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In the wake of recent deadly mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Monday that reforming federal gun policies was past due.

Manchin called a proposed bipartisan bill “the first steps” toward seeing a change in gun violence across the country. He said the Senate could have something up “as soon as Wednesday” to vote on.

“This is about keeping our children safe. If we can’t do that, God help us all,” Manchin said Monday on a conference call with reporters. “[I don’t know] how it got to this point and why it took so long. I think after Sandy Hook, no one thought this could ever happen again. Well, it did. Now they’re thinking, ‘My God, when is it going to happen again.’”

The proposal’s final language has not yet been released, but Manchin said he doesn’t anticipate any major changes that would cause he or his colleagues to withdraw support. At least 10 Republican senators have voiced preliminary support for the measure.

Proposals in the legislation include:

  • Incentives for state governments to implement “red flag” laws, which would allow law enforcement and relatives to petition a court to temporarily remove guns from people who could harm themselves or others, with due process and constitutional protections
  • Investments in mental health care at the state level, including expanding the community behavioral health center model and funding school-based support services, as well as telehealth initiatives. This would involve early identification and intervention programs for children and adults struggling with mental health.
  • Requiring an enhanced review process for anyone younger than 21 years old who wants to buy a gun. This would include implementing an investigative period to review any juvenile or mental health records on file for the person through checks with state databases and local law enforcement.
  • Including people convicted of domestic violence and those subject to domestic violence restraining orders in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System operated by the FBI
  • Investing in programs to implement safety measures at primary and secondary schools to support school violence prevention efforts and train staff and students
  • Clarifying the definition of “federally licensed firearms dealer” to stop people who attempt to evade legal licensing requirements
  • Implementing penalties for “straw purchasing,” which is when someone who is unable to acquire a firearm has someone else who can buy it for them.

The proposals fall short of many provisions gun control advocates have previously lobbied for. Manchin said Monday that while the legislation may not be perfect, it’s a “starting point” for better policies.

“There are all these [initiatives for gun control] that we’re weighing and looking at differently,” Manchin said. “We know, there’s an awful lot more we have to do there.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., was not among the 10 GOP senators backing the proposed legislation. In an emailed statement Monday, Capito said she was “encouraged” by “bipartisan solutions” like the one offered.

“Now that an agreement has been announced, I will thoroughly analyze these proposals and subsequent legislation once it is finalized so we can move closer to a country where these senseless tragedies do not occur,” Capito said.

State officials, including Gov. Jim Justice and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, have publicly criticized some initiatives proposed to curb gun violence in the nation.

On Monday, Justice said during his COVID-19 briefing that any red flag laws need to include due process through both the state and federal level. A 2021 law signed by Justice outlines that no court in the state has the authority to approve any order that would take away someone’s firearms.

Morrisey, in a tweet last Thursday, said red flag laws were “the wrong solution to the violence we are seeing,” and that due process “must” be respected.

Manchin urged state officials to wait and see what they’re opposing before coming out against the legislation.

“This does not mandate anything, this is an incentive [through] grants to help administer the laws,” Manchin said. “Keep an open mind, wait until the legislation is done, then make a decision if West Virginia will participate or not.”

Caity Coyne covers health. She can be reached at 304-348-7939 or caity.coyne@hdmediallc.com. Follow @CaityCoyne on Twitter.

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