Senate Passes Gun Safety Bill, Breaking Decades of Gridlock

TThe Senate ended a decade-long impasse on how to deal with gun violence. On Thursday night, it passed a small set of gun safety measures. These would increase background checks for young buyers and help fund mental health programs.

By a vote 65 to 33, the bill was approved. This measure received the support of the whole Democratic caucus as well as 15 Republicans. On the same day, the Supreme Court expanded gun rights with a historic ruling.

“This is the sweet spot … making America safer, especially for kids in school, without making our country one bit less free,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, said Thursday. “This is a common-sense package. These provisions are extremely popular. It contains zero, zero new restrictions, zero new waiting periods, zero mandates and zero bans of any kind for law-abiding gun owners.”

The bill passed after the pledge of 10 Republican Senators to keep the original structure last week. But that didn’t stop others from attempting to delay the vote. On Thursday, Rand Paul (Republican from Kentucky) proposed nine amendments for the bill. He argued that the structure would not be sufficient to safeguard the constitutional rights law-abiding Americans. Republican Senators. Ted Cruz, Texas, and John Barrasso from Wyoming asked the chamber to adopt their legislation instead. This would provide more funding for school-based security officers while maintaining the existing gun laws. Their motion was defeated 39 to 58, after hours of intense debate.

Now, the bill is headed to the House. It will be passed by the House on Friday. Nancy Pelosi from California is the Speaker of the House. She indicated last week that she would enact any Senate bill.

“This is not a cure all for all the ways gun violence affects our nation,” Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, said Thursday. “But it is a long overdue step in the right direction … I hope it paves the way for future action on guns in Congress.”

In a series of lengthy negotiations between Republican Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy (Cont.), the bipartisan legislation emerged. Each party sought to make a compromise that would allow them both to enjoy the kind of agreement they have been seeking for several years. It is the biggest legislative act Congress has undertaken on gun control since nearly 30 years ago.

Nearly a month ago, a gunman shot and killed 19 schoolchildren in Uvalde (Texas), in the deadliest school shooting incident in American history. This massacre happened just 10 days after another racially-motivated shooting incident at a Buffalo N.Y. grocery. According to Gun Violence Archive there have been 279 mass shootings between 2022 and now. A mass shooting is an event where at least four people are killed or shot in one incident, but not the shooter.

While both leaders from each party consider this to be a significant moment in American history, it falls short of more comprehensive gun-control measures, which President Joe Biden has called for. This includes a ban assault weapons and restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines. Democrats reached an agreement to narrower gun safety legislation to try to retain Republicans.

This bill will enhance background checks for gun buyers who are under 21. However, it requires that police search all juvenile criminal and mental records within a period of 10 days. The current law permits anyone over 18 to purchase rifles and shotguns. As with the assault weapon ban in 2004, this background checking process will expire after a decade.

The legislation also expands a current law that bars domestic abusers from being able to purchase a firearm to include serious dating partners, closing what’s known as the “boyfriend loophole.” Under existing law, only domestic-violence offenders who committed their crimes against a spouse or partner with whom they had lived or had a child with are barred from purchasing firearms. If they are first offenders, and have not been convicted of any violent offense or misdemeanor, negotiators will allow them to buy a firearm again after five years.

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 confiscate guns from people deemed to represent a threat to themselves or others. Other provisions toughen the criminal penalties for third-party gun sales, known as “straw” purchases, and clarify that individuals who repeatedly buy and sell firearms “to predominantly earn a profit” must register for a federal firearms license so they can run background checks on their customers.

Additionally, billions of dollars are set aside, mostly in grants, for school security and mental healthcare. The bill would launch more than a dozen new initiatives, including one that would create a broader network of “community behavioral health centers” and another that would increase access to telehealth services for those in a mental health crisis. According to the bill summary, federal spending would be offset by a one year delay in a Medicare prescription-rebate provision. The estimated federal savings of around $21 trillion are expected to offset this.

The National Rifle Association fiercely opposed the bill, releasing a statement on Tuesday that said it “does little to truly address violent crime while opening the door to unnecessary burdens on the exercise of Second Amendment freedom by law-abiding gun owners.”

Between then and now, support for the bill came from various organizations, such as the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACPO), the National Domestic Violence Hotline (Nazi Alliance on Mental Illness) and the American Psychological Association. Biden also supported the bill, having called for broad gun control in an emotional television address following the Uvalde school massacre. “Our kids in schools and our communities will be safer because of this legislation,” he said in a statement Thursday. “I call on Congress to finish the job and get this bill to my desk.”

Although the Senate bill was not enough to combat a mass shooting epidemic as many Democrats believe, Thursday’s vote represented a major breakthrough in gun policy that has remained largely unchanged from 1994.

“Many have come to doubt whether we’re capable of making our institutions work,” Sen. Cornyn said on Thursday. “We proved that we can.”

Many key right-leaning figures supported gun safety measures despite vocal opposition by the NRA, conservative critics and others. Roy Blunt, Richard Burr, of Missouri; Shelley Moore Capito, of West Virginia; Bill Cassidy in Louisiana; John Cornyn in Texas. Bill Cassidy and Susan Collins are from Louisiana. Joni Ernst is from Iowa. Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman of Ohio. Mitt, Romney, Thom Tillis, Patrick Toomey all of Pennsylvania. Todd Young, Indiana

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