The Senate on June 23 passed a bipartisan package of gun control measures after breaking a filibuster in the chamber earlier in the day.
The final Senate floor vote on the 80-page legislation, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, was 65–33. The vote had been expected to be held before a two-week July 4 recess. Earlier in the day, 15 Republicans joined all Democrats in voting to break the 60-vote filibuster threshold on the measure.
Fifteen Republicans joined all Democrats in voting for the legislation. See how each senator voted here.
The legislation comes on the heels of mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, which killed 10 people, and Uvalde, Texas, which killed 21 people, 19 of whom were children. Both shooters were 18 years old.
Lead Senate negotiators of the bill, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), said in a statement on June 21 upon releasing the text of the legislation that it would “protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country.”
Both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) support the bill.
Earlier this week, McConnell called the measure a “commonsense package” and rejected concerns of Republican members who oppose the legislation on gun rights grounds. He also said the measure will “protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”
Schumer hailed the move while suggesting more needs to be done.
“We are passing the first significant gun safety bill in nearly 30 years,” Schumer on Thursday said on the Senate floor.
“I’m pleased this moment has come and we are taking meaningful action to keep our communities safe. I hope it paves the way for future action on guns in Congress and at all levels of government. As I said, this is not a cure all for all the ways gun violence affects our nation, but it is a long overdue step in the right direction.”
Measure Likely to Pass House
In the House, the bill seems set to pass despite some GOP pushback. Top House Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), have signaled they would vote no on the measure, with Scalise saying in a whip notice that the bill is “an effort to slowly chip away at law-abiding citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who retains almost complete control over what comes to the floor, has said she expects the House to vote on the measure by the end of this week. Because simple majority rules in the Democrat-controlled chamber, the bill is likely to quickly pass the lower chamber and advance to President Joe Biden’s desk.
“This is an important piece of legislation. We’re very excited about it. It will save lives,” Pelosi said on June 22. “But we want to get it done.”
Murphy, the Democrats’ lead negotiator on the Senate bill, said in a video posted on Twitter after the vote that when Biden signs the bill into law, it will “save lives and thousands of lives.”
Cornyn, the lead Republican negotiator on the measure, said on Twitter after the vote that the bill “will save lives while placing no new restrictions on law-abiding gun owners.”
Biden praised the passage of the bill.
“Tonight, bipartisan members of Congress passed legislation to address the scourge of gun violence across America,” he said in a statement on Twitter. “Our kids and our nation will be safer because of this legislation. The House of Representatives should promptly vote and send it to my desk.”
The National Rifle Association opposed the measure, having said earlier this week that it “does little to truly address violent crime while opening the door to unnecessary burdens on the exercise of Second Amendment freedom by law-abiding gun owners.”
Gun Owners of America, another gun lobby, said on Twitter that it “will challenge these unconstitutional laws in court to defend the rights of all Americans.”
“Gun confiscation laws, gun purchase wait periods, and backdoor [universal background checks] pass the Senate 65-33 with the support of 15 Republicans,” the group said, and proceeded to name the 15 Republican senators who voted for the bill.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Miss.) had criticized the quick procedural vote on the bill, which came just an hour after the full text of the legislation was released on June 21.
“Here we are voting to move on a bill negotiated entirely behind closed doors, released only an hour ago, that no one has had time to fully read, that ignores the national crime wave & chips away instead at the fundamental rights of law abiding citizens,” he said on Twitter on June 21.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) explained in a statement on June 23 why he opposed the measure. He acknowledged that while the measure “does take some positive steps,” including providing additional funding for school safety and mental health, and increasing penalties for illegal firearms trafficking, it also impedes Americans’ constitutional rights.
“This bill wasn’t just mental health and school safety; it also created new gun limits in ways that will not solve the problem and does not protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” he said. “It incentivizes states to adopt red flag laws, which often treat individuals as guilty until proven innocent.
“The bill blocks unspent COVID money from going to arm or train security on school campuses or allowing schools to use the billions of dollars they received in the past year for school safety. Additionally, the bill, which is supposedly meant to protect children, gives an option to expand access to abortion services and abortion counseling on school campuses. Why is there an option for states to fund abortion in school health centers in a juvenile mental health and school safety bill?”
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), who voted no on the measure, said in a statement that not only does the bill infringes upon Second Amendment rights, it was also “crafted without committee input or any opportunity to offer amendments on the Senate floor to improve or meaningfully examine the provisions.”
Among several key provisions, the bill would provide about $15 billion over the next five years toward expanding access to mental health programs and enhancing school security in an effort to prevent future mass shootings.
The legislation would also expand federal background checks for people between 18 to 21 who seek to buy a gun by requiring additional checks of juvenile records. This requirement would expire after 10 years, on Sept. 30, 2032, which means lawmakers would have to pass a new bill to extend it.
It would also close the so-called “boyfriend loophole.” Under the measure, convicted domestic abusers would be barred from buying guns if their victim is their romantic partner or a recent former romantic partner. The person’s right to buy a gun would be restored after five years if they do not commit any violence or felonies. Currently, convicted domestic abusers are banned from having a gun if they are married to, live with, or had children with their victims.
The bill will also help provide $750 million in funding to a grant to help enforce red flag laws in the 19 states and the District of Columbia that have them, making it easier to temporarily confiscate guns from people adjudged as a danger to themselves and others over concerns about their mental health.
While red flag laws vary from state to state, often the accused aren’t given notice of an accusation or any chance to defend themselves against the charges until after their weapons have been confiscated.
Separately, in an effort to prevent people from evading dealer licensing requirements, the bill adjusts language in the current law so that people who regularly buy and sell guns “to predominantly earn a profit” are required to register as a federal firearm licensee. With this designation, these gun sellers would be required to run background checks for transactions.
The gun control package would also strengthen penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchasing, including fines and up to 15 years in prison for violators.
Joseph Lord contributed to this report.