Americans have been pleading with their government to “do something” about gun violence after a pair of horrific mass murders last month. On Sunday, a bipartisan group of 20 senators including Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King announced that they have an agreement on what the “something” might be.

The deal would dedicate money for states that want to institute crisis intervention restraining orders, also known as “red-flag” orders, which lets judges require that people temporarily give up their guns if they are found to be a danger to themselves or others.

It also pledges money for community mental health services, school-based mental health resources, telehealth access and school security improvements.

“Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities,” the senators said in a statement they all signed. “(O)ur plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.

It’s nice to see progress, but it’s too early to celebrate anything: There are still plenty of opportunities for this agreement to fall apart in a sharply divided Senate or in negotiations with the U.S. House, which passed a more ambitious violence-prevention package last week.

The actual policies that make it into the final bill, or get cut out of the proposal before a vote, are what matters. It’s worth noting one thing that is missing from the senators’ statement: the word “gun.” This is clearly no accident – and it’s an omission that speaks to the politics that make doing anything meaningful such a longshot.


This negotiation started in response to the racist murder of 10 African American shoppers in Buffalo on May 14 and the random massacre of 19 fourth-graders and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas 10 days later. But the senators’ program puts major focus on school security and mental health services.

It’s long past time for this country to invest in mental health services, both in the community and in schools. But this is not a mental health problem. It’s also not  school design problem. Psychiatrists and architects are not going to reduce gun violence if we aren’t willing to talk about guns, too.

Schools aren’t the only places where people feel unsafe. Churches, synagogues, movie theaters and shopping centers have all been the sites of mass shootings in recent years. Every week this year there have been at least four mass shootings, in which four or more people were killed or wounded. Just last weekend, 10 people were killed and 42 injured in mass shootings in Chicago, Denver and Detroit that did not make the national news because we have become desensitized to “ordinary” violence.

The package of bills that passed the House last week called for an all-out ban on the sales of high-capacity magazines and prohibiting sales of most semiautomatic rifles to people younger than 21. (The Buffalo and Uvalde shooters both bought their AR-15-style rifles legally as soon as they turned 18.)

Maybe it’s too much to ask that members of Congress pass a single law that would fix a complicated problem like gun violence. But we can’t do much if we don’t acknowledge that guns play a role in the problem.

The bipartisan Senate proposal is far more than many people who follow the politics of gun control ever expected. But it’s far less than what we would need to truly make this a safer country.

If this is the first step in a long process in which Democrats and Republicans learn to trust each other as they make incremental progress toward a shared goal we would have something to celebrate.

But, past experience suggests that this proposal is the best we are going to see until the next shocking massacre, when members of Congress are again convinced that they have to “do something” about  gun violence.

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