The Senate passed a bipartisan gun safety package Thursday night, ending a nearly 26-year standoff over the issue in the wake of a recent series of major mass shootings.
The “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act”, which is 65-33 . has been accepted after weeks of negotiations – and expected to become law – doesn’t go as far as many Democrats wanted. But it is introducing tailor-made reforms designed to encourage states to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, provide new protections for victims of domestic violence, improve screening of gun buyers under the age of 21, and promote illegal gun purchases and trafficking. to grab.
The bill also provides billions of dollars in additional funding for school safety and mental health care. have democrats stressed out they don’t believe America’s gun violence epidemic can be solved by investment in mental health, as Republicans have claimed, but they have said they won’t pass up the opportunity to put more money into mental health.
The last time Congress passed a major piece of gun legislation was in 1994, when it issued a now-expired 10-year ban on assault weapons. Although attempts were made to pass gun control laws in Congress after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, they failed. The recent mass shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a supermarket in Buffalo, New York created a renewed urgency for some federal action against guns.
Sens. John Cornyn of Texas (R-TX), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) were the key negotiators. Ultimately, 15 Republicans and 50 members of the The Democratic caucus eventually joined them in voting for the bill.
“It’s taken a decade because Congress hasn’t made meaningful progress on gun security reform for too long,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. pronunciation Thursday. “I call on Congress to get the job done and get this bill on my desk.”
The bill is expected to be introduced there shortly, following a vote in the Democrat-controlled House.
What does the Senate gun law say?
Unlike the 1994 law, the bill does not explicitly ban guns. Instead, it creates new rules around gun ownership and incentivizes states to enact their own gun control measures.
The bill would allocate $750 million to assist states in implementing extreme risk laws, or “red flag laws,” that temporarily prevent people caught by a court of risk from getting their hands on a weapon. . Currently, 19 states and Washington, DC, have red flag laws. Most of these states are controlled by Democrats, with the exception of Florida and Indiana.
Research has suggested that such laws can: prevent mass shootingssince about half of the mass shooters tell someone in advance about their plans and exhibition warning signs such as agitation, abusive behavior, depression, mood swings, an inability to perform daily tasks, and paranoia.
The bill would also close the so-called ‘boyfriend loophole’. Under current federal law, only those convicted and living with their spouse, married to their spouse, or having a child with their spouse may not purchase a gun.
Some states already have passed laws to partially or completely close the loophole, but this would be done at the federal level by banning people convicted of domestic violence while in a “dating relationship” – defined as a “relationship between individuals who are in a serious relationship or of a romance or intimate character”—from the purchase of firearms. People convicted of domestic violence outside of marriage could regain possession of a gun after five years if they had a clean criminal record according to the law. But convicted spouses would still be banned from buying guns for life.
Gun buyers under the age of 21 would be subject to extensive background checks under the law. They would be subject to a lengthy, three-day initial review process of youth and mental health records, including checks with state databases and local law enforcement. If that initial review process reveals anything of concern, the buyer must undergo an additional review process that can take up to 10 days. The bill also provides additional funding for federal and local law enforcement officers to conduct those background checks and maintain accurate criminal and mental health records.
Another thing the measure would do is clarify and expand the definition of a “federally recognized arms dealer.” That’s important because current federal law only requires licensed gun dealers to perform background checks when someone tries to purchase a gun. However, unlicensed sellers, such as people who sell guns online or at gun shows, are not required to conduct background checks.
Finally, the package creates new federal offenses for interstate arms trafficking and straw buying, which involves someone buying a gun on behalf of someone else, but telling the seller that he will own the gun. While buying straw is currently illegal under federal law, the new categories of offenses are intended to provide prosecutors with more tools to deal with criminals.
The bill has a few critical omissions
President Joe Biden, Democrats involved in the Senate negotiations and gun control advocates have all said the bill doesn’t go as far as they’d like.
In a national speech last month after the Uvalde shooting, Biden advocated banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, raising the age to buy a gun from 18 to 21, universal background checks, and allowing gun manufacturers to be sued if their guns are used in violence.
None of these measures has been included in the final version of the bill. But it has been received as an important, step-by-step step towards further progress in gun control and a rare demonstration of duality over a hot-button issue that has fueled cultural divisions.
Murphy said at a press conference earlier this month that he would have preferred to raise the minimum age to buy a gun to 21 and introduce universal background checks. But Senate Democrats met Republicans in the middle by improving background checks for young gun buyers and requiring federally licensed dealers to perform background checks.
“This bill doesn’t do everything. This bill will not end the gun violence epidemic overnight. But it is substantial. It’s significant. It will save lives and it will give us the momentum to make further changes. That’s why I describe this as a breakthrough moment,” he added.
What happens now
The bill is expect to succeed the Democrat-controlled House before Congress goes into a two-week recess this week at the end of its business day on July 4, although the vote may not take place until the weekend. Biden has said that he plans to sign it once it reaches his desk.
But that won’t happen without protest from the House Republican caucus. Unlike Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who supported the bill, all three House Republican leaders — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise and House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik — have. rebuked it.
However, at least some House Republicans have announced their intention to vote in favor of the bill, including Rep. Tony Gonzales, who represents Uvalde.
“As a congressman, it is my duty to pass laws that never violate the Constitution while protecting the lives of innocents,” he said. tweeted on Wednesday.
However, it is not clear whether the bill could pose legal problems under Thursday’s Supreme Court decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruenwhich, as my colleague Ian Millhiser writes, has “put large parts of US gun laws … in grave danger”.
The court has created an entirely new framework for evaluating gun laws that claim to be based on the text of the Constitution, as well as the history of English and early U.S. gun laws. That framework could jeopardize a number of provisions in the Senate bill, including modern inventions such as red flag laws and protections for victims of domestic violence.
That means that while it represents significant progress, at least some of the bill could be vulnerable to legal challenges from pro-gun groups and states.