Senate vote brings gun bill closer to reality

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The Senate advanced legislation aimed at curbing mass gun violence past a key procedural hurdle Thursday, voting to close debate and move toward a final vote on a package combining modest new firearms restrictions fire with $15 billion in funding for mental health and school safety.

The 65-34 vote represented an unlikely breakthrough on the emotional and polarizing issue of US gun laws, which have remained largely unchanged for more than 25 years, even as the nation has been repeatedly scarred by mass shootings whose names have been etched in history: from Columbine and Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook and Parkland.

But the May 24 killing of 19 students and two teachers inside an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, sparked renewed action, forcing a small group of senators to negotiate a narrow, bipartisan package focused on keeping guns away from gunmen. dangerous potential killers while strengthening the nation’s mental health care capacity with billions of dollars in new funding.

The resulting Bipartisan Safer Communities Act won the support of all 50 members of the Democratic caucus and 15 Republicans on Thursday, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has opposed previous attempts to toughen gun laws after mass shootings.

Senate votes to advance bipartisan arms deal, breaking 30-year logjam

“This is the sweet spot … to make America safer, especially for kids in school, without making our country a little less free,” McConnell said Thursday. “This is a common sense package. Their layouts are very, very popular. It contains zero, zero new restrictions, zero new waiting periods, zero mandates, and zero bans of any kind for law-abiding gun owners.”

McConnell’s support came despite opposition from prominent gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, which said this week the bill “does little to really address violent crime and opens the door to charges.” unnecessary in the exercise of the freedom of the Second Amendment by law. respectful gun owners.”

But other players on the right supported the bill, which was negotiated primarily by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), as well as Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (RN.C.). The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial board backed the legislation Thursday, as did the National Sheriffs Association, which has close ties to Republican leaders.

Nonpartisan groups including the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the American Psychological Association also backed the bill.

Democrats and gun control advocates, meanwhile, hailed the bill as a breakthrough — politically, if not politically — in breaking decades of congressional deadlock over gun laws.

“We’re about to save a lot of lives,” Murphy said. “We’ve been building a movement to end gun violence for 10 years, and we said one day we’d be strong enough to beat the gun lobby, and here we are.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) said Thursday that the bill “is not a panacea for all the ways gun violence affects our nation, but it is a long-awaited step in the right direction.”

“The United States Senate was faced with a choice: We could give in to the gridlock… or we could choose to try to forge a bipartisan path to pass an actual bill, as difficult as it may seem,” he said. “We chose to try to do something.”

The Coalition Behind the Gun Bill Reveals a Strong Republican Divide in the Senate

The exact timing of the final vote remained in doubt Thursday afternoon. Under Senate rules, a final vote is set for no later than Friday night, but that timeline could be accelerated if all 100 senators agree.

The 15 Republicans who supported the bill were Senators Roy Blunt (Mo.), Richard Burr (NC), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Bill Cassidy (La.), Susan Collins (Maine), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Lindsey O. Graham (SC), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio), Mitt Romney (Utah), Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.), and Todd C. Young (Ind.), as well as McConnell, Cornyn, and Tillis.

Other Senate Republicans expressed a number of doubts about the bill, most arguing that the bill did not do enough to protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.

Some conservative senators introduced amendments to the bill, such as an alternative by Senators John Barrasso (Republican of Wyoming) and Ted Cruz (Republican of Texas) that would fund school security officers and mental health programs, leaving out current gun laws. intact. They or others could agree to speed up the bill’s final passage in exchange for a vote on its amendments.

“We’re not leaving until we pass this bill,” Schumer said Thursday, pledging to work to get it up for a vote as soon as possible.

If the Senate approves his bill, it would go to the House of Representatives, where he is expected to pass it with the support of nearly all Democrats and a handful of Republicans. “While more is needed, this package must be quickly signed into law to help protect our children,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday.

President Biden, who called for far more comprehensive gun control measures in a televised address this month, said he intends to sign the bill into law. “Our children in schools and our communities will be safer because of this legislation,” he said in a statement Thursday. “I am calling on Congress to finish the job and bring this bill to my desk.”

But Thursday’s Senate vote was the real breakthrough: It broke a de facto filibuster of gun control legislation that has been in place since the mid-1990s, when bipartisan majorities passed the Brady bill establishing the system. national background check, a 10-year ban. on assault weapons and restrictions on the sale of weapons to domestic violence offenders.

However, none of the measures included in this bill go that far. They are best described as modest expansions and adjustments to existing laws, such as closing the “boyfriend loophole,” a loophole in a 1996 law intended to keep guns out of the hands of domestic violence offenders.

Existing law, however, prohibits the sale of guns only to petty domestic violence offenders who committed their crimes against a spouse or partner with whom they had lived or had a child. The Senate bill includes those who committed misdemeanors against those in a “current or recent dating relationship” for the first time.

Another key provision creates “enhanced” background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21, who would be subject to a criminal and juvenile mental health record search for the first time. Authorities would have up to 10 business days to review those records under the Senate bill, though that provision will expire in 10 years, after which juvenile records will be routinely included in the federal instant background check database. .

The bill also allocates an additional $750 million to an existing Justice Department grant program and allows it for the first time to fund state crisis intervention programs, including “red flag” laws that allow authorities to keep guns. temporarily away from people who represent a danger to themselves or their communities. Other provisions establish new federal gun trafficking offenses and clarify which gun dealers must apply for a federal firearms license and therefore conduct background checks on their customers.

Mental health-focused elements of the bill would allow states to create “community behavioral health centers,” increase school-based intervention programs and allow broader access to telehealth services for those experiencing a health crisis. mental, among other programs. The $15 billion price tag is offset by the delay of a Trump administration regulation dealing with Medicare drug costs.

The Senate vote came just hours after the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, Expanding the rights of Americans to carry firearms in public. under the Constitution, overturning a New York law that required those seeking a license to carry a firearm to show a legitimate reason to do so.

The court opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, holds that “the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a firearm for self-defense outside the home.” But a concurring opinion written by Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. emphasized that the Constitution continues to allow a “variety” of gun regulations.

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