The package represents the most significant new federal legislation to address gun violence since the 10-year assault weapons ban expired in 1994 – although it does not ban any weapons and falls well short of what Democrats and polls show most Americans want to see.
That is set to happen, however, after 14 Republicans voted to advance the bill in a first vote Tuesday night.
Once the Senate breaks a buccaneer, that will clear the way for a final pass vote.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has called for the bill to pass this week, though the exact timing of the final vote is yet to be determined. A final Senate vote could take place as early as Thursday if all 100 senators agree to a time deal. It will take place at the threshold of a simple majority.
The House would then have to consider the bill before it can be signed into law.
The legislation was passed following the recent and tragic mass shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, which was in a predominantly black neighborhood.
A bipartisan group of negotiators got to work in the Senate and unveiled legislation on Tuesday. The bill – titled the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act – was introduced by Republican Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
Lawmakers are now racing to pass the bill before leaving Washington for the July 4 recess.
The fact that the text of the bill has been finalized and the legislation now looks set to pass the Senate is a major victory for the negotiators who have come together to strike a deal.
Reaching bipartisan agreement on major gun legislation has been notoriously difficult for lawmakers in recent years, even in the face of countless mass shootings across the country.
“For too long, political games in Washington on both sides of the aisle have stalled progress toward protecting our communities and keeping families safe,” Sinema said Wednesday in a Senate address.
“Laying blame and trading barbs and political attacks have become the path of least resistance, but the communities across our country who have suffered senseless violence deserve better than Washington politics as usual,” said the Arizona Democrat. “Our communities deserve a commitment from their leaders to do the hard work of putting politics aside, identifying issues that need to be resolved, and working together toward common ground and common goals.”
Main provisions of the bill
This bill closes a years-old loophole in domestic violence law — the “boyfriend loophole” — that prevented those convicted of crimes of domestic violence against married partners, or partners with who they shared children or partners with whom they cohabited, to have guns. The old laws did not include intimate partners who could not live together, be married or share children. Now the law will make it illegal for anyone convicted of a crime of domestic violence against someone with whom they have a “continuing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature” to have a firearm.
The law is not retroactive. However, it will allow those convicted of domestic violence offenses to restore their gun rights after five years if they have not committed other crimes.
The bill encourages states to include minors’ records in the nation’s instant criminal background check system with grants and implements a new protocol for checking those records.
The bill targets individuals who sell guns as their primary source of income, but who have previously avoided registering as federally licensed gun dealers. It also increases funding for mental health and school safety programs.
GOP divided on bill
A split has emerged between some prominent members of the House and Senate GOP leadership.
But even with House GOP leaders opposing the bill, some House Republicans have already indicated they plan to vote for it, and the Democratic-controlled chamber should be able to pass the bill. legislation once it has been passed in the Senate.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to “get it quickly to the floor” of the House once it passes the Senate, “so that we can send it to President Biden’s office.”