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The Senate on June 23 passed a bipartisan package of gun control measures after breaking a filibuster in the chamber earlier in the day.
The final Senate floor vote on the 80-page legislation, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, was 65–33. The vote had been expected to be held before a two-week July 4 recess.
Earlier in the day, 15 Republicans joined all Democrats in voting to break the 60-vote filibuster threshold on the measure.
Both GOP Leader McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) support the bill. Earlier this week, McConnell called the measure a “commonsense package” and rejected concerns of Republican members who oppose the legislation on gun rights grounds. He said the measure will “protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”
The legislation comes on the heels of mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, which killed 10 people, and Uvalde, Texas, which killed 21 people, 19 of whom were children. Both shooters were 18 years old.
Measure Likely to Pass House
In the House, the bill seems set to pass despite some GOP pushback. Top House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), have signaled they would vote no on the measure, with Scalise saying in a whip notice that the bill is “an effort to slowly chip away at law-abiding citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who retains almost complete control over what comes to the floor, has said she expects the House to vote on the measure by the end of this week. Because simple majority rules in the Democrat-controlled chamber, the bill is likely to quickly pass the lower chamber and advance to President Joe Biden’s desk.
“This is an important piece of legislation. We’re very excited about it. It will save lives,” Pelosi said Wednesday. “But we want to get it done.”
Lead Senate negotiators of the bill, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C) said in a statement on June 21 upon releasing the text of the legislation that it would “protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country.”
The National Rifle Association opposed the measure, saying that it “does little to truly address violent crime while opening the door to unnecessary burdens on the exercise of Second Amendment freedom by law-abiding gun owners.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Miss.) had criticized the quick procedural vote on the bill, which came just an hour after the full text of the legislation was released on June 21.
“Here we are voting to move on a bill negotiated entirely behind closed doors, released only an hour ago, that no one has had time to fully read, that ignores the national crime wave & chips away instead at the fundamental rights of law abiding citizens,” he said on Twitter on June 21.
Among several key provisions, the bill would provide about $15 billion over the next five years toward expanding access to mental health programs and enhancing school security in an effort to prevent future mass shootings.
The legislation would also expand federal background checks for people between 18 to 21 who seek to buy a gun by requiring additional checks of juvenile records. This requirement would expire after 10 years, on Sept. 30, 2032, which means lawmakers would have to pass a new bill to extend it.
It would also close the so-called “boyfriend loophole.” Under the measure, convicted domestic abusers would be barred from buying guns if their victim is their romantic partner or a recent former romantic partner. The person’s right to buy a gun would be restored after five years if they do not commit any violence or felonies. Currently, convicted domestic abusers are banned from having a gun if they are married to, live with, or had children with their victims.
The bill will also help provide $750 million in funding to a grant to help enforce red flag laws in the 19 states and the District of Columbia that have them, making it easier to temporarily confiscate guns from people adjudged as a danger to themselves and others over concerns about their mental health.
While red flag laws vary from state to state, often the accused aren’t given notice of an accusation or any chance to defend themselves against the charges until after their weapons have been confiscated.
Separately, in an effort to prevent people from evading dealer licensing requirements, the bill adjusts language in the current law so that people who regularly buy and sell guns “to predominantly earn a profit” are required to register as a federal firearm licensee. With this designation, these gun sellers would be required to run background checks for transactions.
The gun control package would also strengthen penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchasing, including fines and up to 15 years in prison for violators.