Senate passes first gun bill in 28 years, but does less than the 1994 law

The Senate overcame a decades-long legislative blockade by passing a bill aimed at reducing gun violence, but left out an important clause the last time Congress took over firearm safety.

The Senate passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in a 65-33 bipartisan vote on Thursday night. Spurred on by the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and other recent massacres, the legislation seeks to keep firearms away from dangerous individuals. However, gun control advocates pointed out that the bill does not reinstate the 1994 ban on military-style semi-automatic rifles, which has been credited with reducing firearm-related violence.

Fifteen Republican senators joined Democrats in voting on the legislation, helping to eliminate legislative obstruction in the evenly divided House.

“This is the sweet spot,” said Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader.

Anti-Gun Rally in New York
The Senate on Thursday passed the first bill in nearly three decades with bipartisan support; however, there are fewer protections offered than in 1994. The activist group “Gays Against Guns” and other protesters protest gun violence in New York City on June 23, 2022.
ANGELA WEISS/Getty Images

McConnell, who has an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association, said the bill would make communities and children at school safer without “touching a finger on the Second Amendment for law-abiding citizens.”

The bill would create new funds for states to administer “red flag” laws, which allow courts to order guns to be kept away from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others. It creates new penalties for “buying straws” while strengthening laws designed to keep firearms from domestic abusers and gun dealers.

In addition, the bill includes new funding for mental health and school safety. It also improves background checks for prospective gun buyers under the age of 21, requiring an investigation into their mental health and juvenile records.

Gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety heralded the project as a “massive victory” in a statement following its approval. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also noted that just a few weeks ago the bill seemed “impossible.”

But to gain Republican support for the bill, Democrats dropped any pressure to ban military-style rifles.

The last time Congress passed a gun control bill was in 1993, when then-President Bill Clinton signed legislation with bipartisan support banning the AR-15 and other so-called assault weapons. The ban, which took effect in 1994, expired in 2004 under President George W. Bush.

“The common denominator in so many mass shootings today is assault weapons,” California Senator Dianne Feinstein said in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday.

She pointed out that recent mass shooters could not buy beer or cigarettes, but they could buy military-style weapons. She added that federally licensed firearms dealers are not authorized to sell or deliver guns to buyers under the age of 21.

“However, this common sense protection does not apply to the purchase of assault weapons,” she said. “This disparity has actually cost lives. It’s simple logic: if you can’t buy a beer, you can’t buy an assault weapon. If you can’t buy a gun, you can’t buy a firearm. AR-15.”

Research shows that banning military-style rifles has reduced violence. A 2019 Stanford Law School study found that in the decade before prohibition there were 33% additional mass shootings and 65% more associated deaths.

However, AR-15s and other similar weapons have become increasingly popular since the ban expired. According to a 2020 estimate by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, there are nearly 20 million modern military or sport rifles in circulation.

newsweek reached out to Everytown for gun safety.

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