WASHINGTON – The Senate on Thursday passed a bipartisan bill aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people, the product of a deal that could bring the most substantial gun safety legislation in decades.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, written by a small group of Republicans and Democrats after back-to-back mass shootings, would improve background checks for gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 21, encourage states to enact “red flag” laws that allow firearms are temporarily confiscated from people deemed dangerous and provide hundreds of millions of dollars for mental health and school safety. It would also extend to dating partners a federal law that prohibits domestic abusers from buying guns.
Fifteen Republicans crossed party lines to support his consideration, pushing him past an obstruction.
The 80-page bill falls short of the toughest gun control measures Democrats have long sought, but its enactment would still represent a remarkable advance after years of congressional stalemate over gun violence in the United States. To win over Republicans, Democrats had to abandon some of their more expansive proposals, many of which passed the House but stalled in the Senate amid Republican opposition.
Here’s a look at what’s in the account – and what’s left out.
Improved background checks for younger gun buyers
Youth records, including those related to mental health, would for the first time be required in criminal background checks for potential gun buyers under the age of 21, and authorities would have more time to carry out the checks — 10 days, up from the current three.
Under the legislation, federal officials would have to check with local authorities and review state records to determine whether a prospective buyer has a criminal or juvenile mental health history that would disqualify them from purchasing a gun. If they found such a record, they would turn it over to the FBI for further investigation.
What was left out: The proposal falls far short of legislation passed the House that would prohibit anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing a semi-automatic weapon.
Democrats also agreed to allow the enhanced background check requirement for younger buyers to expire after 10 years, leaving future Congresses to discuss whether it should be extended. A similar “sunset” provision allowed the federal assault gun ban enacted in 1994 to lapse in 2004, much to the dismay of Democrats, who have never been able to muster enough support to revive it.
And there’s a limit to how long authorities would be able to access a buyer’s mental health history; such records from before a potential buyer turned 16 could not disqualify him from purchasing a gun.
Incentives for states to implement red flag laws
The bill would provide $750 million in federal money to states that create so-called red flag laws, which allow guns to be temporarily confiscated from people deemed dangerous by a judge. Funding, intended to encourage the enactment of such measures, would also support the creation of judicial crisis intervention programs.
What was left out: Democrats wanted to go beyond providing incentives to states and enact a federal red flag measure, passed in the House, that would allow guns to be taken away from anyone deemed dangerous by a federal judge.
Closing the ‘boyfriend gap’
One of the bill’s last sticking points was a provision to toughen federal law to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. This would expand the current law that prohibits people convicted of domestic violence or subject to a domestic violence restraining order from purchasing a gun. The current law only applies to people who are married or living with the victim, or have had a child with him or her.
The legislation would include other intimate partners, closing what has come to be known as the “boyfriend gap”.
What was left out: Democrats wanted a blanket ban, but in negotiations with Republicans, they agreed to allow some offenders to regain the ability to buy a gun. If a person is a first-time offender and the crime is a violent misdemeanor, the ban would disappear five years after their criminal sentence ends, as long as they no longer commit violent crimes. Negotiators also agreed not to make the provision retroactive, giving in to another demand from Republicans.
Funding for mental health and school safety
The bill would allocate billions of dollars to schools and communities to expand mental health programs. Funding also aims to increase school safety. The bill grants $300 million over five years to violence-targeted school safety programs that would fund school resource officers and strengthen school safety. In addition, funding would go towards training school staff and adults who interact with minors to respond to mental health issues.
What was left out: Republicans insisted on keeping the cost of the project as low as possible. In total, the measure would cost US$ 13.2 billion.
Tougher penalties for illegal purchases
The bill would crack down on “straw buyers” or people who buy guns for those who don’t qualify. No current laws specifically prohibit such illegal gun buyers or trafficking, so prosecutors have relied on people who make false statements related to the purchase of a gun.
The bill would establish a penalty of up to 15 years in prison or 25 years if firearms are used in connection with serious criminal activities such as drug trafficking or terrorism. It would also provide resources to help prevent and investigate these purchases.
What was left out: The bill does not include more comprehensive measures to impose universal background checks or ban the sale of large-capacity magazines. Republicans also said they refuse to consider any mandatory waiting period for gun sales or a license requirement to purchase an assault weapon.
Annie Karni contributed reports.