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Bipartisan discussions on "red flag" laws make progress as Sens. Graham, Blumenthal revise gun control proposal

Bipartisan push for gun reform
New bipartisan push on Capitol Hill for gun reform 06:04

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, are making progress as they hammer out details of revised "red flag" legislation that they both hope can win sufficient GOP support to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, according to four people familiar with the discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly. 

Graham and Blumenthal later confirmed in statements to CBS News that their discussions are making progress. 

In recent days, the two have been having frequent phone calls and have been working closely together to review a "red flag" bill they co-sponsored in 2019, making revisions that they believe can enable a similar, tweaked proposal to win wide support in the divided Senate, the four people told CBS News. 

At this stage, their updated proposal would focus on establishing federal grants for states to create or bolster "red flag" laws. A "red flag" law, in most instances nationwide, enables law-enforcement officials to temporarily seize firearms from individuals who are seen as threat to themselves or other people, if given a court order to do so. 

The remaining challenge for Graham and Blumenthal is crafting legislative language on due process and judicial review that does not push wary Republicans away, while also not appearing to overly soften their initial bill and frustrate Democrats. 

One person familiar with the discussions said Graham and Blumenthal are working on provisions that would be acceptable to both parties, particularly when it comes to the timeline between a court order prompted by evidence of "extreme risk" and a hearing. The scope and type of evidence required are also under discussion.

In the past, the National Rifle Association has not forcefully opposed the suggestion of "red flag" laws, but it largely remains opposed to any new restrictions on guns. 

Still, the people said that both men believe that their effort on "red flag" laws and their early move toward a consensus could emerge as a pivotal part of an eventual final legislative product of the bipartisan gun talks being led by Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, and Republican Sen. John Cornyn, of Texas. 

The talks led by Murphy and Cornyn began after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two adults. 

"Lindsey and Richard get along and are talking to outside groups about what they're doing," one person said. "They were on the phone all weekend and bringing a few people in." 

A second person familiar with the discussions said the "trust" between Graham and Blumenthal was helpful but did not signal that a consensus of 60 votes was anywhere in sight at this point, whether it's on red-flag legislation or other areas. The person pointed to Cornyn as the key senator to watch on the GOP side. 

Graham and Cornyn are widely seen by colleagues as top allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the longtime Republican leader.  

Currently, 19 states empower a judge to take away a firearm from anyone who poses an extreme risk to others or themselves.  In Connecticut, for every 10 to 20 firearms removed, a life is saved, according to one study. In California, there have been at least 21 cases when a "red flag" law disarmed people threatening mass shootings.  

On Tuesday, Blumenthal declined to discuss the deliberations or the details of his discussions with Graham. But in a statement to CBS News, Blumenthal said, "Lindsey has been working very hard and in good faith, and we've made progress." 

Graham also declined to discuss his private exchanges with Blumenthal and others. But he confirmed that progress is being made. 

Cornyn and Murphy, plus Arizona's Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and North Carolina's Republican Sen. Thom Tillis met over Zoom to discuss potential gun legislation on Tuesday. 

In a statement after that meeting, Cornyn said, "Senators Murphy, Sinema, Tillis, and I had a very constructive conversation about the best response to the horrific events in Uvalde last week. We've asked our staff to continue to work together to address some of the details that we hope to be able to discuss at some point soon." 

On CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday, Murphy, whose home state suffered the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre a decade ago, said he knows Republicans won't support everything he does. But "red flag laws are on the table," as well as expanding background checks and other efforts like the safe storage of guns.  

"Red flag" laws have long been seen by advocates for changes to gun laws as the most viable option in a deeply divided Washington.  

"'Red flag' laws reduce the risk of gun violence," Dr. Celine Gounder, Kaiser Health News' public health editor-at-large, told CBS News. "It may not work 100% of the time, but if you can save even some proportion of those lives, that's had a real impact." 

Adriana Diaz, Alicia Hastey, Rebecca Kaplan, Kathryn Watson, and Andy Wolff contributed. 

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