(Washington DC) — The Senate Thursday pushed a bipartisan gun violence bill to the brink of passage when it voted to stop a Republican filibuster against the measure, paving the way for Congress’ most far-reaching response in decades on the country’s relentless run of mass shootings.
After years of GOP procedural delays that derailed Democratic efforts to curb firearms, Democrats and some Republicans decided Congressional negligence was untenable after last month’s frenzy in New York and Texas. It took weeks of closed-door talks, but a group of senators from both sides came forward with an 80-page compromise that embodied a step-by-step but impactful move.
The move would tighten background checks for the youngest gun buyers, protect firearms from more perpetrators of domestic violence and help states enact red flag laws that would make it easier for authorities to take guns from people deemed dangerous. It would also fund local school safety, mental health and violence prevention programs.
Thursday’s roll call that ended the blockade by conservative GOP senators was 65-34, five more than the required 60-vote threshold. Final approval of the $13 billion measure was expected by the end of the week, followed by a House vote. The timing was uncertain, but Congress was due to leave the city by the weekend for a two-week break.
Fifteen Senate Republicans joined all 50 Democrats, including their two allied independents, to vote to pass the legislation.
The day proved bittersweet for proponents of curbing gun violence. To underscore the staying power of conservative cIout, the right-leaning Supreme Court issued a decision extending Americans’ right to bear arms in public. The judges have repealed a law in New York that requires people to prove they must carry a gun before being licensed to do so.
The Senate vote highlighted the risks Republicans face from defying the party’s pro-gun voters and the National Rifle Association. Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Todd Young of Indiana were the only two of the 15 to be re-elected this fall. Of the rest, four will retire and eight will not have to deal with voters until 2026.
Significantly, among the GOP senators who voted “no,” potential 2024 presidential candidates included Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Tim Scott of South Carolina. Some of the party’s most conservative members also voted ‘no’, including Sens. Rand Paul from Kentucky and Mike Lee from Utah.
The election-year package fell short of tougher gun restrictions that Democrats have been pushing for years, including a ban on the assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines used in the Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas murders. Still, the accord allowed leaders of both parties to declare victory and demonstrate to voters that they know how to compromise and make government work, while also leaving room for each party to appeal to its most important supporters.
“This is not a panacea for all the ways gun violence affects our nation,” said Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., whose party has made gun restrictions its goal for decades. “But it is a long-awaited step in the right direction. It’s important, it’s going to save lives.”
Senate 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 to be protected and their children safe in school. ” He said, “They want both things at once, and that’s exactly what the Senate bill will have accomplished.”
While the Senate move was a clear breakthrough, the prospects for a continuation of Congress’ move on gun ownership are bleak.
Only about a third of the Senate’s 50 GOP senators supported the measure, and solid Republican opposition is certainly in the House. Top House Republicans urged a “no” vote in an email from No. 2 GOP leader, Rep. Louisiana’s Steve Scalise, who called the bill “an effort to slowly take away 2nd amendment rights from law-abiding citizens.”
Both chambers — now closely controlled by Democrats — could well be run by the GOP after November’s midterm elections.
In a statement, President Joe Biden said residents of Uvalde told him during his visit that Washington needed to act.
“Our children in schools and our communities will be safer because of this legislation. I call on Congress to get the job done and get this bill on my desk,” Biden said.
The Senate action came a month after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde. Just 10 days earlier, a white man accused of racism killed 10 black supermarket customers in Buffalo. Both shooters were 18 years old, a youthful profile shared by many mass shooters.
The talks were led by Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Thom Tillis, RN.C. Murphy was representing Newtown, Connecticut, when an attacker killed 20 students and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, while Cornyn was involved in previous gun talks following mass shootings in his state and close to McConnell.
The bill would make the local youth records of people ages 18 to 20 available during mandatory federal background checks when trying to purchase guns. Those investigations, currently limited to three days, would last up to 10 days to give federal and local officials time to search records.
People convicted of domestic violence who are current or former romantic partners of the victim should not be allowed to purchase firearms, closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole.”
That ban currently only applies to people who are married to, cohabiting with or have had children with the victim. The compromise proposal would extend that to those deemed to have had “an ongoing serious relationship.”
There would be money to help states enforce red flag laws and for other states without violence prevention programs. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have such laws, and Cornyn — whose state does not — demanded that all states be involved in the negotiations.
The measure expands the use of background checks by rewriting the definition of the federally licensed arms dealers needed to perform them. Gun trafficking sanctions are tightening, billions of dollars are being provided for behavioral clinics and mental health programs in schools, and there is money for safety initiatives in schools, but not for staff to use a “dangerous weapon.”
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