Senate vote brings gun bill closer to reality

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The Senate passed legislation Thursday aimed at ending acts of mass gun violence, with 15 Republicans joining Democrats in advancing a bill that combines modest new gun restrictions with $15 billion in funding for mental health and school safety.

The 65-33 vote represented an unlikely breakthrough on the emotional and polarizing issue of US gun laws, which have remained virtually unchanged for more than 25 years, even as the nation has been repeatedly scarred by mass shootings whose names have become 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, has sparked new action, forcing a small group of senators to negotiate a close, bipartisan package. aimed at keeping weapons away from dangerous potential killers while growing stronger. nation’s mental health care capacity with billions of dollars in new funding.

The resulting bipartisan Safer Communities Act garnered support from all 50 Democratic caucus members and a negotiating cadre Republicans Thursday, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who opposed previous attempts to toughen gun laws after mass shootings.

Senate votes to advance bipartisan gun deal, breaking 30-year deadlock

“That’s the sweet spot … making America safer, especially for kids in school, without making our country a little less free,” McConnell said in the Senate Thursday.

In later remarks with reporters, he explained the political logic of his stance, saying he hoped the GOP’s support for the deal “would be viewed favorably by suburban voters who we need to win back for, hopefully.” , be in the majority next year”.

“I thought it was time to act, and if [Democrats] were ready to join us and pass legislation that really targets the problem, namely school safety and mental health, why wouldn’t we want to do that? ” he added.

McConnell’s support came despite opposition from prominent gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, which said this week that the bill “does little to truly combat against violent crimes while opening the door to unnecessary charges on the exercise of Second Amendment freedom by law-abiding gun owners.

But other right-wing players have thrown their support behind the bill, which was mostly brokered by the 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 approved the legislation on Thursday, as did the National Sheriffs’ Association, which has close ties to GOP 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, have also endorsed the draft. law.

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

“We’re on the verge of saving 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 in a speech Thursday that the bill “is not a panacea for all the ways gun violence affects our nation, but it is a step in the right direction. ”

“The US Senate was faced with a choice: We could go to a dead end…or we could choose to try to forge a bipartisan path to pass a real bill, however difficult that may seem,” he said. he declared. “We chose to try to do something.”

Shortly before the vote, Cornyn recounted the recent tragedy in his own state and said he “then promised to do everything in my power to try to answer that call to do something.”

“I don’t believe in doing nothing about what we’ve seen in Uvalde and what we’ve seen in far too many communities,” he said. “Doing nothing is an abdication of our responsibility as representatives of the American people.”

The 15 Republicans supporting the bill were Sens. 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.

Coalition behind gun bill reveals strong Republican split in Senate

Other Senate Republicans have expressed a range of concerns about the bill, with most saying the bill does not do enough to protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.

Some conservative senators have tabled amendments to the bill, as an alternative to Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) Who would fund school safety officers and mental health programs while leaving current gun laws intact.

Cruz Thursday, in a lengthy floor speech, lambasted provisions of the bipartisan bill “that satisfy Democrats’ policy priority of going after the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms of law-abiding citizens.”

“I’m angry that these horrific crimes continue to happen, but I’m also angry that this august chamber is playing political games,” he said. “This bill aims, among other things, to satisfy the desire to do something. … I agree: Do something. But do something that works, do something that will stop these crimes. This bill is not that.”

The bill is now moving through the House, where it is expected to pass on Friday with the support of almost all Democrats and a handful of Republicans. “While more is needed, this package must quickly become law to help protect our children,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday.

President Biden, who called for much stronger gun control measures in a televised address this month, said he intended to sign the bill into law. “Our children in schools and our communities will be safer thanks to this legislation,” he said in a statement Thursday. “I call on Congress to finish the job and put this bill on my desk.”

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

However, none of the measures included in the current bill go that far. They are best described as modest extensions and adjustments to existing laws – such as closing the “boyfriend loophole”, a loophole in a 1996 law aimed at keeping guns away from perpetrators of domestic violence.

Existing law, however, only prohibits the sale of weapons to perpetrators of domestic violence offenses who committed their crimes against a spouse or partner with whom they had lived or had a child. The Senate bill includes for the first time those who have committed crimes against people “current or recent in a former romantic relationship”.

Another key provision creates “enhanced” background checks for gun buyers under 21, who would be subject to a search of underage criminal and mental health records for the first time. Authorities would have up to 10 business days to review those records under the Senate bill, though that provision expires in 10 years — after which juvenile records would have to be routinely included in the federal Instant Child Verification Database. antecedents.

The bill also injects an additional $750 million into an existing Justice Department grant program and enables it for the first time to fund state crisis-response programs, including “red flag” laws. that allow authorities to temporarily keep the firearms of people deemed to pose a danger to themselves or their communities. Other provisions establish new federal firearms trafficking offenses and specify which firearms dealers are required to apply for a federal firearms license and thus conduct background checks on their customers.

Mental health-focused elements of the bill would allow states to create “community behavioral health centers,” scale up school-based intervention programs, and enable broader access to telehealth services for people in mental health crisis, among other programs. The $15 billion price tag is offset by delaying a Trump administration settlement over Medicare drug costs.

In an interview Thursday, Schumer noted that it was the first time in decades that the Senate had passed a measure that the NRA had opposed, calling the development “almost exhilarating.”

“We’ll try to do more on the road, obviously,” he said. “I’m not happy until we have an assault weapons ban and universal background checks and other things as well. But for the first time the NRA has been defeated on something significant .

But any exhilaration was tempered by developments earlier in the day just across First Street NE from the Senate Chamber, which showed the staying power of the gun rights movement.

The Senate vote came just hours after the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, expanded the right of Americans to publicly carry firearms under the Constitution – overturning a New York law that required those who were seeking a license to carry a handgun to demonstrate a legitimate reason for doing so.

The court’s opinion, written by Judge Clarence Thomas, argues “that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun 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. pointed out that the Constitution continues to authorize a “variety” of gun regulations.

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