The Senate on Thursday passed the first major federal gun control bill in decades, breaking the old Republican blockade on further restrictions on firearms and almost certainly getting the legislation finalized by the Democrat-led House.
The bill, which would expand background checks to include juvenile files and incentivize the state to enact “red flag” laws to confiscate weapons from people deemed dangerous by a judge, passed the Senate comfortably just after 10 p.m. accepted.
It passed the main test vote previously 65-34, with Kentucky Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and 14 other Republicans joining the House Democrats to advance the legislation.
“The American people don’t have to choose between safer schools and the Constitution, and neither does the US Senate,” said McConnell, whose support for bipartisan negotiations on new gun laws made the breakthrough possible.
He went on to say that “the American people want their constitutional rights to be protected and their children safe in school. They want both things at the same time. And that is exactly what the Senate bill will help achieve.”
Before the vote, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz led a last-ditch effort to table an amendment tabled by Senate Majority Leader, New York Democrat, Charles E. Schumer.
Mr. Schumer’s amendment blocked Mr. Cruz’s ability to offer alternative gun laws that he proposed with Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso.
The action in Congress was sparked by a series of mass shootings that horrified the nation, including a racially motivated attack that killed 10 black people at a convenience store in Buffalo, New York, and a frenzy at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 children and two teachers.
“Americans have waited long enough. Let’s finish our work today,” Senate Majority Leader New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer said on the floor. “As we took the final steps in this process, few could have imagined that we would reach this point just a few weeks ago, the morning after the tragedy in Uvalde.”
“This is not a panacea for all the ways gun violence affects our nation, but it is a step that is long overdue. … It’s important, it’s going to save lives, and my goal is to get it done as quickly as possible,” he said.
The legislation now goes to the House for a final vote, where it is expected to pass before Congress leaves on Friday for a two-week recess. It will be a big win for President Biden, who has advocated tougher gun laws throughout his long political career.
Mr Biden applauded the Senate breakthrough and regretted it took so many years to get to this point.
“Our country has endured too many tragedies since then, most recently with the horrific shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde,” he said. “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.”
sen. Christopher Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who led the negotiations with Sen. Texas Republican John Cornyn announced the legislation as a two-pronged triumph.
“Congress has decided year after year to prioritize its politics over the security of this country. Despite the fact that the changes needed to make this country safer are actually not controversial at all,” he said.
Despite the support of 15 Senate Republicans to remove the 60-vote hurdle that knocked out previous gun laws, the legislation remains unpopular with most Republicans and gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association.
Former President Donald Trump criticized Mr. McConnell for his role in helping get the bill on Mr. Biden’s desk.
Trump wrote on Truth Social on Thursday: “Mitch McConnell’s pressure on Republican senators to vote for Gun Control will be the last straw. Just as he gave away the debt ceiling and got NOTHING in return, or handed the Dems a great sound bite and win with the Infrastructure Bill, which is basically all about the Green New Deal, he’s now forcing approval of the FIRST STEP IN TAKE YOUR WAY GUNS! Republican Senators SHOULD NOT VOTE FOR THIS CARRIRE TERMINATION!!!”
The bill includes a slew of comprehensive gun control laws and funding for school security and mental health, including:
• Incentives for states to adopt red flag laws or other crisis intervention programs.
• An extension of the definition of domestic violence to close the “boyfriend loophole” to include dating relationships. It blocks people with such beliefs from gun ownership.
• Eligibility for gun possession for individuals charged with domestic violence after five years, provided they have a clean criminal record.
• A felony designation for individuals who purchase guns for those who cannot legally purchase or possess them.
• An extension of federal background checks to include state juvenile records and make it illegal to sell weapons or ammunition to those with juvenile crime records.
• A requirement for individuals who repeatedly buy and sell firearms to be licensed as a gun dealer.
• An additional $100 million in taxpayer money for the federal background check system.
• A $2 billion allocation to the Department of Education for school mental health and safety.
• $1 billion in grants for mental health programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Second Amendment advocacy groups, including the NRA and Gun Owners of America, oppose the bill. The National Shooting and Sport Foundation, the branch organization for the firearms industry, is also against the legislation.
The NRA said the legislation falls short of its goal of improving safety and security while jeopardizing Second Amendment rights.
“This legislation can be abused to restrict legal gun purchases, infringe on the rights of law-abiding Americans, and use federal dollars to fund gun control measures passed by state and local politicians. This bill leaves too much discretion in the hands of government officials and also contains undefined and too broad provisions — inviting interference with our constitutional freedoms,” the NRA said in a statement.
In the House, minority leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana are battling the legislation, but some Republican defectors are expected and House Democrats should be able to pass the bill without Republican backing.
“Of course Nancy Pelosi is the speaker, so she has the majority,” said Mr Scalise. “But we are pushing for mental health reforms [and] we must not take away or violate the rights of law-abiding citizens to possess a gun.”
House Republicans expected to support the bill include Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas, whose district includes Uvalde.
“I am a survivor of domestic violence, my stepfather would come home drunk and beat me and my mother,” he wrote on social media.
“The school was my refuge from the chaos at home. …As a Congressman, it is my duty to pass laws that never infringe the Constitution while protecting the lives of innocents.”