The Senate vote on final passage was 65-33. A cluster of House Democrats who watched the vote in the chamber’s rear included Democrat Lucy McBath, whose 17-year old son was shot to death in 2012 by a man complaining his music was too loud.
In the key roll-call hours earlier, senators voted 65-34 to end a filibuster by conservative Republican senators. That was five more than the 60-vote threshold needed. The House planned to vote on the measure Friday and approval seemed certain.
On both votes, 15 Senate Republicans joined all 50 Democrats, including their two allied independents, in backing the legislation.
Yet the votes highlighted the risks Republicans face by defying the party’s pro-gun voters and firearms groups like the National Rifle Association. Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Todd Young of Indiana were the only two of the 15 up for reelection this fall. Of the rest, four are retiring and eight don’t face voters until 2026.
Tellingly, Republican senators voting “no” included potential 2024 presidential contenders such as Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Tim Scott of South Carolina. Some of the party’s most conservative members voted “no” as well, including Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah.
While the Senate measure was a clear breakthrough, the outlook for continued congressional movement on gun curbs is dim.
Less than one-third of the Senate’s 50 Republicans senators backed the measure and solid Republican opposition is certain in the House. Top House Republicans urged a “no” vote in an email from the Number 2 leader, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, that called the bill “an effort to slowly chip away at law-abiding citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights”.
Both chambers — now narrowly controlled by Democrats — could well be run by the Republicans after November’s midterm elections.
In a statement, President Joe Biden said Uvalde residents told him when he visited that Washington had to act. “Our kids in schools and our communities will be safer because of this legislation. I call on Congress to finish the job and get this bill to my desk,” Biden said.
Senate action came one month after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde. Just days before that, a white man was accused of being motivated by racism as he killed 10 Black grocery shoppers in Buffalo. Both shooters were 18 years old, a youthful profile shared by many mass shooters, and the close timing of the two slaughters and victims with whom many could identify stirred a demand by voters for action, lawmakers of both parties said.
The talks were led by Democrat senators Chris Murphy and Kyrsten Sinema, and Republicans John Cornyn, and Thom Tillis. Murphy represented Newtown, Connecticut, when an assailant killed 20 students and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, while Cornyn has been involved in past gun talks following mass shootings in his state and is close to McConnell.
Murphy said the measure would save thousands of lives and was a chance to “prove to a weary American public that democracy is not so broken that it is unable to rise to the moment”.
“I don’t believe in doing nothing in the face of what we saw in Uvalde” and elsewhere, Cornyn said.
The bill would make the local juvenile records of people age 18 to 20 available during required federal background checks when they attempt to buy guns. Those examinations, currently limited to three days, would last up to a maximum of 10 days to give federal and local officials time to search records.
People convicted of domestic abuse who are current or former romantic partners of the victim would be prohibited from acquiring firearms, closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole”.
That ban currently only applies to people married to, living with or who have had children with the victim. The compromise bill would extend that to those considered to have had “a continuing serious relationship”.
There would be money to help states enforce red flag laws and for other states without them that for violence prevention programs. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have such laws.
The measure expands the use of background checks by rewriting the definition of the federally licensed gun dealers required to conduct them. Penalties for gun trafficking are strengthened, billions of dollars are provided for behavioral health clinics and school mental health programs and there’s money for school safety initiatives, though not for personnel to use a “dangerous weapon”.
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