Senate passes 1st major gun law in 25 years, sending it to the House for quick approval

Chris Murphy
(Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Senate passed a bipartisan gun safety bill Thursday night aimed mainly at keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people. The 65-33 vote, with 15 Republicans joining all 48 Democrats and two independents, sends the package to the House, where it is expected to pass Friday. President Biden said he looks forward to signing the bill when it arrives at his desk. "Families in Uvalde and Buffalo, and too many tragic shootings before, have demanded action. And tonight, we acted," he said. "Kids in schools and communities will be safer because of it."

The legislation was pieced together by four senators — Democrats Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Republicans John Cornyn (Texas) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) — after one 18-year-old gunman murdered 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, and another 18-year-old gunman murdered 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. Its scope is much more modest than most Democrats would have preferred, but it is the first significant gun safety legislation likely to pass since the mid-1990s.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act would add juvenile records to background checks for prospective gun buyers 18 to 21 and give authorities 10 days to check for disqualifying material; close the "boyfriend loophole" by including current and recent dating partners to a federal law preventing gun sales to convicted domestic abusers; provide grant money to incentivize states to enact "red flag" laws; create new federal crimes targeting gun trafficking and straw purchases; and provide funds for mental health services and school security.

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The $13 billion bill is backed by law enforcement groups, gun safety advocates, and mental health organizations. The National Rifle Association came out against the bill on Monday. Of the 15 GOP senators who voted yes, only two — Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Todd Young (Ind.) — are up for re-election this year; four are retiring, and eight don't face voters again until 2026. Thirteen of the 15 have A or A+ ratings from the NRA.

"We worked with the NRA, listened to their concerns, but in the end I think they simply — they have a membership and a business model that will not allow them to support any legislation," Cornyn said Wednesday night. "And so I understand where they're coming from, but I think most people will not allow any outside group to veto good public policy."

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