Senate Passes Gun Safety Act, Breaking Decades of Gridlock

tThe Senate broke a decades-long partisan standoff on tackling 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 a vote of 65-33, with the support of the entire Democratic caucus and 15 Republicans, the same day the Supreme Court expanded the scope of gun rights in a landmark ruling.

“This is the right place…making America safer, especially for kids in school, without making our country a little less free,” Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said Thursday. “This is a common sense package. The provisions are very, very popular. It contains zero, zero new restrictions, zero new waiting times, zero mandates and zero prohibitions 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 of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania. and Todd Young of Indiana.

It was almost inevitable that the bill would pass after 10 Republican senators pledged to support the original cadre last week. But that didn’t stop others from postponing the vote. Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul introduced nine amendments to the bill 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 chamber to pass their legislation instead, which would increase funding for school-based security officers and keep current gun laws intact. After hours of feverish debate, they lost their motion 39 to 58.

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

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

The bipartisan legislation came about during several weeks of intense negotiations, largely between Cornyn, a Republican, and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, as both sides tried to negotiate the kind of deal that had eluded them for years. If passed into law, it would be the most significant move 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. That massacre took place just 10 days after a racially motivated mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, NY. There have been 279 mass shootings in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are shot or killed, not counting the shooter.

But while leaders on both sides of the aisle see this as a breakthrough, the bill falls well short of the more sweeping gun control measures that 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 effort to keep Republicans on board, Democrats passed a narrower bill that largely modifies existing gun security measures.

For example, the bill improves background checks, but only for potential gun buyers under the age of 21, and for the first time requires authorities to search juvenile crime and mental health records for a 10-day period. Under current law, anyone 18 years of age or older can purchase rifles and shotguns, including the military-style semi-automatic rifles used in many recent mass shootings, as well as the ammunition for both. The more thorough background check process was set to expire after ten years, as did the 2004 assault weapons ban.

The legislation also expands a current law that prohibits domestic violence from buying a firearm to include serious dating partners, known as the “boyfriend loophole.” Under existing law, only perpetrators of domestic violence who have committed their crimes against a spouse or partner with whom they have cohabited or had a child may not purchase firearms. The negotiators agreed to regain dating partners convicted of a felony the right to buy a gun after five years if they were first-time offenders and found not guilty of another violent crime or misdemeanor.

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 seize weapons from people who deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others. Other provisions tighten criminal penalties for third-party arms sales, known as “straw purchases,” and clarify that individuals who repeatedly buy and sell firearms “for the purpose of primarily making a profit” must register for a federal firearms license so that they can conduct background checks on firearms. their customers.

In addition, the legislation earmarks billions of dollars, largely 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 wider network of “community-based health centers” and another that would improve access to telehealth services for people in mental health crisis. According to the bill’s summary, federal spending would be offset by a one-year deferral for a provision for Medicare drug discounts, with federal savings estimated at about $21 billion.

The National Rifle Association vehemently opposed the bill, releasing a statement Tuesday saying it “does little to truly tackle violent crime while opening the door to undue burdens of exercising the Second Amendment freedom by law-abiding gun owners.”

Meanwhile, the bill gained the support of 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 after the Uvalde school shooting, also expressed support for the bill. “Our children in schools and our communities will be safer with this legislation,” he said in a statement on Thursday. “I call on Congress to get the job done and get this bill on my desk.”

But while the Senate bill fell short of what many Democrats believe is necessary to address a mass shooting epidemic, Thursday’s vote marked a major breakthrough in gun policy, which has remained largely unchanged since 1994.

“Many have come to question our ability to make our institutions work,” Senator Cornyn said on Thursday. “We’ve proven we can do it.”

Despite vocal opposition from the NRA and conservative critics, several key figures on the right supported gun security measures: Sens. Roy Blunt from Missouri, Richard Burr from North Carolina, Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, Shelley Moore Capito from West Virginia, Bill Cassidy from Louisiana, Susan Collins from Maine, John Cornyn from 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.

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write to Nik Popli at nik.popli@time.com.

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