WASHINGTON — The Senate is debating a bipartisan bill to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, a compromise that could lead to the most significant gun safety legislation in decades.
The bipartisan Safer Communities Act, written by a small group of Republicans and Democrats after successive mass shootings, will increase background checks on gun buyers aged 18 to 21 and encourage states to pass red flag laws. which allow the temporary confiscation of firearms from people deemed dangerous and provide hundreds of millions of dollars for mental health and school safety. It would also extend dating partners to federal law prohibiting domestic abusers from buying guns.
Thursday’s test vote showed the measure has more than enough support to get it through the evenly divided Senate after 15 Republicans crossed party lines to support its consideration, pushing it past the filibuster. The final vote on the adoption is expected on Thursday evening.
The 80-page bill falls short of the toughest gun control measures Democrats have long sought, but passing it would still be a significant breakthrough after years of congressional stalemate on gun violence in the United States. To defeat the Republicans, the Democrats had to abandon some of their broader proposals, many of which passed the House of Representatives but were stalled in the Senate by Republican opposition.
Here is a look at what is on the bill and what is not taken into account.
Improved background checks for young gun buyers
Records of minors, including those relating to mental health, will be required for the first time when checking the criminal history of potential gun buyers under the age of 21, and the authorities will have more time to conduct checks – 10 days compared to the current three.
Under the law, federal authorities will have to check with local law enforcement and review state records to determine if a potential buyer has a criminal or juvenile mental health history that disqualifies them from buying guns. If they found such a tape, they would turn it over to the FBI for further investigation.
What was missing: The proposal falls far short of a law passed by the House of Representatives that bans those under the age of 21 from buying semi-automatic weapons.
Democrats also agreed to allow the extended background verification requirement for young buyers to expire after 10 years, leaving future Congresses to haggle over whether to renew it. A similar “terminate” provision allowed the federal assault weapons ban enacted in 1994 to expire in 2004, to the dismay of Democrats, who were never able to garner enough support to renew it.
And there is a limit to how long authorities can go back to a buyer’s mental health history; such records before the potential buyer was 16 years of age could not disqualify him from buying the gun.
Incentives for States to Implement Red Flag Laws
The bill will provide $750 million in federal money to states that pass so-called red flag laws, which allow guns to be temporarily confiscated from people a judge deems dangerous. Funding designed to stimulate the adoption of such measures will also support the creation of court crisis intervention programs.
What was missing: The Democrats wanted to go further than stimulating the states and enact a federal red flag measure passed in the House of Representatives that would allow guns to be taken from anyone a federal judge deems dangerous.
Closing the “loophole for boyfriend”
One of the final stumbling blocks in the bill was a provision to tighten federal law that would ban domestic violence from holding guns. This would expand the current law, which prohibits people convicted of domestic violence or subject to a domestic violence restraining order from purchasing guns. The current law only applies to people who are married to or lived with the victim, or who have a child with her.
The law would cover other intimate partners, closing what has become known as the “boyfriend loophole.”
What was missing: The Democrats wanted a complete ban, but in negotiations with the Republicans, they agreed to allow some offenders to restore the ability to buy guns. If a person commits a crime for the first time and the crime is a violent misdemeanor, the ban is lifted five years after the end of his criminal sentence, if he did not commit further violent crimes. The negotiators also agreed not to retroactively enforce the provision, yielding to yet another Republican demand.
Funding for mental health and school safety
The bill would provide billions of dollars to schools and communities to expand mental health programs. Funding is also aimed at making schools safer. The bill allocates $300 million over five years to anti-violence school safety programs that will fund school resource specialists and strengthen school safety. In addition, funding will be used to train school staff and adults who interact with minors to respond to mental health issues.
What was missing: Republicans insisted that the cost of the bill be as low as possible. In total, the measure will cost $13.2 billion.
Tougher penalties for illegal purchases
The bill would hit “sham buyers” or people who buy guns for those who don’t qualify. No current law specifically prohibits these buyers or arms trafficking, so prosecutors have relied on people who make false claims in connection with the acquisition of weapons.
The bill provides for penalties of up to 15 years in prison, or up to 25 years if the firearm is used in connection with serious criminal activity such as drug trafficking or terrorism. It will also provide resources to help prevent and investigate these purchases.
What was missing: The bill does not include broader measures to introduce universal background checks or ban the sale of large-volume magazines. The Republicans also said they refuse to consider any mandatory waiting period for gun sales or a license requirement to purchase assault weapons.
Annie Carney made a report.