Gun bill on track to pass as Senate overcomes GOP delays

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WASHINGTON — The Senate pushed a bipartisan gun violence bill to the brink Thursday by voting to stop a Republican attack on the measure, paving the way for the most far-reaching congressional response to the nation’s brutal mass shootings in decades.

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After years of GOP procedural delays that thwarted Democrats’ efforts to rein in firearms, Democrats and some Republicans have decided that congressional inaction was untenable after last month’s horrific rampages in New York and Texas. It took nearly a month of closed-door negotiations, but a bipartisan group of senators came up with an 80-page compromise that embodies a gradual but effective movement.

The measure will tighten background checks on the youngest gun buyers, keep firearms away from more domestic violence offenders, and help states implement “red flag” laws that make it easier for authorities to seize guns from people deemed dangerous. It will also fund local school safety, mental health, and violence prevention programs.

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Thursday’s roll call, which ended the conservative senators’ blockade of the GOP, was 65-34, five short of the required threshold of 60 votes. The final passage of the $13 billion measure was expected by the end of the week, followed by a vote in the House of Representatives, although the timing was unknown.

Fifteen Republicans joined all 50 Democrats, including two of their independent allies, in voting to move the bill forward.

But highlighting the risks Republicans face, challenging pro-gun party and National Rifle Association voters, Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Todd Young of Indiana were the only ones to run for reelection this fall. Of the rest, four are retiring, and eight will not appear before voters until 2026.

The election year package is a far cry from the stricter gun restrictions that Democrats have been pushing for years, including bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammo magazines used in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas. However, the deal allows the leaders of both parties to declare victory and show voters that they know how to compromise and make the government work, and leaves each side free to reach out to their core supporters.

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“This is not a panacea for all the ways in which gun violence affects our nation,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., whose party has been targeting gun control for years. “But this is a long overdue step in the right direction. It’s important, it will save lives.”

“Americans want their constitutional rights to be protected and their children to be safe in school,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, alluding to the Second Amendment right to bear arms that drives many conservative voters. “They want both at the same time, and that’s exactly what the bill presented to the Senate is supposed to achieve.”

However, while the Senate measure was a clear breakthrough, the prospects for congressional gun control to continue are dim. Only about one-third of the 50 GOP senators in the Senate backed the measure, and solid Republican opposition in the House is undeniable, and both houses—now tightly controlled by Democrats—may well be GOP-led after the November midterm elections.

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Underscoring the enduring strength of the conservative position, Thursday’s vote came minutes after the right-wing Supreme Court ruled to expand Americans’ right to bear arms in public. Their decision overturned a New York law that required people to prove the need to carry a gun before being licensed to do so.

The White House expressed support for the bill by President Joe Biden, citing his visits to Buffalo and Uvalda after the shooting.

“Family members conveyed a simple message, which the President then conveyed to the American people: Do something,” the statement said. It says that while Biden wants tighter restrictions, the bill “will make significant progress in combating gun violence.”

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The Senate action comes one month after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalda. Just 10 days earlier, a white man accused of racism had killed 10 black shoppers at a grocery store in Buffalo. Both shooters were 18 years old, a youthful profile characteristic of many mass shooters.

Negotiators were Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Kirsten Cinema of Arizona, John Cornyn of Texas, and Tom Tillis of North Carolina. Murphy represented Newtown, Connecticut when an assailant killed 20 students and six Sandy Hook Elementary School staff in 2012, while Cornyn has been involved in past gun talks since the mass shootings in his state and is close to McConnell.

The bill would make local records of minors between the ages of 18 and 20 available during mandatory federal background checks when they attempt to purchase guns. These reviews, which are currently limited to three days, will last a maximum of 10 days to give federal and local authorities time to search for records.

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People convicted of domestic violence who are current or former romantic partners of the victim will be prohibited from acquiring firearms, closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole.”

This ban currently only applies to people who are married, living with the victim, or having children with the victim. The Compromise Bill would extend this to those deemed to have had “permanent serious relationships”.

There would be money to help states enforce red flag laws and, for other states without them, for violence prevention programs. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have “red flag” laws, and Cornyn, whose state does not have them, has demanded that all states be included in the negotiations.

The measure expands the use of background checks by rewriting the definition of federally licensed gun dealers required to conduct them. Punishments for gun trafficking are tougher, billions of dollars are being allocated to psychiatric clinics and school mental health programs, and money is being allocated for school safety initiatives, but not for staff to use “dangerous weapons.”

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