Senate passes gun safety bill, breaking decades of deadlock

TThe Senate cleared a decades-old partisan impasse over dealing with gun violence Thursday night, passing a modest set of gun safety measures that would improve background checks for younger buyers and fund new mental health programs.

The bill passed by 65 to 33 votes, winning the support of the entire Democratic caucus and 15 Republicans, on the same day the Supreme Court broadened the scope of gun rights in a landmark decision.

“This is the sweet spot…making America safer, especially for kids in school, without making our country a little less free,” Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and minority leader, said Thursday. . “This is a package of common sense. Its layouts are very, very popular. It contains zero, zero new restrictions, zero new waiting periods, zero mandates, and zero bans of any kind for law-abiding gun owners.”

Along with McConnell, the other 14 Republicans who voted for the bill were Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, John Cornyn of Texas, Joni Ernst from Iowa, Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, Rob Portman from Ohio, Mitt Romney from Utah, Thom Tillis from North Carolina, Patrick Toomey from Pennsylvania. and Todd Young of Indiana.

It was almost inevitable that the bill would pass after 10 Republican senators pledged to support the original framework last week. But that hasn’t stopped others from trying to delay the vote. Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky proposed nine amendments to the bill on Thursday, arguing that the framework would not do enough to protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and John Barrasso of Wyoming urged the House to adopt their legislation, which would increase funding for school security officers and leave current gun laws intact. After hours of feverish debate, they lost the motion 39 to 58.

The project now goes to the Chamber, which should approve it on Friday. President Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, signaled last week that the House would pass any bill the Senate could pass.

“This is not a cure-all for all the ways gun violence affects our nation,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, said Thursday. “But it’s a long overdue step in the right direction… I hope it opens the way for future action on guns in Congress.”

The bipartisan legislation was brought together over several weeks of intense negotiations, largely between Cornyn, a Republican, and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, as both parties sought to reach the kind of agreement that eluded them for years. If it becomes law, it would mark the most significant action Congress has taken on gun control in nearly 30 years.

The Senate vote comes nearly a month after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, the second deadliest school shooting in US history. This massacre came just 10 days after a racially motivated mass shooting at a Buffalo, NY supermarket. There were 279 mass shootings in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as an incident where four or more people are shot or killed, not including the shooter.

But while leaders on both sides of the aisle consider this a breakthrough moment, the bill falls far short of the more comprehensive gun control measures that President Joe Biden and many activists have called for, such as a ban on assault weapons or restrictions on high-tech weapons. capacity ammunition magazines. In a bid to keep Republicans on board, Democrats agreed to a stricter bill that largely amends existing gun safety measures.

For example, the bill increases background checks, but only for potential gun buyers under 21, requiring for the first time that authorities search juvenile criminal and mental health records for a period of 10 days. Under current law, anyone aged 18 and over can purchase both rifles and shotguns, including the military-style semi-automatic rifles used in a number of recent mass shootings, as well as ammunition for both. The most thorough background check process would expire after a decade, as would the assault weapons ban in 2004.

The legislation also expands a current law that prohibits domestic abusers from purchasing a firearm to include serious dating partners, closing what is known as the “boyfriend loophole.” Under existing law, only domestic violence offenders who committed their crimes against a spouse or partner with whom they lived or had a child are barred from purchasing firearms. The negotiators agreed to allow dating partners convicted of a misdemeanor to regain the right to purchase a gun after five years if they are first-time offenders and not found guilty of any other misdemeanor or violent offence.

The Senate bill also sets aside $750 million over five years to help states implement crisis intervention programs, including so-called “red flag” laws, which allow authorities to temporarily confiscate weapons from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. Other provisions toughen criminal penalties for third-party gun sales, known as “straw” purchases, and clarify that individuals who repeatedly buy and sell firearms “for predominantly profit” must register for a federal firearms license. fire so they can perform background checks on their customers.

In addition, the legislation sets aside billions of dollars, mostly in grants, to address mental health and school safety. The bill would launch more than a dozen new initiatives, including one that would create a broader network of “community behavioral health centers” and another that would increase access to telehealth services for people in mental health crisis. Federal spending would be offset by a one-year delay of a Medicare drug reimbursement provision, according to the project brief, with federal savings estimated at about $21 billion.

The National Rifle Association fiercely opposed the bill, releasing a statement Tuesday that said it “does little to truly address violent crime while opening the door to unnecessary burdens on the exercise of Second Amendment freedom by gun owners who comply with the law.” the law”.

Meanwhile, the bill has attracted support from several other groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the American Psychological Association. . Biden, who called for sweeping gun control measures in an emotional televised speech following the Uvalde school shooting, also expressed support for the bill. “Our children in schools and our communities will be safer because of this legislation,” he said in a statement Thursday. “I ask Congress to finish the job and bring this bill to my desk.”

But even as the Senate bill fell short of what many Democrats consider necessary to address an epidemic of mass shootings, the vote on Thursday represented a significant advance in gun policy, which has remained largely unchanged since 1994.

“Many doubt whether we are capable of making our institutions work,” Senator Cornyn said Thursday. “We proved that we can.”

Despite vocal opposition from the NRA and conservative critics, several key figures on the right supported gun safety measures: Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, John Cornyn of Texas, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina , Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Ohio’s Rob Portman, Utah’s Mitt Romney, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, Pennsylvania’s Patrick Toomey. and Todd Young of Indiana.

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write to Nik Popli at [email protected]

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