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House panel calls emergency meeting to advance gun violence prevention bills

The Judiciary Committee plans to meet Thursday to advance a package of gun control proposals after the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas. Senators are holding separate talks.
Image: Gun Enthusiasts Attend NRA Annual Meeting In Indianapolis
Guests shop for firearms and accessories at the 148th NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis on April 27, 2019.Scott Olson / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — The Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee is planning an emergency session Thursday to mark up a package of gun violence prevention bills and send it to the full chamber for a vote as soon as possible, a committee aide told NBC News.

The omnibus guns bill — called the Protecting Our Kids Act — comes on the heels of series of mass shootings that have shocked the country, most recently in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 elementary school children and two teachers.

The package includes measures that would raise the age for buying semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21 years old; make it a federal offense to import, sell, make or possess high-capacity magazines, with some exceptions; and stiffen penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchases.

It will also include proposals to provide best practices for and regulate gun storage and build on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ ban on bump stocks, a committee aide said. The panel’s plan was first reported by Punchbowl News.

The meeting was scheduled even though the House of Representatives is out of session this week. A Democratic aide said part of the goal of acting quickly is to put pressure on Republicans.

"We felt like we needed to do something big and comprehensive after two mass shootings in two weeks," the aide said.

Most, if not all, of the bills face long odds in the Senate, where Democrats control a 50-50 majority and require 60 votes to break a filibuster to pass gun-related legislation. They will run up against fierce opposition from Senate Republicans, who have broadly rejected any new gun restrictions; it's unclear the latest shootings will move them.

Still, Senate leaders have encouraged a negotiation between Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, as Republicans face pressure to support some gun safety measures.

"It’s inconceivable to me that we have not passed significant federal legislation trying to address the tragedy of gun violence in this nation, especially because since Sandy Hook ... the pace of everyday gun violence has dramatically escalated over the past two years," Murphy said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

"We need federal legislation. And my hope is that this time is different," Murphy said. "These are serious negotiations. And we are going to continue to meet through early next week to try to find some common ground."

A congressional aide familiar with the Senate talks said issues on the table include red flag laws, some sort of expanded background checks, enhanced school security measures, additional money for mental health service and safe storage laws. The aide said it's too early to know the details of the various items.

Any gun restrictions would face difficulty gaining the minimum of 10 Republican votes needed to defeat a Senate filibuster. To the extent that there would be any GOP interest, sources say it would be limited to measures addressing failures specific to the Uvalde shooting.

“We’re already having those discussions in person and on the phone," Cornyn told reporters over the weekend. "Look forward to meeting on Tuesday through a Zoom call to try to see if we can agree on a basic framework about how we go forward.”