Zeneta Everhart, whose son Zaire Goodman, 20, was shot in the neck during the Buffalo Tops supermarket mass shooting and survived, left, and Raymond Whitfield whose mother, Ruth Whitfield, was killed during the shooting, react as events of the shootings are recounted during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on domestic terrorism, Tuesday, June 7, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

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U.S. Senators involved in bipartisan talks over potential legislation to address gun violence have been cautiously optimistic that some progress, finally, could be possible. They and their colleagues need to turn that optimism into action.

The recent massacres in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas — along with over 30 other mass shootings that have occured since Uvalde — have emphasized what should have already been clear to lawmakers: There are steps that Congress can and must take to address the scourge of gun violence as it continues to rob American lives and shatter public safety.

Steps can be taken while respecting the rights of lawful gun owners. These are not mutually exclusive principles.

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut who has been a leading figure in the gun debate since the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in his state, told CNN on Sunday that he is “more confident than ever” that lawmakers might be able to make it across the finish line with bipartisan gun legislation. Murphy also acknowledged past negotiations that failed and said he is “sober-minded about our chances.”

Sen. Pat Toomey, a retiring Republican from Pennsylvania who negotiated an ultimately unsuccessful compromise on expanding background checks after Sandy Hook, has made similar remarks.

“I certainly can’t guarantee any outcome, but it feels to me like we are closer than we have been since I have been in the Senate,” Toomey said Sunday on CBS.

The package being negotiated by a small group of senators reportedly could include expanding background checks, mental health funding, school security measures and support for states to enact “red flag” laws that allow authorities to petition a court to temporarily seize guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.

“I’m trying not to be cynical about it,” Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois told Politico about the ongoing talks. “The problem is so overwhelming, I’m afraid we are going to fall short of what I believe we should do. But I don’t want to give up on any step forward to reduce gun violence.”

These ideas being discussed clearly fall short of what Durbin and other Democrats, including President Joe Biden, would like to see enacted — such as a new federal assault weapons ban and limits to magazine capacity. But the end of Durbin’s comment points to a reality about negotiation on an issue that has been stagnant for years: An imperfect agreement would be better than no agreement.

Total inaction doesn’t save any lives. A collection of modest steps would be better than no step at all. Democrats need to be willing to accept less than they want, and Republicans need to be willing to do the obvious things that an overwhelming majority of Americans agree on, like expanding background checks. The vocal minority that would prefer to see inaction cannot continue to drown out the reasonable majority that recognizes compromise is possible and necessary. Not when lives are on the line.

“There’s a desire to find a place where you can find 60 members willing to do something. But I think the ‘something’ is the hard part,” said Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who is also retiring this year. His comment about 60 members is a reference to the voting threshold for overcoming a filibuster in the closely divided Senate.

Congress might be the only place where “something” is hard to pinpoint in this debate. The independent mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee had no trouble making gun reform suggestions after his city experienced its own mass shooting over the weekend.

“That doesn’t mean taking guns away from responsible gun owners, but it does mean mandatory background checks and prohibiting high-capacity magazines that allow shooters to hurt dozens of people without even having to reload,” Mayor Tim Kelly said.

The White House has acknowledged that while any potential agreement on Capitol Hill likely won’t go as far as Biden would prefer, something is better than nothing.

“We want to see action,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Monday.

If the American people can wade through the politics and overwhelmingly agree on reasonable steps to take to help address gun violence, Congress can too. The recent optimism from senators in both parties offers some hope. Now it’s time for action.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...