The Senate voted 65-33 Thursday night to pass a bill to strengthen background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21, provide billions of dollars in money for mental health treatment and help states to administer the red flag laws, setting up a vote in the House as soon as possible. like friday.
The strong bipartisan vote for the bill is expected to give it enough momentum to sail through the House and onto President Biden’s desk, giving him one of the biggest domestic policy accomplishments of his first two years in office.
Senators hailed passage of the legislation, which cracks down on frontmen and illegal gun dealers and closes the boyfriend loophole to deny guns to romantic partners convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, as a bipartisan breakthrough.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle hailed it as the most important anti-gun violence legislation passed by the Senate in nearly 30 years. Congress has done little to end gun violence since passing the Brady Gun Violence Prevention Act in 1993 and the Crime Bill in 1994.
The legislation also provides money for school resource officers and to harden school buildings against attack.
It is a moment of victory and redemption for Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and other Democrats who tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation to curb the violence after a 20-year-old gunman killed 20 children and six educators in the Sandy Hook Elementary School. in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.
This time around, the Murphy-led Democrats scaled back their demands for bold gun control reforms like universal background checks and bans on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.
Instead, they sought to work with Republicans in private meetings, hoping to reach a bipartisan compromise, before bringing the legislation to the floor.
The strategy worked, as 15 Republican senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), voted in favor of the legislation, which Republicans say will not infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.
“The American people want their constitutional rights protected and their children to be safe at school. They want both at the same time, and that is exactly what the bill before the Senate will have accomplished,” McConnell told the floor Thursday.
“This is the sweet spot,” he said. “Making America safer, especially for kids in school, without making our country any less free.”
McConnell told reporters shortly before the vote that passage of the bill would help Republicans make up lost ground with suburban voters, a crucial voting bloc they need to regain the Republican majority in the Senate.
“It’s no secret that we lost ground in suburban areas. We pretty much own rural and small town America, and I think this is a sensible solution to the problem before us, which is school safety and mental health,” he said. “I hope it will be viewed favorably by the voters in the suburbs that we need to win back to be a majority next year.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) called the legislation a “breakthrough.”
“Few could have anticipated that we would get to this point just a few weeks ago,” Schumer said, acknowledging strong skepticism among Democrats about the prospects of reaching a deal with Republicans.
He called it “a long overdue step in the right direction”.
“It’s important, it’s going to save lives and it’s been a long time,” he said.
The final vote capped weeks of intense negotiations spearheaded by Murphy and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee well versed in gun policy.
A turning point in the Senate debate came two days after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, when McConnell tapped Cornyn to run negotiations for Republicans. Republican senators saw it as a sign that McConnell wanted an outcome, something the senior senator from Kentucky later confirmed.
Biden on Thursday applauded the Senate’s action and urged the House to get the bill to its desk quickly.
“I’m glad to see that Congress has come significantly closer to finally doing something: passing bipartisan legislation that will help protect Americans,” he said. “I am calling on Congress to finish the job and bring this bill to my desk.”
Schumer and other Democrats have expressed frustration and fatigue with votes to hold Republicans accountable on the issues, but fail to change the law.
Shortly after the Uvalde mass shooting, in which an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers, Schumer said he had little desire to introduce a doomed bill.
“I think accountability votes are important, but unfortunately this is not a case where the American people don’t know where their senators stand. They know. They know because my fellow Republicans are perfectly clear about it,” Schumer said the morning after the Uvalde massacre.
Not all senators hailed the legislation as a positive development.
Conservative Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) took the floor Thursday night to voice their opposition to the legislation.
Cruz criticized him for funding red flag laws, which allow courts to seize firearms from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
“These so-called red flag laws have been implemented in multiple states and allow the state to take away the right to keep and bear arms from law-abiding citizens. They make you vulnerable,” she declared in an impassioned floor speech, during which he raised his voice and banged on his lectern.
Cruz said the bill’s provisions “satisfy the Democratic political priority of pursuing the Second Amendment right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms,” repeatedly calling it a “Democratic bill” despite that was negotiated by fellow Democrats and Republicans.
Lee criticized negotiators for not disclosing the text of the bill until Tuesday night, shortly before the Senate voted in favor of the measure.
“Nobody except a small group of senators and a few favorite members of the media, nobody could see the legislation until Tuesday night,” he complained.
When asked to respond to Cruz’s criticism of the legislation and whether he predicted a conservative backlash in the future, McConnell declined to comment.
McConnell previously pointed to a poll that showed a majority of gun owners supported the bill’s provisions.
He noted that 79 percent of gun owners support federal funding for states to implement red flag laws, 86 percent support a ban on buying or possessing firearms for someone who has been convicted of domestic violence against a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse or partner and 87 percent support Making criminal and mental health records of minors available to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.