US senators late Thursday introduced a bipartisan bill to address the epidemic of gun violence plaguing the country, approving a narrow package of new gun restrictions and billions of dollars in funding for mental health and school safety.
The reforms — which will almost certainly be approved by the House of Representatives Friday — fail to meet the demands of gun-security advocates and President Joe Biden, but have been hailed after nearly 30 years as a life-saving breakthrough from Congressional inaction.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was supported by all 50 Democratic senators and 15 Republicans, includes improved background checks for buyers under 21, $11 billion in mental health funding and $2 billion for school safety programs.
It also provides funding to encourage states to implement “red flag” laws to remove firearms from people deemed a threat.
And it closes the so-called “friend” loophole, under which domestic abusers could avoid a ban on buying firearms if they were not married to or living with their victim.
“Tonight the United States Senate is doing something many thought was impossible even a few weeks ago: we pass the first major gun safety law in nearly 30 years,” said Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. after the legislation was passed.
“The gun safety law we pass tonight can be described with three adjectives: bipartisan, common sense, life-saving.”
His Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell said the legislation would make America safer “without making our country a little less free.”
“This is a common sense package. The provisions are very popular. It contains no new restrictions, no new waiting periods, no mandates and no prohibitions of any kind for law-abiding gun owners.”
The National Rifle Association and many Republicans in both houses of Congress opposed the bill, but it is endorsed by advocacy groups working in the areas of policing, domestic violence and mental illness.
The Senate and House are on a two-week recess starting next week, but the Democrat-controlled House is expected to pass the Senate bill with little drama before members leave town Friday night.
The breakthrough is the work of a cross-party group of senators who have been working out the details and resolving disputes for weeks.
Lawmakers had been scrambling to complete negotiations quickly enough to capitalize on the momentum generated by the deadly shooting of 19 children in Uvalde, Texas and of 10 black people at a convenience store in Buffalo, New York. both last month.
Chris Murphy, the senator who led the negotiations for the Democrats, praised a “historic day.”
“This will be the most significant piece of anti-gun violence Congress has passed in three decades,” he said on the Senate floor.
“This bill also has a chance to prove to the weary American public that democracy is not so broken, that it is capable of rising to the moment.”
The last major federal gun control legislation was passed in 1994, introducing a national background check system and prohibiting the civilian use of assault rifles and large-capacity ammunition clips.
But it came to an end ten years later, and there has been no serious reform movement since then, despite increasing gun violence.
Biden had pushed for more substantial reforms, including a reinstatement of the ban on assault rifles — used in both the Texas and New York shootings — and high-capacity magazines.
But the political challenge of passing laws in a 50-50 Senate, where most bills require 60 votes to pass, means more sweeping reforms are unrealistic.
“The morning after the tragedy in Uvalde, the United States Senate was faced with a choice,” Schumer added.
“We can surrender to a stalemate… Or we can choose to try to forge a two-pronged path forward to pass a real bill, no matter how difficult that seemed to many.”
The vote came as a boon to gun safety activists hours after they were stunned by a Supreme Court ruling that Americans have a fundamental right to carry a gun in public.
The 6-3 decision overturned a more than 100-year-old law in New York that required a person to prove they had a legitimate need for self-defense in order to be licensed to carry a concealed gun outdoors.
(This story was not edited by DailyExpertNews staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)