Report: McConnell open to raising the minimum age to buy an AR-15 to 21

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The fact that Mitch McConnell is “open” to a legislative outcome by no means indicates he’s prepared to do anything to achieve it. McConnell was also “open” to convicting Trump at his impeachment trial and disqualifying him from future office until he realized there wasn’t anywhere near 17 enthusiastic votes in his caucus to take that leap. Instead of trying to lead reluctant Republicans towards that result, he slunk back into a contrived excuse that Trump couldn’t be convicted because he’d already left office.

Once Mitch realizes there aren’t 10 votes to raise the minimum age to 21 for buying an AR-15, he’ll contrive a reason to oppose that too.

In fact, according to Politico, he’s already slinking away:

When a friend asked McConnell why he voted against convicting Trump last year, he reportedly said that he didn’t get to become leader of his caucus by siding with the minority. The same logic will be at work here.

For all the hype about a deal on guns coming together in the Senate, WaPo reported last night that negotiators are suddenly asking for more time. And time is a dangerous thing for gun-grabbers like Chris Murphy since voters’ interest in new gun restrictions famously wanes quickly after mass shootings. That’s why House Dems are holding a hearing today with survivors and relatives of the victims in the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings. They’re trying to extend the media shelf life of both stories to keep up the pressure on Republicans to make a deal before the public loses interest.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also gave an upbeat appraisal of the talks but said it was “way too soon” to predict how many Republicans might ultimately come along. “We don’t have an agreement yet,” he said, adding, “I personally would prefer to get an outcome, and I hope that we’ll have one sooner rather than later.”

McConnell’s remarks came after the top Republican negotiator, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), issued his own plea for patience Monday, counseling his colleagues against setting “artificial deadlines” and warning that consensus legislation would not be ready for a vote this week…

A proposal that could create a federal minimum age of 21 for rifle buyers, matching the current law for handgun buyers, has not been formally ruled out but is unlikely to make it into a final package, several senators involved in the talks said.

I do think McConnell is sincere about wanting something to pass, mainly to deny Democrats a line of attack this fall in swing districts. Most voters don’t feel strongly about gun laws, but as the massacres keep coming I suspect they do feel exasperation at the chronic legislative paralysis in doing anything meaningful to try to stop them. WaPo notes that some red-state senators are hearing from constituents asking them to take action this time. “Even though our gun culture is strongly pro-hunting and is deeply ingrained in our social fabric, the suicide rate in Wyoming is high,” said Sen. Cynthia Lummis, adding that she was “a little surprised … how receptive Wyoming callers seem to be to address guns in some manner.”

A recent YouGov poll found that 28 percent of the public, and 44 percent of Republicans, believe mass shootings are “unfortunately something we have to accept as part of a free society.” Passing legislation rashly in the heat of emotion following a disaster for the sake of “doing something” is unjustifiable, essentially a dereliction of duty. But a widespread sense of civic sclerosis as supermarkets and classrooms continue to get shot up is unsustainable. If you want to rebuild trust in public institutions, a de facto position that “child-slaughter is the price of freedom” ain’t the way to do it.

The problem with raising the minimum age to buy an AR-15 to 21 is that it would punish the law-abiding majority of under-21 gun-owners for the sake of keeping guns away from the dangerous few. That’s a line Republicans have been keen to police. Red-flag laws, which target individual differences, are one thing; blanket bans on an entire class of people are another. The compromise position may be to preserve the right of under-21s to buy rifles but to subject them to expanded background checks. But that also has a problem:

Tillis and Cornyn are entertaining enhanced background checks for prospective gun buyers younger than 21, hoping they can encourage states to put juvenile criminal records into the federal background system and potentially prevent people charged with serious crimes as children from buying guns as adults. Democrats are privately advocating to add a federal waiting period for people younger than 21 that seek to purchase firearms, trying to push Republicans out of their comfort zone, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

Some Dems want a three-day waiting period for under-21s while the expanded background checks are conducted, which would give young would-be mass shooters like the Uvalde murderer a chance to cool off when buying an AR-15 with a desire to kill. But the NRA opposes waiting periods, WaPo notes; it’s not enough for an 18-year-old to be able to buy a semiautomatic rifle, they need to be able to possess it as soon as the impulse for the purchase strikes.

Overreach or paralysis: McConnell and Cornyn are trying to find a way between the two with the midterms five months away.

Meanwhile, per Politico, Democrats are wondering whether it makes sense to compromise with the GOP on a very narrow package knowing that Republicans “may use any modest gun safety deal to argue for years to come that Congress has dealt with the issue already.” That’s quite plausible, especially if part of the deal includes federal grants for state red-flag laws. I think Dems assume that if they pass something now, they can turn around after the next massacre and say, “Obviously we need to do more,” hoping that Republicans will feel obliged to agree. In reality, I think Republicans will point to the new grant program and say, “This is in the states’ hands now. We urge all 50 to pass their own red-flag laws.” And although they’d never admit it, I bet some Dems are hoping a deal falls apart: That would give them a midterm weapon against the GOP *and* might lead to public sniping between Republicans who wanted a deal and those who didn’t.

Here’s the star witness from this morning’s hearing.