- The Senate arms deal now heads to the House, where it is expected to pass.
- House Republican leaders encourage their members to vote against
- It’s a development that President Biden can tout at a time when his poll numbers are sinking.
WASHINGTON — Fifteen Republican senators joined Democrats in passing the largest gun safety package in three decades, providing a rare moment of bipartisanship on a politically divisive issue and a much-needed victory for President Joe Biden.
The passage of the bill was a massive change in a Republican Party that has always been a firewall against any attempt to restrict gun rights.
But the top Republican negotiator of the arms deal, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said the legislation saves lives without infringing on Second Amendment rights.
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the Democrats’ lead negotiator, has been fighting for reform since the Newtown Elementary School mass shooting in December 2012. Survivors of that tragedy and gun safety advocates were in the gallery Thursday night to watch the vote.
Murphy’s efforts were renewed last month after a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, prompted him to call his colleagues. from the full Senate: “What are we doing?” he asked her during a widely shared speech.
The Connecticut senator recalled those words Thursday night.
“What are we doing? Why are we here? Four weeks ago I asked the Senate those two simple questions,” Murphy said in a tweet. “Tonight, we deliver the answer. The first major gun safety bill in 30 years just passed the United States Senate. 65-33. I’m exhausted. And grateful.”
Senators finally passed the bipartisan Safer Communities Act 65-33 Thursday night after nearly two months of passionate debate, rousing hearings and the influence of actor Matthew McConaughey.
The vote came hours after the US Supreme Court struck down a New York law that made it easier for Americans to carry firearms.
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The deal now heads to the House, where it is expected to pass on Friday, despite House Republican leaders encouraging their members to vote against it.
However, Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales, who represents Uvalde, Texas, said he will vote for the legislation.
“As a congressman, it is my duty to pass laws that never violate the Constitution while protecting innocent lives,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “In the next few days I hope to vote YES on the bipartisan Safer Communities Act.”
Even without a single Republican representative, House Democrats have the majority to pass the bill without Republican support and send it to Biden. It is a development that the president can promote as an achievement at once when your numbers in the polls are sinking, as Americans grow increasingly frustrated with inflation and bleak economic forecasts.
Biden called on Congress to “finish the job” and bring the legislation to his desk.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday night in a statement to members that the bipartisan gun legislation would go to the rules committee first thing in the morning and then “we will immediately go to the floor” to your final approval.
Gun legislation could land on the president’s desk tomorrow.
“Tonight, after 28 years of inaction, bipartisan members of Congress came together to heed the call of families across the country and passed legislation to address the scourge of gun violence in our communities,” Biden said in a statement. release.
The president has been under pressure to “do something,” a frequent request from families of Uvalde victims.
“Families in Uvalde and Buffalo, and too many tragic shootings before, have demanded action,” Biden said. “And tonight, we perform.”
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Biden and other Democrats had been pushing for a broader package than is included in the Senate deal, such as a ban on assault weapons and restricted gun sales to anyone under 21.
But the president has said several times that “perfect should not be the enemy of good.”
Both Democrats and Republicans got some of what they wanted in the Senate deal, including $15 billion for mental health services and school safety.
The 15 Republicans who helped move the gun bill forward include Senators Cornyn; Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell; Thom Tillis and Richard Burr of North Carolina; Susan Collins of Maine; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; Utah’s Mitt Romney; Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania; Indiana’s Todd Young; Roy Blunt of Missouri; Rob Portman of Ohio; Shelley Capito of West Virginia; Bill Cassidy from Louisiana; Joni Ernst of Iowa; and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska.
“The legislation that Senator Cornyn and our colleagues put together protects the Second Amendment,” McConnell said in a statement. “There are no new bans, mandates or waiting periods for law-abiding citizens of any age. What the bill does contain are common-sense solutions that are overwhelmingly popular with legal gun owners, like adding criminal records and mental health issues in the background check system. It also provides significant new funding for mental health in schools.”
The legislation will provide grants to all states as an incentive to adopt “red flag” laws, which allow courts to remove firearms from those deemed a threat to themselves or others. States that do not enact red flag laws can use the money for other crisis prevention programs.
Senators also approved expanded background checks for gun buyers age 21 and younger to include their mental health and juvenile justice records. The legislation mandates a waiting period of 10 working days for the seller and the authorities to complete the review.
Such a review could have stopped mass shootings last month in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas, as well as a mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, the senators said.
The legislation also closes the so-called “boyfriend’s lagoon”, a legislative gray area that leaves some women vulnerable to gun-related domestic violence.
Current law prevents domestic violence offenders from buying guns if they abused their spouses or living partners with children. The Senate legislation would expand the law to include “boyfriends” or partners in a current or recent relationship “of a romantic or intimate nature” who have been convicted of domestic violence.
“This provision alone is going to save the lives of so many women who sadly die at the hands of a boyfriend or ex-boyfriend who is chasing them with a gun,” Murphy said.
Although senators may start their two-week recess on July 4 on a high note, the arms deal is unlikely to end the firearms debate any time soon. Democrats have said they will continue to push for more reforms, and Republicans are now discussing the issue in the midterm elections, claiming the deal unnecessarily restricts the right to own firearms.
‘Annoyed no matter what’:Senate arms deal leaves voters on both sides dissatisfied and frustrated
Candy Woodall is a congressional reporter for USA TODAY. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.