Gun safety bill clears key procedural hurdle, setting up final vote in Senate
Support for the proposal had been expected. A bipartisan group of 20 senators have been negotiating a deal since mass shootings last month in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, gripped the nation.
- Debate ends on the Senate gun deal, as the legislation moves to the Senate floor
- The Senate is racing against the clock to pass it before a July 4 recess starts Friday
- Bipartisan support is expected, with an anticipated 15 or more GOP senators supporting it
WASHINGTON – A gun safety bill, the first of its kind in three decades, made it through a key procedural step Thursday, putting the measure closer to the Senate floor for a final vote.
A 65-34 vote ended debate on the the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
Support for the proposal had been expected. A bipartisan group of 20 senators has been negotiating a deal since May, when mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, gripped the nation and put pressure on lawmakers to come up with a legislative solution.
The vote came hours after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down gun restrictions in New York and amid more fallout in Uvalde, where a Texas investigator said the police response was an "abject failure."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., both support the legislation.
Schumer is racing against senators' self-imposed deadline to pass the legislation before Congress leaves Friday for a two-week holiday recess. The action Thursday keeps the Senate on track to vote on the deal before lawmakers leave for the July 4 break.
If the Senate passes the bill, it would then move to the House before being sent to President Joe Biden's desk for signature.
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But it hasn't been an easy road to get to this point. Less than a week ago, the gun deal seemed on the verge of collapse like so many attempts at reform in the past.
This week, however, lead negotiators Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, were optimistic as they inched closer to the deal they say will save lives without infringing on the rights of law-abiding Americans.
Two sticking points – "red flag" laws and the "boyfriend loophole" – were resolved Tuesday, and shortly after the bipartisan group of senators issued a joint statement to say they had reached an agreement.
"Today, we finalized bipartisan, commonsense legislation to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country," Sens. Murphy, Cornyn, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. said in the joint statement.
A key piece of the legislation expands background checks on gun buyers 21 and younger to include their mental health and juvenile justice records. It also forces a waiting period of 10 business days for the seller and authorities to complete the review.
Senators said such a review could have stopped mass shootings last month in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, as well as a 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.
The legislation also allocates $15 billion for mental health and school safety services, which Republicans wanted.
Grants would be provided to every state as an incentive to adopt "red flag" laws, which allow courts to remove firearms from those deemed a threat to themselves or others. States that do not enact red flag laws could use the money for other crisis-prevention programs, according to the legislation.
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The Senate package would close the "boyfriend loophole," a legislative gray area that leaves some women vulnerable to gun-related domestic violence.
Current law prevents domestic violence offenders from buying guns if they abused their spouses or live-in partners with whom they had children. The Senate legislation would expand the law to include "boyfriends" or partners in a current or recent relationship "of a romantic or intimate nature" who have been convicted of domestic violence.
"This provision alone is going to save the lives of so many women who unfortunately die at the hands of a boyfriend or an ex-boyfriend who hunts them down with a firearm," Murphy said.
The 15 Republicans who helped the gun bill advance include Sens. Cornyn, McConnell, Tillis, Richard Burr of North Carolina; Susan Collins of Maine; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; Mitt Romney of Utah; Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania; Todd Young of Indiana; Roy Blunt of Missouri; Rob Portman of Ohio; Shelley Capito of West Virginia; Bill Cassidy of Louisiana; Joni Ernst of Iowa and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Candy Woodall is a Congress reporter for USA TODAY. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.