Billions in gun violence intervention could pass through the Senate during reconciliation

On Tuesday, As news broke of more and more elementary school children being killed in a mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va. that he would do “everything I can” to prevent it from happening again. Everything, that is, except reforming the filibuster. “The filibuster is the only thing that prevents us from total insanity. Total insanity,” he said, immediately dashing any hope of sweeping gun reform.

But while Manchin has ruled out changing the filibuster rule to allow an up-or-down vote on gun-related legislation, some elements of the gun violence prevention agenda would be justified in moving through the upper chamber under budget voting rules, which require only a simple majority.

Among those projects, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Told The Intercept, are community-based programs that aim to interrupt potentially violent situations before they spiral out of control. And while the media focuses on tightening gun laws, Murphy said, communities ravaged by violence are often more likely to speak on behalf of such community-based interventions. Murphy represented Newtown, Connecticut, in Congress at the time of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 children.

“The president’s original proposal had significant funding in it for $5 billion for initiatives to combat gun violence, for community-based anti-violence programming,” Murphy noted to The Intercept. “Honestly, when you spend time in places like the east side of Bridgeport or the north end of Hartford. [in Connecticut], that’s what people are looking for. They want tougher gun laws, but they also want help reaching out and doing outreach to at-risk children.”

Murphy said the program’s budgetary impact would make it clearly warrant reconciliation. “Reconciliation can clearly be used for programming against violence against firearms,” he said. And Sen. Manchin, who is the key negotiator on the reconciliation package, cares deeply about the issue of gun violence. So I would hope that he would look favorably on including some investment in gun violence.” Back in 2013, after Sandy Hook, Manchin co-sponsored an amendment with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that would have required background checks, a measure that had 90 percent approval among Americans. The amendment was rejected 54-46 in the Senate.

The type of programs Murphy refers to aren’t flashy, but he noted that they tend to have bipartisan support. But there is serious evidence that community-based interventions, if adequately funded, can be both life-changing and life-saving. And they are endorsed by prominent gun security groups. “The Biden-Harris administration understands that to build back better, we need to build community-based programs designed to stop the shootings before they start,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement in November.

These programs seek to deter gun violence by identifying and intervening in the lives of people — mostly young men — who are at highest risk. Richmond, California, an industrial city outside of San Francisco, is known within the local police world for its success in pioneering programs that radically reduced gun homicide rates and reduced police officers’ use of lethal force.

In 2007, the city, under the leadership of officials of the Green Party, created the Office of Neighborhood Safety. The office, staffed mostly by former convicts, worked closely with police, faith-based organizations, local businesses and community groups to find men most at risk of committing violent crime and provide them with mentoring, job training and, finally, monthly cash scholarships. In addition to scholarships, THE ONS sponsors group trips to other major cities and to Mexico and South Africa. Rival gang members are paired together to see each other as human beings.

Along with the ONS, Richmond reformed its police department with new de-escalation training seminars and a push to integrate officers into everyday community events and organizations. The program appears to have had significant success. Six years after its launch, in 2013, Richmond had 16 homicides, which the Christian Science Monitor noted was the lowest number in 33 years for the city. Police violence also plummeted. The use of lethal force in Richmond was far lower than neighboring Oakland and San Pablo.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said reconciliation was a fore.Possible gun violence legislation. “Everything can be done through reconciliation, within reason. You have to deal with the parliamentarian and legalism and so on and so forth. But it just seems to me that given what’s going on in this country, we should use every tool available to pass the most serious gun safety legislation we can. And we don’t have 60 votes,” he said.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said negotiators have previously examined reconciliation for much of the gun safety agenda, but concluded much of it would be excluded from order by the parliamentarian.

The Senate Reconciliation Act known as Build Back Better was spiked several months ago by Manchin, but is being revived in a toned-down form that focuses on using the government’s purchasing power to drive down drug prices, rolling back some of Trump’s tax cuts on the super-rich, energy and climate subsidies, and deficit reduction.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said earlier this week that a handshake deal was possible by Monday, and Manchin, speaking from Davos, allowed it to still be alive. “I believe there is an opportunity, a responsibility, an opportunity for us to do something,” he said.

Mark Kelly, Raphael Warnock and Jeanne Shaheen — leading up to re-election in Arizona, Georgia and New Hampshire, respectively — each told The Intercept today that they hoped reconciliation would get back on track to pass drug price legislation before their competitive midterm elections. “When I travel around Arizona and meet with seniors, prescription drugs are so expensive. We should look for every opportunity to try to bring down costs, whether it’s prescription drugs, energy, child care, other things. So we’re discussing more options for doing that,” Kelly said. “I’m always optimistic. Almost always.”

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