The gun safety deal that a bipartisan group of senators announced recently is a meaningful step toward addressing gun violence in America. The measure is not ideal, and Congress could lose moment as the legislation is being drafted. But the reforms are a solid building block and a reflection of where most Americans stand, and Congress should quickly get this bill to the president’s desk.

The agreement, embraced by 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats appointed by party leaders to explore a potential compromise, includes enhanced background checks for gun buyers under 21. That would provide, for the first time, the opportunity to check juvenile and mental health records for these would-be buyers, addressing a key concern among advocates, who say that many 18 to 21 years old lack the maturity to own a firearm.

The measure would provide funding incentives for states to adopt so-called red flag laws that allow authorities to temporarily confiscate the weapons of those deemed a threat to themselves or others. (Florida enacted a red flag law after the mass school shooting in Parkland in 2018.) Also for the first time, the legislation would prohibit people from owning guns if they had been convicted of domestic violence against a dating partner or were similarly subjected to a restraining order, plugging the so-called “boyfriend loophole” that’s often a factor in domestic gun-related deaths.

While the measure falls short of what most Democrats and gun-safety advocates have championed, there is no chance this sharply-divided Congress would go further by banning assault weapons and the sale of large-capacity magazines, raising the purchasing age for guns or imposing a federal red-flag law. Holding out for the impossible is just as unreasonable as opposing any safety reforms at all. This agreement gives both sides a win and sends an important symbolic message that gun rights are not absolute or politically untouchable.

The agreement also speaks to the power of the public’s outcry over the recent massacres in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, and it comes as violent crime nationally has increased and as Democrats look to losses in the coming midterm elections, making now the time to strike. While not as bold or sweeping as Democrats had hoped, the expanded checks and red-flag provisions would fill key holes in the system. The legislation would also provide additional money for community mental health programs and security and behavioral services for schools. And lawmakers can build on the reform package, with a springboard of at least some Republican support that could be invaluable later.

The challenge now is to capture this agreement with specific legislation, and to move the bill quickly through Congress before the momentum fades. This is an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats alike to turn a divisive wedge issue into a substantive improvement for public safety. President Joe Biden is waiting: “The sooner it comes to my desk, the sooner I can sign it, and the sooner we can use these measures to save lives,” he said. This moment has not existed in Washington for decades. Let’s not squander it.

Editorial by the Tampa Bay Times
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