Senate advances bipartisan gun control bill, first significant firearm legislation in decades

Washington — The bipartisan bill reforming the nation’s gun laws cleared another procedural hurdle in the Senate on Thursday, winning enough bipartisan support to overcome a filibuster and advance toward final passage.

The Senate voted 65 to 34 to move the legislation forward, with 15 Republican senators joining with their Democratic colleagues in support of the bill, called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Senate leaders are aiming to approve the 80-page measure before the end of the week, when members will depart Washington for a two-week recess. Schumer on the Senate floor Thursday morning praised the bipartisanship of the process, and expressed his desire to get the bill through the Senate Thursday.

“This is not a cure-all for all the ways gun violence affects our nation,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday. “But it is a long overdue step in the right direction. It’s significant. It’s going to save lives. And it’s my intention to get it done as soon as we can.” 

Schumer said he plans to work with Republican leaders to reach an agreement to secure a vote on final passage “before the day is out.” 

But Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said he would not support a shortened time agreement unless he gets a commitment from leadership for votes on his amendments to the bill. All 100 senators must agree for a shortened debate to be put in place.

Senate Gun-Safety Bill Advances With Passage Likely This Week
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, arrives for a news conference following the weekly Democratic caucus luncheon at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., US, on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. The Senate voted 64-34 to advance bipartisan gun-safety legislation Tuesday hours after negotiators announced they had reached a deal, with final passage likely later this week. Photographer: Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged the House will swiftly take up the firearms bill once it clears the Senate, and passage is expected in the Democrat-controlled lower chamber despite Republican leaders urging their members to vote against it. If signed into law, which President Biden is expected to do, the measure would be the most significant update to the nation’s gun laws in nearly 30 years.

“While the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act does not include additional important steps the president has called for as a part of his comprehensive gun crime reduction agenda, it would make meaningful progress to combat gun violence,” the Biden administration’s formal position reads. “As communities continue to experience gun violence every day, the administration calls for swift passage of this life-saving legislation.” 

Spearheaded by a bipartisan group of senators led by Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, negotiations over the plan to curb gun violence began last month in response to a pair of mass shootings — at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas — that left a combined 31 people dead, including 19 children.

Senate negotiators released a framework of the proposal earlier this month, and unveiled the legislative text Tuesday, after which the upper chamber took the first step to advance the bill in a bipartisan procedural vote.

The legislation enhances background checks for prospective gun buyers under 21 years old, closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” clarifies the definition of a Federally Licensed Firearms Dealer, and creates criminal penalties for straw purchases and gun trafficking. It also provides $750 million in grants to incentivize states to implement state crisis intervention programs and provides roughly billions of dollars in federal funding to bolster mental health services for children and families and harden schools.

The Senate’s measure does not go as far as what Mr. Biden has called for and is significantly more narrow than a package of bills that passed the House this month. That legislation would raise the minimum age to purchase a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21 years old and ban large-capacity magazines. It also incentivizes the safe storage of firearms and establishes requirements regulating the storage of guns on residential premises.

While the House’s legislation included many of the proposals advocated for by Mr. Biden, it would not have won enough support from Republicans to overcome the 60-vote threshold for legislation to advance in the Senate.

Democrats involved in the upper chamber’s bipartisan discussions have acknowledged their proposal is more tailored, but they have said a slimmed down package had a better chance of receiving GOP backing.

The bill is opposed by the National Rifle Association, which said in a statement Tuesday it can be “abused to restrict lawful gun purchases, infringe upon the rights of law-abiding Americans, and use federal dollars to fund gun control measures being adopted by state and local politicians.” 

House Republican leaders, too, have said the Senate’s plan is part of an effort to erode law-abiding Americans’ Second Amendment rights. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who supports the bill, said on the Senate floor Wednesday that the legislation advances “commonsense solutions without rolling back rights for law-abiding citizens.”

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