The Senate on Thursday easily passed a bipartisan gun violence bill that seemed unthinkable just a month ago, securing final approval for what will be Congress’ most sweeping response in decades to the country’s series of brutal mass shootings.
After years of GOP procedural delays that derailed Democratic efforts to curb firearms, Democrats and 15 Republicans decided that Congressional inaction was untenable after last month’s frenzy in Buffalo and in Uvalde, Texas. It took weeks of talks behind closed doors, but negotiators from both sides came forward with a compromise that embodied an incremental but impactful move to curb bloodshed that has regularly shocked the nation — but no longer surprises.
The $13 billion measure would tighten background checks for the youngest gun buyers, protect firearms from more perpetrators of domestic violence and help states enact warning laws that would make it easier for authorities to take guns from people deemed dangerous. It would also fund local school safety, mental health and violence prevention programs.
The election-year package fell short of tougher gun restrictions that Democrats have sought and thwarted Republicans for years, including a ban on the assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines used in the Buffalo and Uvalde murders. Still, the accord allowed leaders of both parties to declare victory and demonstrate to voters that they know how to compromise and make government work, while also leaving room for each party to appeal to its most important supporters.
“This is not a panacea for all the ways gun violence affects our nation,” said Senate Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.), whose party has made gun restrictions its goal for decades. “But it’s a long-awaited step in the right direction.”
Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in a nod to the Second Amendment right to bear arms that drives many conservative voters, said “the American people want their constitutional rights to be protected and their children safe in school.” .” He said, “They want both things at once, and that’s exactly what the Senate bill will have accomplished.”
The day proved bittersweet for proponents of curbing gun violence. Underscoring the enduring power of conservative cIout, the right-wing Supreme Court issued a decision to extend Americans’ right to bear guns in public by repealing a New York law requiring people to prove they must carry a gun before they are licensed to carry a weapon. to do.
McConnell praised the judges’ decision and the Senate’s approval of the gun bill as “additional victories that will make our country freer and safer at the same time.”
The Senate vote on the final passage was 65-33. A group of House Democrats who attended the backroom vote included Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), whose 17-year-old son was shot dead in 2012 by a man who complained that his music was too loud.
In the main roll call earlier, Senators voted 65-34 to end a filibuster by conservative GOP senators. That was five more than the 60-vote threshold required. The House was scheduled to vote on the measure Friday, and approval seemed certain.
On both votes, 15 Senate Republicans backed all 50 Democrats, including their two allied independents, to support the legislation.
Still, the votes highlighted the risks Republicans face in defying the party’s pro-gun voters and gun groups like the National Rifle Association. Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Todd Young of Indiana were the only two of the 15 to be re-elected this fall. Of the rest, four will retire and eight will not have to deal with voters until 2026.
Tellingly, GOP senators who voted “no” were potential 2024 presidential candidates, such as Texas’s Ted Cruz, Missouri’s Josh Hawley, and South Carolina’s Tim Scott. Some of the party’s most conservative members also voted ‘no’, including Sens. Rand Paul from Kentucky and Mike Lee from Utah.
While the Senate move was a clear breakthrough, the prospects for a continuation of Congress’ move on gun ownership are bleak.
Less than a third of the Senate’s 50 GOP senators supported the measure, and solid Republican opposition is certainly in the House. Top House Republicans urged a “no” vote in an email from No. 2 GOP leader, Rep. Louisiana’s Steve Scalise, who called the bill “an effort to slowly take away 2nd amendment rights from law-abiding citizens.”
Both chambers — now closely controlled by Democrats — could well be run by the GOP after November’s midterm elections.
In a statement, President Biden said residents of Uvalde told him during his visit that Washington needed to act. “Our children in schools and our communities will be safer because of this legislation. I call on Congress to get the job done and get this bill on my desk,” Biden said.
The Senate action came a month after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde. Just days before that, a white man was accused of racism when he murdered 10 black grocery stores in Buffalo. Both gunmen were 18 years old, a youthful profile shared by many mass shooters, and the brief timing of the two massacres and victims many could identify with sparked a demand from voters for action, lawmakers from both parties said.