The US Senate approved a historic bipartisan gun control bill Thursday night following two recent horrific mass shootings, marking the most comprehensive piece of gun reform legislation passed by federal lawmakers in nearly three decades.
The $13 billion measure was approved 65-33 and received enough Republican support to avoid a filibuster, a compromise that seemed far-fetched before a pair of 18-year-old gunmen used assault weapons to commit mass shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas and a Buffalo grocery store last month.
The rampages spurred weeks of closed door negotiations between a group of Democrats and Republicans, and 15 GOP senators ultimately crossed party lines to support the bill.
The measure toughens background checks for gun buyers under 21 and provides financial incentives for states to create mental health programs and implement “red flag” laws that would keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.
It also cracks down on straw purchases of weapons, and closes the “boyfriend loophole” by banning people convicted of domestic abuse from owning a gun. The current law does not apply to abusers who are no longer married or living with their partner.
The bill was the strongest piece of gun legislation since the 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired ten years later. There were five active shooter situations in the US in 2004 compared to 61 last year, according to the FBI.
Democrats had sought much stricter restrictions, including an outright ban on assault rifles and requiring people to be 21 before they can buy semi-automatic weapons, however the once unthinkable bipartisan compromise was hailed by lawmakers in both parties as a clear message to the American people.
“This is not a cure-all for the all the ways gun violence affects our nation,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “But it is a long overdue step in the right direction. Passing this gun safety bill is truly significant, and it’s going to save lives,” the New York Democrat said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged the Second Amendment rights prioritized by much of his base while touting the bill.
“The American people want their constitutional rights protected and their kids to be safe in school,” the Kentucky Republican said. “They want both of those things at once, and that is just what the bill before the Senate will have accomplished.”
Texas Republican John Cornyn and Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy were among four lawmakers instrumental in hashing out the bill.
“I don’t believe in doing nothing in the face of what we saw in Uvalde,” Cornyn said.
Murphy referenced the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, which failed to prompt meaningful legislation in Washington.
He said Thursday’s bill would save thousands of lives and “prove to a weary American public that democracy is not so broken that it is unable to rise to the moment.”
The legislation is likely to face stronger Republican opposition in the House, where Republican Whip Steve Scalise called the bill “an effort to slowly chip away at law-abiding citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said her legislative body would move quickly to advance the measure.
“First thing tomorrow morning, the Rules Committee will meet to advance this life-saving legislation to the Floor,” she said.
If passed, the bill would be sent to the White House.
“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,” President Joe Biden said.
The National Rifle Association, a powerful gun lobby, had said the bill “falls short on every level.”
“This legislation 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,” it said in a statement Tuesday.
The measure passed in the Senate on the same day the Supreme Court struck down restrictions on the carrying of concealed firearms as unconstitutional.
With AP wires