Mitch McConnell’s support for strict gun laws reflects a changed political landscape

WASHINGTON — A decade ago, when 20 children and six adults were killed at an elementary school in Connecticut, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell extended his thoughts and prayers, mourning a tragedy he said was “in its horrors”. stands out”—and then used Filibuster to block a bipartisan bill to toughen gun laws.

But last month, after a gunman killed 19 elementary school children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, McConnell did something different: He said Congress should take action, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called a Blessed to cut the deal. Democrats on moderately strict gun lawsWhich he supported on Tuesday.

McConnell’s shift reflects a new political paradigm: mass shooting occur more often in the United States. Permissive gun laws allow easier access to AR-15-style rifles, including dangerous ones that aim to kill. Kentucky Republicans Have a Political Incentive Too: Winning Back suburban voterThose who support gun control but have moved from the GOP coalition to Democrats in recent elections.

For McConnell – a longtime opponent of gun controlwho has branded himself “Grim Reaper” An openness to a gun bill also reflects their willingness to work the Senate with a 60-vote filibuster rule – among progressive priorities. A GOP leadership aide familiar with his thinking said it would prove the Senate is “not broken” and that “those who want to change the rules are wrong.”

The final bill has yet to be written, but many senators on both sides are optimistic, with only the outline deal marking a sea change after nearly three decades of failure to address gun violence.

“There’s no doubt that the school shootings represented a change in the environment,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, a former Republican presidential candidate in 2012, told NBC News in an interview. “That leads a lot of us to say: are there some things we can do that don’t infringe on gun owners’ rights – but at the same time, make acts of terror more difficult for troubled youth? Huh?”

McConnell is attuned to political trends as he seeks to regain Senate control for Republicans in this fall’s midterm election.

A day after the 2020 election, he said he was “disturbed by the loss of support in the suburbs” for GOP candidates. “If you look at our situation, the Republican position nationally, I think we need to win back the suburbs. We need to do better with college-educated voters lately, and we need to do better with women.” Needs to do better.”

one in cbs news poll Taken this month, 69 percent of American women said gun laws should be more strict (6 percent said less strict); And 65 percent of white college graduates said they should be more strict (10 percent said less strict). And the status quo isn’t appealing to them: Just a quarter of women and white college graduates said gun laws should remain the same.

“McConnell can read the polls as well as anyone. Given the magnitude of the tragedy in Uvalde, there is widespread public support for something,” said Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor and oil and gas executive.

“Republicans are being portrayed as extremists on every issue because of the MAGA issue. Guns is an issue where they can refute that statement and support a reasonable view,” he said. Cannot proceed with abortion. But they have more room to negotiate the guns.”

Support is ‘tremendous, off the charts’

At a closed-door Senate GOP meeting on Tuesday, Cornyn presented a poll of 1,000 people in homes with guns to Republicans, with 79 percent supporting “red flag” legislation, 86 percent supporting boyfriend loophole closures and teen records. Including 87 percent support. in the background check system, according to slides shared with NBC News by a source familiar with the meeting.

Moments later, McConnell emerged and told reporters that “support for the framework’s provisions is off the charts, overwhelming.”

Liam Donovan, a lobbyist and former Republican campaign operative, blamed the increasing prevalence of mass shootings and changes within the party to the “restructuring of the GOP coalition”.

“The suburban Romney voters that were once part of the base are now up for grabs if the Democrats don’t begin to lean in, and this is an issue that could make a big difference on the margins, both in the midterm and going forward. It is,” Donovan said.

Democrats say the public’s mood has changed dramatically.

“Americans are really scared,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “There’s a completely different frame of mind now.”

Gary Peters, D-Mich., president of the electoral wing of the Democrats, said, “There is overwhelming support for gun safety laws in the country and for tackling the gun issue.” He said there is “no question in my mind” that the suburbs are pushing it, adding that the expanded background check has the support of about 80 percent of the public.

“There are very few issues that get that kind of support then tackle gun safety,” Peters said in an interview.

‘It hurts the integrity of the Second Amendment’

Still, it’s not clear whether Republicans will get the 20 to 25 votes they want. Several senators are carefully watching the reactions of conservative activists (including the National Rifle Association) and commentators to see if they will face a backlash for supporting the bill.

The same electoral restructuring that has prepared some Republicans to play ball on gun legislation has left others in the party more dependent on single-issue pro-gun voters. Notably, McConnell’s top representatives — Sen. John Thune, RSD, and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Vy., representing small rural states with a gun culture — have not taken a position on the framework.

Some Republicans say the party needs to make concessions to keep guns away from dangerously unwell people, or they risk making the Second Amendment outright illegal.

“Even if you are a big proponent – ​​which I am – of the Second Amendment, there are some things you have to do if you want to keep it up for the long haul,” he said. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind. “Guns in the hands of the mentally ill … every time this happens I think it hurts the integrity of the Second Amendment.”

Two senior Senate Republican aides said the prevalence of mass shootings has softened resistance to the caucus’ action.

Cornyn said Democratic negotiators are prepared to limit talks to areas Republicans can agree on. He said that Murphy and Sen. Kirsten Cinema, D-Ariz., “were very reasonable.”

“And when we told them we can’t get 60 votes for this if you add that up, they were very practical and practical,” he said.