Senator Bill Cassidy builds on reputation as bipartisan dealmaker with gun safety deal

Greg Hilburn
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Republican Louisiana U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy is building a reputation as bipartisan dealmaker in Washington, one of a handful of senators on either side of the aisle who are able to give traction to stalled legislation.

Last year he was among the architects of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package under Democratic President Joe Biden and before that he helped advance the first COVID relief package under President Trump. 

His latest deal: Joining with nine other Republicans and 10 Democrats this week to create a passable framework for new gun safety laws.

If the eventual bill makes it to President Biden's desk, the measure would be the most significant gun legislation in 30 years.

U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy

"I came here to get things done," Cassidy said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters.

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Among the general tenets of the legislation, which hasn't yet been written:

► Expands background checks for some 18- to 21-year-old gun buyers;

► Closes the "boyfriend" loophole in domestic violence cases;

► Provides funding for grants for states to implement "red flag" laws, which allows law enforcement or family members to petition courts to temporarily remove firearms from individuals if they pose a danger to themselves or others. Cassidy said it would be up to individual states whether to create red flag laws. Cassidy said he opposes a national red flag law.

► Funding for school and community mental health resources.

► Funding for school safety resources.

► Criminalizing what's know as third-party straw purchases, which is when someone legally buys a gun but passes it on to someone who couldn't legally buy a gun.

Like most compromises, the bill goes too far for some Second Amendment stalwarts and not far enough for those who believe some firearms should be illegal to buy.

"I worked to ensure the agreement will address mental health and securing schools," Cassidy said. "It does absolutely nothing to restrict access to guns to law-abiding people."

Republicans in the House like Minority White Steve Scalise of Louisiana said they want to see the text of the legislation before committing support for the bill.

"We haven't seen any of the details, and of course, on something this sensitive, the details really do matter," Scalise said Tuesday on Fox News. "And so, we've got to see the details.

“Well, I'm glad that they're moving further away from any kind of gun control that would take away the rights of law-abiding citizens. That is always where you see the far-left go. (Biden) himself was talking about going after handguns. And so, you know, that's the real concern."

Cassidy dismisses criticism from some within his own party who believe he works too closely with Democrats.

"Being in the room makes sure Second Amendment rights are protected," he said. "Being in the room (for the infrastructure package) allowed me to push provisions that directly benefit Louisiana.

"Being in the room allows me to push the final product into a conservative direction."

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.