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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's crackdown on gun trafficking included in compromise

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks during a news conference May 5, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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WASHINGTON – A bipartisan gun safety compromise continued to gain momentum in the Senate on Tuesday, and that's good news for Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand because the deal includes a federal crackdown on gun trafficking that she's been pushing since 2009.

The Senate appears to be moving toward a gun safety compromise that would bolster background checks and funding for mental health programs as well as school security, and both Garnell Whitfield Jr. and Zeneta Everhart said Monday that they are pretty happy about that.

Gillibrand was not among the 20 senators from both parties who struck the compromise on Sunday, but its framework nevertheless makes gun trafficking a federal offense, establishing criminal penalties for anyone who transfers firearms across state lines to individuals not authorized to possess them.

Those are changes that Gillibrand called for in legislation now called the Hadiya Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard Gun Trafficking and Crime Prevention Act, which she has introduced in every Congress since she was first appointed to the Senate.

"Just like my bill, this framework would make gun trafficking a federal crime and hold accountable those who transfer guns to individuals they suspect will use them for illegal purposes," Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, told reporters on a conference call. "This is so important because as things currently stand, guns from states with lax gun laws are flooding into states with strong gun laws. And as a result, law enforcement and prosecutors are having to rely on a patchwork of state regulations to crack down on criminal networks, and that make prosecutions difficult and convictions nearly impossible."

The change is especially important in New York, where, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 75% of the guns used in crimes and recovered by law enforcement originate from out of state. According to the Office of New York Attorney General Letitia James, about 15% of those guns originate in Virginia, while 13% come from Georgia and another 13% come from Pennsylvania.

Gillibrand named her legislation after Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old student at King College Prep in Chicago who was killed in 2013 when a gang member shot at a rival in a crowd, and Nyasia Pryear-Yard, who was killed at the age of 17 in 2009 by a man with an illegally trafficked weapon.

The Senate compromise has not yet been written into legislation, so it's not yet possible to know exactly how closely that bill will track with Gillibrand's. But she said the compromise "does the same thing as this bill."

"As long as these gun laws don't change, that is not justice," the Rev. Denise Walden-Glenn, executive servant leader at VOICE Buffalo, told the crowd. "As long as we don't do something to address the anti-blackness and the white supremacy in our communities, we don't have justice. So we are here to demand justice and we are here to demand it right now."

The emerging compromise would be the first major gun legislation Congress has passed in nearly three decades. The compromise also calls for tightening background checks for gun purchasers, encouraging states to enact "red flag" laws that would allow law enforcement to remove weapons from dangerous individuals, and increasing funding for mental health efforts and school safety.

Ten Republican senators helped negotiate the deal, and that's key, given that 10 GOP lawmakers are needed for the 60-vote majority required to even begin debate on major legislation in the Senate.

Asked if she was worried that some Republican senators might back out of the deal once the details are fleshed out, Gillibrand said: "No, I think there is so much consensus in Congress right now that we want to find whatever common ground exists and move forward with that."

After the recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, "people are hurting, families have suffered," she added. "It's become a crisis that everyone can understand. And even constituents in very red states are begging their members of Congress to do something."

The deal appeared to pick up an important new supporter on Tuesday: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.

"I’m comfortable with the framework and if the legislation ends up reflecting what the framework indicates, I’ll be supportive,” McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced his support for his chamber’s emerging bipartisan gun agreement. The Kentucky Republican's endorsement Tuesday boosted momentum for modest but notable election-year action by Congress on an issue that’s deadlocked lawmakers for three decades. An outline of the accord was released Sunday by 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans. Leaders hope it can be translated into legislation in days and voted on by Congress before lawmakers' July 4 recess. McConnell’s backing was the latest indication that last month’s gun massacres in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, had reconfigured the political calculations for some in the GOP.

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