The Senate on Thursday passed the first major federal gun control bill in decades, breaking a long-standing Republican blockade against new gun restrictions and sending the legislation for final approval almost certain by the Democratic House.
The bill, which would expand background checks to include juvenile records and encourage the state’s adoption of “red flag” laws to confiscate guns from people deemed dangerous by a judge, passed the Senate comfortably shortly after 10pm.
He passed the test vote early by 65 to 34, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and 14 other Republicans joining House Democrats to advance the legislation.
“The American people don’t have to choose between safer schools and the Constitution, nor the United States Senate,” said McConnell, whose support for bipartisan negotiations on new gun laws made the breakthrough possible.
He went on to say that “the American people want their constitutional rights to be protected and their children to be safe in school. They want both at the same time. And that is exactly what the Senate bill will help to accomplish.”
Before the vote, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, led a last-ditch effort to introduce an amendment introduced by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York.
Schumer’s amendment blocked Cruz’s ability to offer alternative gun legislation he proposed with Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming.
Congressional action was spurred by a series of mass shootings that horrified the nation, including a racial attack that killed 10 blacks at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and an elementary school riot in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19. children and two teachers.
“Americans have waited long enough. Let’s finish our work today,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said on the floor. “As we take the final steps in this process, few could have predicted that we would reach this point just a few weeks ago, the morning after the tragedy in Uvalde.”
“This is not a cure-all for all the ways gun violence affects our nation, but it is a long overdue step. … It’s significant, it’s going to save lives, and it’s my intention to do so as quickly as possible,” he said.
The legislation now goes to the House for a final vote, where it must be passed before Congress leaves on Friday for a two-week recess. It will be a major victory for President Biden, who has championed stricter gun control laws throughout his long political career.
Biden applauded the advance in the Senate and regretted that it took so many years to get to this point.
“Our country has suffered many tragedies since then, most recently with the terrible shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde,” he said. “Our children in schools and our communities will be safer because of this legislation. I appeal to Congress to finish the job and bring this project to my desk.”
Senator Christopher Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who led the negotiations with Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, heralded the legislation as a bipartisan triumph.
“Congress has decided to put its policy ahead of the security of this country year after year. Despite the fact that the changes needed to make this country safer are really not controversial,” he said.
Despite support from 15 Senate Republicans to clear the 60-vote hurdle that ended previous gun bills, the legislation remains unpopular with most Republicans and with gun advocacy groups such as the National Rifle Association.
Former President Donald Trump has criticized McConnell for his role in helping to bring the bill to Biden’s table.
Trump wrote Thursday in Truth Social: “Mitch McConnell’s pressure for Republican senators to vote on gun control will be the final straw. Just like he donated the Debt Ceiling and got NOTHING in return, or gave the Democrats a great catchphrase and victory with the Infrastructure Bill, which is actually about the Green New Deal, he is now pushing through. FIRST STEP TO GIVING OUT YOUR GUNS! Republican Senators MUST NOT VOTE FOR THIS END OF CAREER PROJECT!!!”
The bill contains a number of expanded gun control laws and funding for school safety and mental health treatment, including:
• Incentives for states to adopt red flag laws or other crisis intervention programs.
• An expansion of the definition of domestic violence to close the “boyfriend gap” to include dating relationships. It blocks people with such gun ownership convictions.
• Eligibility for gun ownership for individuals with domestic violence charges after five years, provided they maintain a clean criminal record.
• A designation of crime for individuals who purchase guns for those who cannot legally buy or own them.
• An expansion of federal background checks to include state juvenile records and making it illegal to sell weapons or ammunition to persons with a juvenile criminal record.
• A requirement for individuals who repeatedly buy and sell firearms to become licensed as arms dealers.
• An additional $100 million in taxpayer funds for the federal background check system.
• A $2 billion allocation to the Department of Education for mental health and school safety.
• $1 billion in grants for mental health programs to be administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Second Amendment advocacy organizations, including the NRA and Gun Owners of America, oppose the bill. The National Shooting and Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association, also opposes the legislation.
The NRA said the legislation falls short of improving safety and security while threatening Second Amendment rights.
“This legislation can be abused to restrict the legal purchase of guns, infringe on the rights of law-abiding Americans, and use federal dollars to fund gun control measures taken by state and local politicians. This bill leaves much discretion in the hands of government officials and also contains undefined and broad provisions – inviting interference with our constitutional liberties,” the NRA said in a statement.
In the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana are attacking the legislation, but some Republican defections are expected and House Democrats should be able to pass the bill without Republican support.
“Obviously Nancy Pelosi is the speaker, so she has the most,” Scalise said. “But we are pushing for reforms in the mental health system [and] we should not take away or infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens to own a gun.”
House Republicans expected to support the bill include Representative Tony Gonzales of Texas, whose district includes Uvalde.
“I am a survivor of domestic abuse, my stepfather would come home drunk and beat me and my mother,” he wrote on social media.
“School was my sanctuary from the chaos at home. … As a congressman, it is my duty to pass laws that never break the Constitution, protecting the lives of the innocent”.