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

The Senate overcame a decades-long legislative deadlock by passing a bill aimed at reducing gun violence, but left out a key provision from the last time Congress addressed gun safety.

The Senate passed the bipartisan Safer Communities Act in a 65-33 bipartisan vote Thursday night. Spurred by the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and other recent massacres, the legislation is aimed at keeping dangerous individuals out of possession of firearms. However, gun control advocates have pointed out that the bill does not restore the 1994 ban on military-style semi-automatic rifles that has been credited with reducing gun violence.

Fifteen Republican senators joined Democrats in voting in favor of the legislation, allowing him to remove a legislative filibuster in the equally divided chamber.

“That’s the sweet spot,” said Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader.

The Senate on Thursday passed the first bill in nearly three decades with bipartisan support; however, there are fewer protections offered than in 1994. Activist group ‘Gays Against Guns’ and other protesters protest gun violence in New York City on June 23, 2022.

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

Bill would create new funds for states to enforce ‘red flag’ laws, which allow courts to order firearms kept away from people deemed a danger to themselves or for others. It creates new penalties for “buying straw,” while strengthening laws meant to protect guns from domestic abusers and gun traffickers.

In addition, the bill provides new funding for mental health and school safety. It also improves background checks on potential gun buyers under the age of 21, which requires investigation of their juvenile and mental health records.

Gun advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety heralded the bill as a “massive victory” in a statement after it was passed. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also noted that just weeks ago the bill seemed “impossible.”

But to gain Republican support for the bill, Democrats dropped any push 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 AR-15s. and other so-called assault weapons. The ban, which went into 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 Thursday in a speech to the Senate.

She pointed out that recent mass shooters could not buy beer or cigarettes, but could buy military-style weapons. She added that federally licensed gun dealers are not permitted to sell or deliver handguns to buyers under 21.

“However, this common sense protection does not apply to assault weapon purchases,” she said. “This disparity has actually cost lives. It’s simple logic: if you can’t buy a beer, you shouldn’t be able to buy an assault weapon. If you can’t buy a handgun, you shouldn’t be able to buy an AR-15.”

Research shows that banning military-style rifles has reduced violence. A 2019 Stanford Law School study found that in the decade before the ban, there were 33% more 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 military or modern sporting rifles in circulation.

Newsweek contacted Everytown for gun safety.


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