US Senate approves gun control law after overcoming GOP delays; House to measure Friday

WASHINGTON — The Senate Thursday easily passed a bipartisan gun violence bill that seemed unthinkable just a month ago, paving the way for final congressional approval of what will be lawmakers’ most sweeping response in decades to the series of brutal mass shootings in the country .

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 a compromise that embodied a step-by-step but impactful move to curb the bloodshed that has regularly shocked the nation — but no longer surprises.

The $13 billion measure would tighten background checks for the youngest gun buyers, protect firearms from more perpetrators of domestic violence and help states enact warning 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.

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’s a step in the right direction that should have happened a long time ago. Passing this gun safety law is really important and 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.”

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 vote on the last passage was 65-33.

Hours earlier, Senators voted 65-34 to end a filibuster by conservative GOP senators. That was five more than the 60-vote threshold required. The House was scheduled to vote on the measure Friday, and approval seemed certain.

In that vote, 15 Senate Republicans joined all 50 Democrats, including their two allied independents, to vote to pass the legislation.

But that vote highlighted the risks Republicans face from defying the party’s pro-gun voters and gun groups like 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.

While the Senate move was a clear breakthrough, the prospects for a continuation of Congress’ move on gun ownership are bleak.

Less than a third of the Senate’s 50 GOP senators supported the measure, and solid Republican opposition is certainly in the House. Top House Republicans pushed for a “no” vote in an email from No. 2 GOP leader, Rep. Louisiana’s Steve Scalise, who called the bill “an effort to slowly tear down the 2nd amendment rights of 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 days before that, a white man was accused of racism when he murdered 10 black grocery stores in Buffalo. Both gunmen were 18 years old, a youthful profile shared by many mass shooters, and the brief timing of the two massacres and victims many could identify with sparked a demand from voters for action, lawmakers from both parties said.

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.

Murphy said the measure would save thousands of lives and was an opportunity to “prove to a weary American public that democracy is not so broken that it is unable to get to the moment”.

“I don’t believe in doing nothing in light of what we’ve seen in Uvalde” and elsewhere, Cornyn said.

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 who have had children with the victim. The compromise proposal would extend that to those deemed to have had “a lasting 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.

The measure expands the use of background checks by rewriting the definition of the federally licensed arms dealers needed to perform them. Penalties for arms trafficking are getting tougher, 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.”

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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