The Senate easily passed a bipartisan bill on gun violence on Thursday that seemed unthinkable a month ago, setting out final approval of what will be Congress’ most far-reaching response in decades to the country’s string of mass shootings.
After years of GOP procedural delays that hampered Democratic efforts to curb firearms, Democrats and 15 Republicans decided that Congressional inaction was unsustainable following last month’s attacks in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas. It was weeks of closed-door negotiations, but a negotiating deal by both sides emerged with a deal that incorporated an incremental but impactful move to stem the bloodshed that regularly shocks – but no longer surprises – the nation.
The $13 billion measure would toughen background checks for younger gun buyers, keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders, and help states implement red flag laws that make it easier for authorities to take guns away from people. considered dangerous. It would also fund local school safety, mental health, and violence prevention programs.
The election year package fell far short of the more robust gun restrictions that Democrats sought and Republicans thwarted for years, including bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines used in the Buffalo and Uvalde murders. However, the agreement allows the leaders of both parties to declare victory and demonstrate to voters that they know how to compromise and make the government work, while leaving room for each side to appeal to its main supporters.
“This is not a cure-all for all the ways gun violence affects our nation,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.), whose party has made gun restrictions a goal for decades. “But it’s a long overdue step in the right direction.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in a nod to the Second Amendment right to bear arms that drives many conservative voters, said, “The American people want their constitutional rights protected and their children be safe at school”. He said that “they want both at the same time, and that’s exactly what the Senate bill will have accomplished.”
The day was bittersweet for advocates of reducing gun violence. Underscoring the enduring potency of conservative influence, the right-wing Supreme Court issued a decision expanding the right of Americans to carry guns in public overturning a New York law that requires people to prove the need to carry a gun before obtaining a license to carry a gun. do it.
McConnell hailed the judges’ decision and the Senate’s approval of the gun bill as “complementary victories that will make our country both freer and safer at the same time.”
The Senate vote on the final pass was 65 to 33. A group of House Democrats who watched the vote from the back of the chamber included Representative Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), whose 17-year-old son was shot dead. in 2012 by a man who complained that his music was too loud.
In key roll call hours before, senators voted 65 to 34 to end an obstruction by conservative GOP senators. That was five more than the required 60-vote threshold. The House planned to vote on the measure on Friday, and approval seemed certain.
In both votes, 15 Senate Republicans joined all 50 Democrats, including their two independent allies, in supporting the legislation.
However, the votes highlighted the risks Republicans face in challenging pro-gun voters and party firearms groups such as the National Rifle Association. The Sens. Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Indiana’s Todd Young were the only two of 15 candidates for re-election this fall. Of the remainder, four are retiring and eight do not face voters until 2026.
Surprisingly, GOP senators who voted “no” included potential 2024 presidential candidates like Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Tim Scott of South Carolina. Some of the more conservative members of the party also voted “no,” including Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah.
While the Senate move was a clear step forward, prospects for continued Congressional movement on gun restrictions are dim.
Less than a third of the Senate’s 50 Republican senators supported the measure, and solid Republican opposition is certain in the House. Leading House Republicans called for a “no” vote in an email from the GOP’s second leader, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who called the bill “an effort to slowly diminish the 2nd Amendment rights of abiding citizens.” of law”.
Both chambers – now controlled by Democrats – may well be run by the GOP after November’s midterm elections.
In a statement, President Biden said Uvalde residents told him when he visited that Washington had to act. “Our children in schools and our communities will be safer because of this legislation. I ask Congress to finish the job and bring this bill to my desk,” Biden said.
The Senate action came a month after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde. A few days before that, a white man was accused of being motivated by racism by killing 10 black grocery shoppers in Buffalo. Both gunmen were 18 years old, a youthful profile shared by many mass shooters, and the close timing of the two massacres and victims many could identify with sparked a demand from voters for action, lawmakers from both parties said.