Senate negotiators reached a long-awaited deal on Tuesday on a bipartisan gun safety bill to take guns away from dangerous people and provide billions of dollars in new funding for mental health.
The legislation represents a rare moment of bipartisan agreement on issues charged with gun violence and gun control, breaking nearly 30 years of deadlock on these issues.
The bill does not ban assault rifles or high-capacity magazines, or dramatically expand background check requirements for gun purchases, reforms that were top priorities for Democrats there. ten years ago.
But it gives states more resources to take guns away from dangerous individuals, even if they haven’t been convicted of a crime, and provides billions of dollars in funding for mental health treatment.
The lawmakers who crafted the legislation said their goal from the start was to prevent mass shootings, such as the mass casualty events that left 10 dead at a Buffalo supermarket and 21 dead at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
“I want to make sure we’re actually doing something useful, something that’s capable of becoming law, something that will have the potential to save lives,” Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) said Tuesday. chief Republican negotiator in the Senate. .
“I am happy to report that, thanks to the hard work of a number of senators in this chamber, we have made serious progress,” he said.
Senators and staff worked through the weekend and said Tuesday afternoon they had resolved all outstanding disagreements, giving Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) a fair chance to to pass a bill before the July 4 holiday.
Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.), the top Democratic negotiator, hailed the bill as a major step forward.
“I believe this week we will pass legislation that will become the most significant gun violence legislation Congress has passed in 30 years. It’s a breakthrough and, more importantly, it’s a bipartisan breakthrough,” he said.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (RS.D.) said Tuesday that the legislation is likely to pass because 10 Republican senators have already endorsed the framework of principles on which the bill is based.
“My guess is that based on the fact that they got 60 votes for the framework that they will have enough to pass,” he said.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said last week he would likely vote for the bill, giving it at least 61 votes, enough to overcome a filibuster.
Negotiators broke a deadlock over language to close the so-called boyfriend loophole, which bogged down talks last week.
Current law prohibits individuals from purchasing firearms if they are convicted of a domestic violence offense against someone they were married to, lived with, or had a child. Closing the loophole would apply this law to other romantic or intimate partners.
Under the boyfriends loophole reform, first-time domestic violence offenders would be allowed to own a firearm five years after serving their sentence, provided they are not convicted of no other violent crimes during this period.
Lawmakers have sparred over whether to establish a similar restitution process to allow spouses, ex-spouses, cohabitants and partners who share children convicted of domestic violence offenses to reclaim their gun rights. .
But Democrats have refused to expand the gun rights restitution process to a broader group.
Negotiators raced to finalize the legislative text amid signs of growing Republican opposition.
Cornyn was booed at the Texas Republican Convention on Friday when he tried to explain his efforts to push back against Democratic calls for an assault weapons ban and universal background checks.
But even the modest proposal to give states money to administer red flag laws and other emergency response procedures is drawing heavy criticism from some prominent conservatives, including the host from Fox News, Tucker Carlson.
“Red flag laws won’t end mass shootings, but red flag laws will end due process,” Carlson warned on Fox. “Under red flag laws, the government does not have to prove that you have done anything wrong to deprive yourself of your most basic rights. All it takes to punish you is a complaint.
Conservative radio host and pundit Erick Erickson warned this month “that such laws are going to start being used to attack people for their political views”.
The legislation would provide money for states to administer so-called red flag laws and other response procedures to keep guns away from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others.
The senators who drafted the language say there would be a speedy arbitration process to give gun owners a chance to challenge and defeat a court order stripping them of their guns.
“Unless a person is convicted of a crime or found to have a mental illness, their ability to purchase a firearm will not be affected by this legislation,” Cornyn explained to his colleagues during a speech.
Cornyn pointed out that if states do not put in place red flag laws with due process protections, they will not be eligible for federal grants.
Some Republican senators, however, say they are still reluctant to spend federal money to help states administer red flag laws.
“This is a significant issue,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who said he heard the concerns of military veterans.
Some critics of the proposal fear veterans’ mental health records will be used to strip them of their guns.
The bill would also invest more than $7 billion in mental health services, increase funding for school-based mental health and support services, and invest in programs to strengthen safety measures around elementary schools and schools. secondary.
This would improve the background check process for gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 21 by allowing greater access to juvenile delinquency records, clarifying the definition of gun dealers to include people who sell a large number of firearms without a federal firearms license and cracking down on illegal activities. arms trafficking.
Cornyn noted that the enhanced background check process for people under 21 would be controlled by states.
The provision is set to expire after 10 years, meaning Congress would have to pass new legislation in 2032 to give the nation’s instant criminal background check system access to juvenile delinquency records.
One of the latest sticking points within the group was how to apply Hyde Amendment language in the bill to ensure that federal funding would not pay for abortions.
Cornyn said the debate over Hyde’s language was resolved by ensuring it applied to the bill’s mandatory spending.
“There was concern. Hyde already covers discretionary expenses, but some of this potentially involved mandatory expenses, which were not covered. But I know we’ve resolved this in a way that maintains Hyde’s wards,’ he said.
This story was last updated at 6:08 p.m.