- The Senate arms deal now heads to the House, where it is expected to pass.
- House Republican leaders encourage their members to vote against
- It’s a development that President Biden can tout at a time when his poll numbers are sinking.
WASHINGTON — Fifteen Republican senators joined Democrats in passing the largest gun safety package in three decades, providing a rare moment of bipartisanship on a politically divisive issue and a much-needed victory for President Joe Biden.
The passage of the bill was a massive change in a Republican Party that has always been a firewall against any attempt to restrict gun rights.
But the top Republican negotiator of the arms deal, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said the legislation saves lives without infringing on Second Amendment rights.
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the Democrats’ top negotiator, has been fighting for reform since the Newtown Elementary School mass shooting in December 2012.
His efforts were renewed last month after a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, prompted him to call out to his Senate colleagues: “What are we doing?” he asked him during a widely shared speech.
Senators finally passed the bipartisan Safer Communities Act 65-33 Thursday night after nearly two months of passionate debate, rousing hearings and the influence of actor Matthew McConaughey.
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The deal now heads to the House, where it is expected to pass on Friday, despite House Republican leaders encouraging their members to vote against it.
However, Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales, who represents Uvalde, Texas, said he will vote for the legislation.
“As a congressman, it is my duty to pass laws that never violate the Constitution while protecting innocent lives,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “In the next few days I hope to vote YES on the bipartisan Safer Communities Act.”
Even without a single Republican representative, House Democrats have the majority to pass the bill without Republican support and send it to Biden. It’s a development the president can tout as an achievement at a time when poll numbers are sinking, as Americans grow increasingly frustrated with inflation and bleak economic forecasts.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday night in a statement to members that the bipartisan gun legislation would go to the rules committee first thing in the morning and then “we will immediately go to the floor” to your final approval.
Gun legislation could land on the president’s desk tomorrow.
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Biden and other Democrats had been pushing for a broader package than is included in the Senate deal, such as a ban on assault weapons and restricted gun sales to anyone under 21.
But the president has said several times that “perfect should not be the enemy of good.”
Both Democrats and Republicans got some of what they wanted in the Senate deal, including $15 billion for mental health services and school safety.
The 15 Republicans who helped move the gun bill forward include Senators Cornyn; Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell; Thom Tillis and Richard Burr of North Carolina; Susan Collins of Maine; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; Utah’s Mitt Romney; Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania; Indiana’s Todd Young; Roy Blunt of Missouri; Rob Portman of Ohio; Shelley Capito of West Virginia; Bill Cassidy from Louisiana; Joni Ernst of Iowa; and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska.
The legislation will provide grants to all states 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 can use the money for other crisis prevention programs.
Senators also approved expanded background checks for gun buyers age 21 and younger to include their mental health and juvenile justice records. The legislation mandates a waiting period of 10 working days for the seller and the authorities to complete the review.
Such a review could have stopped mass shootings last month in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, as well as a mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, the senators said.
The legislation also closes the so-called “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 living partners with 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 sadly die at the hands of a boyfriend or ex-boyfriend who is chasing them with a gun,” Murphy said.
Although senators may start their two-week recess on July 4 on a high note, the arms deal is unlikely to end the firearms debate any time soon. Democrats have said they will continue to push for more reforms, and Republicans are now discussing the issue in the midterm elections, claiming the deal unnecessarily restricts the right to own firearms.
Looking to the future:Congress could pass an arms deal in the Senate, but a larger, more contentious stalemate is unlikely to change
‘Annoyed no matter what’:Senate arms deal leaves voters on both sides dissatisfied and frustrated
Candy Woodall is a congressional reporter for USA TODAY. You can reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.
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