Senate republicans block gun policy debate

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
US Senate Leader Chuck Schumer wanted a domestic terrorism bill to open debate on gun controls. -AP

A first attempt by Democrats to respond to the back-to-back mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, has failed in the US Senate.

Republicans blocked a domestic terrorism bill that would have opened debate on hate crimes and gun safety.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tried to nudge Republicans into taking up a domestic terrorism bill that had cleared the House quickly last week after mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo and a church in Southern California targeting people of colour. He said it could become the basis for negotiation.

But the vote on Thursday failed along party lines, raising fresh doubts about the possibility of compromise on gun safety measures. 

"We're disappointed," said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

She said it's "shameful" that the National Rifle Association and others have stood in the way of advancing such measures.

"The president has been very clear that's it's time to act," she said.

Rejection of the bill, just two days after the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 children and two teachers, brought into sharp relief the persistent failure of Congress to pass legislation to curb the nation's epidemic of gun violence. 

Schumer said he will give bipartisan negotiations in the Senate about two weeks to try to forge a compromise bill.

A small, bipartisan group of about 10 senators who have sought to negotiate legislation on guns met Thursday afternoon for the second time.

They narrowed to three topics — background checks for guns purchased online or at gun shows, red-flag laws designed to keep guns away from those who could harm themselves or others, and programs to bolster security at schools and other buildings.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham exited the meeting saying there is no appetite for a federal red flag law or a so-called yellow flag law — which permits temporary firearm confiscation from people in danger of hurting themselves or others, if a medical practitioner signs off.

But Graham said there could be interest in providing money to the states that already have red flag laws or that want to develop them. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who circulated a draft at the meeting, will work with Graham on a potential compromise.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said little about gun legislation since the several tragedies have unfolded, told reporters he met with Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas earlier and encouraged senators to collaborate across the aisle on workable outcomes.

"I am hopeful that we could come up with a bipartisan solution that's directly related to the facts of this awful massacre," McConnell said.