McConnell Keeps Gun Control Negotiations on a Short Leash

Christopher Halloran /

Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate Minority Leader from Kentucky, has made sure the Senate’s negotiations on gun reform have been laser-focused. He has given the responsibility for taking the helm of the discussions to one of his most trusted allies, Senator John Cornyn from Texas.

Under Cornyn’s leadership, Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, was brought in for a leadership role in the negotiations. Both of these men are allies of former President Donald Trump, and they bring a balance to the previous more moderate Republican negotiators. No one wants to disenfranchise the pro-gun base of the GOP Party.

Both McConnell and Cornyn have a history of receiving high marks from gun rights groups. They each have been outspoken about their opposition to gun control, even after past mass shootings.

The control that McConnell has over the level of negotiations has caused one Democratic senator to criticize the minority leader. “It’s either going to come together or it’s not, and the person who’s going to decide whether it comes together is Mitch McConnell,” said the Democratic senator speaking with anonymity.

McConnell said this week that he would like to see a deal to address gun violence after these tragic mass shootings, but he made it clear that any legislation that makes it to the floor can’t be so broad that it angers the base of the GOP.

“Everybody would like to — almost everybody I think — would like to get an outcome that’s definitely related to the subject matter,” McConnell said.

What is rising from the Senate now is moving farther and farther away from the proposals that Democrats wanted. They focused on expanding background checks and raising the age for purchasing AR-15-style rifles. But Cornyn has declared that raising the minimum age for buying an AR-15-style rifle is off the table. He also took proposals to require more detailed background checks off the table.

McConnell was quick to say that Cornyn is the leading GOP expert on gun violence.

“Sen. Cornyn knows more about this subject than anybody we have in the Senate. He also happens to represent Texas, and I think he’s working in good faith with Sen. Murphy to get an outcome,” he said.

Cornyn is now the senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This committee has jurisdiction over gun control and has a history of working on gun violence changes. He has a substantial history of working with McConnell, so the two men will see eye to eye. And Cornyn just happens to have a “perfect rating” from the National Rifle Association (NRA).

While other GOP leaders like Lindsey Graham and Pat Toomey seem willing to take a more moderate approach, the combination of Cornyn and Tillis ensures the likelihood that there won’t be a major compromise in the middle like there was in the Machin-Toomey proposal from 2013. That bill only got four Republicans to vote for it and brought strong opposition from the NRA.

McConnell is not going to let something like that happen again. And Tillis is considered to be a lawmaker who is willing to cut a deal, but won’t go too far to meet Democratic demands.

An example of what has been done in the past is the Fix NICS Act of 2017. Cornyn and Murphy negotiated this bill that penalized government agencies that refused to report relevant information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Cornyn is not up for reelection until 2026, so he can stand on a solid foundation in the midst of these negotiations. He also doesn’t have to agree to any legislation that makes it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to buy semi-automatic handguns and rifles, regardless of their age.