(Washington D.C.) — The Senate pushed a bipartisan gun violence bill to the brink of passage Thursday as it voted to halt a Republican filibuster against the measure, clearing the way for Congress’ most far-reaching response in decades to the nation’s run of brutal mass shootings.
After years of GOP procedural delays that derailed Democratic efforts to curb firearms, Democrats and some Republicans decided that congressional inaction was untenable after last month’s rampages in New York and Texas. It was weeks before senators from each party came up with an 80 page compromise that would represent incremental, but effective progress.
The legislation would make background checks harder for younger gun buyers and keep firearms away from domestic violence offenders. In addition, the measure would help states create red flag laws which allow for easier confiscation of weapons from those deemed dangerous. The measure would fund programs that promote school safety and mental health, as well as violence prevention.
Thursday’s roll call ending the blockade by conservative GOP senators was 65-34, five more than the 60-vote threshold needed. Final passage of the $13 billion measure was expected by week’s end with a House vote to follow. While the exact timing of Congress’s departure from town was unclear, they were scheduled to do so by the weekend.
15 Senate Republicans voted with all 50 Democrats (including their two allied Independents) to approve the legislation.
For advocates for reducing gun violence, the day was bittersweet. The Supreme Court, a right-leaning court, issued a decision that expanded the rights of Americans to own guns in public. Justices overturned a New York law that required individuals to show a necessity for having a firearm before they could obtain a permit to carry it.
The Senate vote highlighted the risks Republicans face by defying the party’s pro-gun voters and the National Rifle Association. Sens. Senators. Of the rest, four are retiring and eight don’t face voters until 2026.
Tellingly, GOP senators voting “no” included potential 2024 presidential contenders like 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 voted “no” as well, including Sens. Rand Paul, Kentucky and Mike Lee, Utah.
The package for the election year was not as strong in gun control measures that Democrats sought years ago, such bans on assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines, which were used in the attacks in Buffalo (New York) and Uvalde (Texas). The accord allowed both sides to claim victory, and showed voters that they are capable of negotiating and making government work. However, it also gave each side the opportunity to reach its core supporters.
“This is not a cure-all for the all the ways gun violence affects our nation,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., whose party has made gun restrictions a goal for decades. “But it is a long overdue step in the right direction. It’s significant, it’s going to save lives.”
Senate Minority 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 protected and their kids to be safe in school.” He said “they want both of those things at once, and that is just what the bill before the Senate will have accomplished.”
Although the Senate bill was an important breakthrough, there is little hope for congressional action on gun restrictions.
Only about one-third of the Senate’s 50 GOP senators backed the measure and solid Republican opposition is certain in the House. Top House Republicans urged a “no” vote in an email from the No. 2 GOP leader, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, that called the bill “an effort to slowly chip away at law-abiding citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights.”
Both chambers — now narrowly controlled by Democrats — could well be run by the GOP after November’s midterm elections.
According to President Joe Biden, Uvalde residents informed him that Washington needed to take action when he was there.
“Our kids in schools and our communities will be safer because of this legislation. I call on Congress to finish the job and get this bill to my desk,” Biden said.
The Senate was forced to act one month after 19 Uvalde students were killed and 2 teachers were injured by a gunman. Ten days prior, in Buffalo, 10 Black grocery store customers were killed by a white suspect who was suspected of being motivated primarily by racism. They were both aged 18 and share a similar youthful profile to many mass-shooters.
These talks were led and moderated by Senators. Chris Murphy, D.Conn. Kyrsten Silnema, D.Ariz. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Murphy represents Newtown in Connecticut where an assailant murdered 20 students and 6 staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary school in 2012. While Cornyn was involved in previous gun talks in response to mass shootings across his state and is very close McConnell
The bill will make available the juvenile records from people aged 18-20 during federal background checks that are required for gun buyers. The current three-day examinations would now last for a maximum period of 10 days. This is to allow federal and local authorities time to look through records.
People convicted of domestic abuse who are current or former romantic partners of the victim would be prohibited from acquiring firearms, closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole.”
This ban is currently applicable only to victims who are either married, living together or have had children. The compromise bill would extend that to those considered to have had “a continuing serious relationship.”
Money would be available to assist states in enforcing red flag laws, and money for programs that prevent violence. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have such laws and Cornyn — whose state does not — demanded the inclusion of all states during the negotiations.
By expanding background checks, the measure changes who is required to conduct them. Penalties for gun trafficking are strengthened, billions of dollars are provided for behavioral health clinics and school mental health programs and there’s money for school safety initiatives, though not for personnel to use a “dangerous weapon.”
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