Senate passes gun safety bill, breaking decades of deadlock


Jhe Senate cleared a decades-long partisan stalemate on how to tackle gun violence on Thursday night, passing a modest package of gun safety measures that would improve background checks on young buyers and fund new crime prevention programs. Mental Health.

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

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

Along with McConnell, the other 14 Republicans who voted for the bill were Sens. 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 of Iowa, Lindsey Graham of 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 from Indiana.

It was almost inevitable that the bill would pass after 10 Republican senators pledged support for the initial framework last week. But that didn’t stop others from trying to delay the vote. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky proposed nine amendments to the bill Thursday, arguing that the framework would not do enough to protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and John Barrasso of Wyoming have urged the chamber to pass their legislation instead, which would increase funding for school safety officers and leave current gun laws untouched. After hours of heated debate, they lost their motion 39 to 58.

The bill is now heading to the House, which is expected to pass it on Friday. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, signaled last week that the House would pass any bill the Senate could pass.

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

The bipartisan legislation came together over several weeks of intensive negotiations largely between Cornyn, a Republican, and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, as the two sides sought to strike the kind of deal that had 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 happened just 10 days after a racially motivated mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY. 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 it a watershed moment, the bill falls far short of more sweeping gun control measures than President Joe Biden and many activists have called for, such as a ban on assault weapons or restrictions on high capacity ammunition magazines. In an attempt to keep Republicans on board, Democrats agreed to a narrower bill that largely changes existing gun safety measures.

For example, the bill improves background checks, but only for potential gun buyers under the age of 21, requiring for the first time that authorities search the criminal and mental health records of minors on a 10 day period. Under current law, anyone 18 or older can purchase rifles and shotguns, including the military-style semi-automatic rifles used in many recent mass shootings, as well as ammunition for of them. The more thorough background check process would expire after a decade, much like the assault weapons ban did in 2004.

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

The Senate bill also provides $750 million over five years to help states implement crisis response programs, including so-called “red flag” laws, which allow authorities to temporarily confiscate the firearms of people considered a threat to themselves or others. Other provisions toughen criminal penalties for third-party gun sales, known as “straw” purchases, and specify that persons who repeatedly buy and sell guns “for earn primarily a profit” must register for a federal firearms license in order to perform background checks. on their customers.

Additionally, 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 bill’s summary, with estimated federal savings of about $21 billion.

The National Rifle Association has fiercely opposed the bill, issuing a statement on Tuesday that it “does little to truly address violent crime while opening the door to unnecessary charges on the exercise of the second amendment freedom by law-abiding gun owners”.

Meanwhile, the bill has won the support of various 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 a moving televised address after the Uvalde school shooting, also expressed support for the bill. “Our children in schools and our communities will be safer thanks to this legislation,” he said in a statement Thursday. “I call on Congress to finish the job and put this bill on my desk.”

But even if the Senate bill fell short of what many Democrats believe is necessary to combat an epidemic of mass shootings, Thursday’s vote represented a significant step forward in gun policy, which has remained virtually unchanged since 1994.

“Many have come to doubt that we are capable of making our institutions work,” Senator Cornyn said Thursday. “We proved we could.”

Despite vocal opposition from the NRA and conservative critics, several key right-wing figures have 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, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania. and Todd Young from Indiana.

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