of abuse from owning guns, Tillis said, without elaborating on which states. More than 33 states have already taken steps to close or address the dating loophole.

“There’s already a pretty well-developed law on what a dating partner is,” Murphy told reporters as he left the meeting. “I hope the definition is there for the taking.”

Cornyn, who left the meeting early to catch a flight back to Texas, told reporters he was “frustrated” at the progress of talks on the issue.

“This is the hardest part because at some point you have to make a decision and when people don’t want to make a decision, you can’t get the result. And that’s where we are right now,” Cornyn said. “We have been exchanging ideas and now they know where I stand. So far there is no agreement.”

Cornyn said “one possibility” is that the language be removed from the overall package so as not to “jeopardize” the timeline. But Murphy said he wouldn’t want to do that: “Obviously we have to come to an agreement on that, or we can’t put a detrimental provision in the bill.”

‘Until the final stages’

The Senate adjourned over the weekend afternoon, but Murphy and Tillis said they planned to continue working through the night, along with staff, to iron out disagreements. They still hoped to finish the bill by Friday, which would give the Senate enough time to pass it next week.

“We’re too close, and we’re in the final stages,” Tillis said. “A lot of decisions were made in the last two hours.”

The Senate group appears to have made a breakthrough on how to structure “red flag” grants, which was a sticking point Wednesday.

They plan to give money to states that adopt such laws and ensure that states that don’t adopt them can get the grants and use them for programs like crisis prevention and mental health.

After the lengthy meeting, Tillis said senators have “worked out a mechanism” in which red flag grants can flow to states that have such laws on the books, “but also other states that have programs that we mutually agree to.” they are deserving of money. She said that could include taking advantage of existing programs in states that “may have chosen not to have red flag laws.”

“We are working on that distribution now. The ultimate goal would be to have parity,” Tillis said.

Republicans are privately asking for the same amount of money for states whether or not they have red flag laws, though Democrats fear that will reduce the incentive for states to adopt them.

Murphy said he is confident all states will get enough money.

“I’ve said it from the beginning: I want to make sure there’s adequate funding in this bill for states that have red flag laws and states that don’t have red flag laws,” he told reporters. “We want to have money to help states implement red flag laws. Republicans clearly want to make sure money is available for states that don’t move forward with red flag laws. And we’re going to find a way to do that in this bill.”

“Getting an agreement like this is difficult”

Another issue the Senate group appears to have resolved is how to modify the rules regarding Federal Firearms Licensees, which under the agreed framework is aimed at cracking down on “criminals who illegally evade licensing requirements.”

Senators also agreed to improve background checks for Americans ages 18 to 21, opening the door to access to juvenile and mental health records to help decide whether they should be allowed to buy a firearm. The package is also expected to include substantial funding for mental health and school safety.

Tillis declined to divulge details of the licensee modifications, saying the group wants to discuss the finer points with other Senate colleagues before sharing them with the press.

Murphy remained positive that the deal was finally approved.

“We’ve gotten closer over the course of the last few days,” Murphy said. “Again, there’s a reason this place hasn’t acted on guns in 30 years, because closing a deal like this is hard. It comes with many emotions. It comes with political risk for both sides. But we’re close enough that we can get there.

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