Bipartisan Gun Bill Clears Initial Vote in Senate

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday lifted the first hurdle to passage of a bipartisan measure to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, agreeing to pass a compromise bill whose enactment would end a Year-long stalemate on federal legislation to address gun violence.

While the bill falls short of the sweeping gun control measures Democrats have long demanded, its approval would be the most significant action in decades to overhaul the nation’s gun laws. The 64-34 vote came just hours after Republicans and Democrats released the text of the legislation, and after days of feverish negotiations to hammer out the details.

Supporters hope to pass it by Saturday, and Democratic leaders have put it on a fast track on the normally slow Senate floor.

The 80-page bill, titled the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, would improve background checks, give authorities up to 10 business days to review the mental and juvenile health records of gun buyers under the age of 21, and is reportedly directing millions to help states implement so-called Red Flag laws, which allow authorities to temporarily confiscate firearms from people deemed dangerous, as well as other intervention programs.

The measure would also ensure, for the first time, that serious romantic partners are included in a federal law that prohibits domestic abusers from buying guns, a longstanding priority that has eluded gun safety advocates. fire for years.

The senators agreed to provide millions of dollars to expand mental health resources in communities and schools in addition to funds dedicated to improving school safety. In addition, the legislation would toughen penalties for those who evade licensing requirements or make illegal “straw” purchases, buy and then sell guns to people banned from buying handguns.

The voting margin — and early support from top leaders of both parties — indicated the measure has more than enough support to hit the 60-vote threshold needed to break a Republican filibuster that has thwarted such legislation in the past and make it final. passing in the next few days.

Fourteen Republicans, including Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Minority Leader, joined Democrats in pushing the bill forward. Two Republican senators were absent; one of them, Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, announced his support in a statement.

Supporters hoped to secure final Senate approval for the legislation before the planned July 4 recess, with the House expected to follow suit quickly. The National Rifle Association almost immediately announced its opposition, and the vast majority of elected Republicans sided with it.

But both Senate leaders were quick to issue statements of public support, suggesting that public sentiment for tougher gun laws, especially in the wake of recent mass shootings, had finally broken through in Congress. McConnell called the bill “a popular, common-sense package of measures that will help make these horrific incidents less likely while fully respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said he expected the legislation to pass by the end of the week.

“This bipartisan gun safety legislation is progress and will save lives,” he said ahead of the vote. “Although that’s not all we want, this legislation is urgently needed.

The wave of negotiations has been spurred by two mass shootings in the past two months: an elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two teachers dead, and a racist attack that killed 10 Blacks in a Buffalo supermarket. The human devastation has brought the issue of gun violence back to the fore on Capitol Hill, where years of efforts to enact gun restrictions in the wake of such assaults have failed amid Republican opposition.

Since 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats announced their agreement to a bipartisan plan less than two weeks ago, the main negotiators – Senators Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both Democrats, and John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, both Republicans — have spent hours ironing out the details and working hard to hold their fragile coalition together.

“Today we finalized bipartisan, common sense legislation to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence in our country,” the four senators said in a statement. “Our legislation will save lives and will not infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans. We look forward to winning broad bipartisan support and passing our common sense legislation into law.

The talks had teetered on the brink of failure several times in the past week as lawmakers, in late-night meetings and calls, wrestled with how to translate their plan into law. The group spent the three-day weekend haggling over the details.

The title of the bill reflected this careful negotiation – in particular, it emphasized “safety”, not specific limits on an individual’s right to own or purchase a firearm. This was consistent with how Republicans discussed the framework agreement, highlighting all of the Democrats’ efforts to limit access to guns which they managed to exclude from the final bill.

In its final form, much of the bill’s spending was dedicated to investing in mental health, according to a summary reviewed by The New York Times. It includes $60 million over five years to provide mental and behavioral health training for primary care clinicians, $150 million to support the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and $240 million over four years. for Project AWARE, a program that focuses on mental health support for school children, $28 million of which is earmarked for trauma care in schools.

Two provisions have proven particularly tricky over the past few days of talks: whether to extend funds for implementing red flag laws to states that don’t have such laws, and how exactly to define a boyfriend. or an intimate partner, as lawmakers sought to close what has come to be known as the “boyfriend loophole.”

Current law only prohibits domestic abusers who have been married or lived with the victim, or had a child with them, from purchasing a firearm. Lawmakers expanded the definition to include “a current or recent romantic relationship with the victim”, although the change cannot be applied retroactively.

Negotiators also agreed to allow dating partners convicted of a misdemeanor to regain the right to buy a firearm after five years, provided they are first-time offenders and not convicted of a crime. ‘no other misdemeanor or violent offense.

And lawmakers agreed to allow states to access federal funds either to implement red flag laws or to support what Mr. Cornyn described as “crisis response programs,” including programs related to mental health courts, drug courts and veterans courts.

The bill will be funded by delaying the implementation of a health insurance rule approved under former President Donald J. Trump that would limit hidden discounts negotiated between drug companies and insurers.

A majority of Senate Republicans still oppose the measure, arguing that it infringes the rights of gun owners. Over the weekend, Republicans in Texas booed Mr. Cornyn and decided to formally “reprimand” him and eight other Republicans for their role in the negotiations.

Some progressive Democrats, particularly in the House, where they have proposed far more ambitious gun reform legislation, have expressed discomfort with the idea of ​​’toughening up’ schools or further stigmatizing health struggles. mental.

But gun safety activists and groups like the NAACP, which support more sweeping gun legislation, said they would support it in an effort to address at least some aspects of a crisis that seized the country.

“When schoolchildren, churchgoers and grocery shoppers are slaughtered, the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good,” NAACP president Derrick Johnson said in a statement.

“This bipartisan legislation meets the most important test: it will save lives,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement. “We are now one big step closer to breaking the 26-year impasse that has blocked congressional action to protect Americans from gun violence.”

Margot Sanger Katz contributed report.

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