The Senate passed a bipartisan bill Thursday night to tackle gun violence, representing the first major federal gun safety legislation in decades.
The final vote was 65 to 33, with 15 Republicans joining Democrats in support of the measure, marking a major breakthrough on one of the most controversial policy issues in the country. The bill will then go to the House for a vote before it can be sent to President Joe Biden for signature.
The two-pronged arms deal includes millions of dollars for mental health, school safety, crisis intervention programs and incentives for states to include juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
It also makes significant changes to the process when someone aged 18 to 21 goes to buy a firearm and closes the so-called loophole, a victory for Democrats, who have long fought for it.
The package amounts to the most significant new federal legislation to tackle gun violence since the expired 10-year assault weapons ban of 1994 — though it doesn’t ban guns and falls far short of what most Americans want to see, according to Democrats and polls.
There were a few dozen people in the Senate gallery ahead of the final vote. Senators had noted that gun violence survivors, relatives and groups were on hand to watch the historic mood in the room.
The vote on the federal gun safety law came the same day the Supreme Court rejected a New York gun law enacted more than a century ago that puts restrictions on carrying a concealed gun outdoors.
The ruling highlights the conflicting political forces surrounding the issue at all levels of government as the judiciary implements the widest expansion of gun rights in a decade, just as the legislature looks on track to deliver its most significant gun security package in nearly 30 years.
The gun safety law had moved one step closer to passage in the Senate earlier in the day after a critical vote pushed the measure forward with Republican support.
The vote was 65-34, with 15 GOP senators joining Democrats to break the filibuster. The same 15 GOP senators who voted to break the filibuster voted to approve the measure on final passage.
The GOP “yes” votes include all 10 Senate Republicans who signed up to an initial arms safety framework agreement: John Cornyn of Texas, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Four of the ten original Republican supporters are retiring this year: Blunt, Burr, Portman and Toomey.
Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who lead the GOP, also voted to break a filibuster on the bill.
Other notable GOP voices include Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Todd Young of Indiana, who were not among the 10 Republicans who initially signed up to support the framework and will be re-elected in November.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced late Thursday, after the bill passed the Senate, that the House would consider it Friday.
The legislation came in the wake of recent tragic mass shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and at a convenience store in Buffalo, New York, in a predominantly black neighborhood.
A bipartisan group of negotiators went to work in the Senate and unveiled the bill on Tuesday. The bill — titled the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act — was released by Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina and the Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy from Connecticut and Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona.
Lawmakers rushed to pass the bill before leaving for the July 4 recess.
The fact that the text of the law was final and the legislation now appears poised to pass the Senate is a major victory for the negotiators who struck a deal together.
The two-pronged effort appeared to be on thin ice after several key sticking points emerged, but in the end the negotiators were able to resolve the issues that arose. The deal marks a rare case of cross-party compromise on one of the most controversial issues in Washington — an achievement in today’s highly polarized political environment.
Reaching a bipartisan agreement on key gun laws has been notoriously difficult for lawmakers in recent years, even despite numerous mass shootings across the country.
“For too long, political games in Washington on both sides of the aisle have halted progress toward protecting our communities and keeping families safe,” Sinema said in a Senate floor speech on Wednesday.
Blaming and trading political barbs and attacks has become the path of least resistance, but the communities in our country that have experienced senseless violence deserve better than politics in Washington, as usual, said the Arizona Democrat. “Our communities deserve the dedication of their leaders to put in the hard work of putting politics aside, identifying problems to be solved, and working together toward common ground and common goals.”
The bill includes $750 million to help states implement and execute crisis intervention programs. The money can be used to implement and administer red flag programs — which can temporarily prevent individuals in crisis from accessing firearms through a court order — and for other crisis intervention programs such as mental health courts, drug courts and veterans’ courts.
This bill closes a years-old domestic violence loophole — the “boyfriend loophole” — which affects individuals convicted of domestic violence against married partners, or partners with whom they shared children or partners with whom they cohabitated. forbade having weapons. Old statutes do not include intimate partners who do not live together, are married, or share children. Now the law prohibits the possession of a gun for anyone convicted of a domestic violence crime against someone with whom they have an “ongoing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.”
The law has no retroactive effect. However, it will allow those convicted of domestic violence crimes to regain their gun rights after five years if they have not committed other crimes.
The bill encourages states to include juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System with grants and implements a new protocol for checking those records.
The bill will go after individuals who sell guns as their primary source of income, but who have previously evaded registration as federally licensed firearms dealers. It also increases funding for mental health and school security programs.
A split has developed between some prominent members of the House and Senate GOP leadership.
Senate Leader Mitch McConnell had said he supported the bipartisan arms deal. But top Republican House leaders have opposed the bill, urging their members to vote “no,” even as the Senate is on track to pass the bill this week.
But even with House GOP leaders opposing the bill, there are already some House Republicans who have indicated they intend to vote for it, and the Democrat-controlled chamber is expected to be able to pass the legislation once it is in place. the Senate passed.
“While more is needed, this package must soon become law to help protect our children,” Pelosi said in a statement.
This story and headline were updated Thursday with additional developments.