WASHINGTON — Fifteen Republican senators have joined Democrats in passing the biggest gun safety package in three decades, providing a rare moment of bipartisanship on a politically contentious issue and a much-needed victory for President Joe Biden.
The passage of the bill was a massive shift in a Republican Party that has always been a firewall against any attempt to restrict gun rights.
But the GOP’s chief negotiator for the gun deal, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said the legislation saves lives without infringing on Second Amendment rights.
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the Democrats’ chief 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 his Senate colleagues: “What are we doing? he asked during a widely shared speech.
Senators finally passed the bipartisan Safer Communities Act 65-33 Thursday night after nearly two months of heated floor debates, harrowing hearings and the influence of actor Matthew McConaughey.
“I don’t feel safe at school”: 11-year-old Uvalde survivor fears more shootings; other takeaways for the gun audition
The deal is now heading to the House, where it is expected to pass on Friday, despite House GOP leaders encouraging their members to vote against it.
However, Republican Representative Tony Gonzales, who represents Uvalde, Texas, said he would vote for the legislation.
“As a member of Congress, it is my duty to pass laws that never violate the Constitution while protecting the lives of innocent people,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “In the coming days, I look forward to voting YES on the bipartisan Safer Communities Act.”
Even without a single GOP representative, House Democrats have a majority to pass the bill without Republican support and send it to Biden. It’s a development the president can tout as an accomplishment at a time when his polls are down as Americans grow increasingly frustrated with inflation and dismal economic forecasts.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement to members late Thursday that bipartisan gun legislation would go to the rules committee first thing in the morning and then ‘we’ll head to the floor immediately’ for passage. final.
Gun legislation could hit the president’s desk tomorrow.
USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll: Biden approval rating at 39% amid economic fears; 47% “strongly disagree”
Biden and other Democrats had been pushing for a broader package than what’s included in the Senate deal, such as an assault weapons ban and restricted gun sales to anyone under 21.
But the president has repeatedly said that “the perfect should not be the enemy of the good”.
Both Democrats and Republicans got some of what they wanted in the Senate deal, including $15 billion for mental health and school safety services.
The 15 Republicans who helped push the gun bill forward include Sens. Cornyn; Mitch McConnell of Kentucky; Thom Tillis and Richard Burr of North Carolina; Susan Collins of Maine; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; Mitt Romney of Utah; Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania; Indiana’s Todd Young; Roy Blunt of Missouri; Rob Portman of Ohio; Shelley Capito of West Virginia; Bill Cassidy of Louisiana; Joni Ernst of Iowa; and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska.
The legislation will provide grants to each state to incentivize passing “red flag” laws, which allow courts to remove firearms from those deemed a threat to themselves or others. States that do not pass red flag laws can use the money for other crisis prevention programs.
The senators also approved expanded background checks of gun buyers 21 and under to include their mental health and juvenile justice records. The legislation imposes a waiting period of 10 working days for the seller and the authorities to complete the examination.
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 perpetrators of domestic violence from buying guns if they abused their spouse or partner with whom they had 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 unfortunately die at the hands of a boyfriend or ex-boyfriend who stalks them with a gun,” Murphy said.
While senators could start their two-week recess on July 4 on a high note, the gun deal is unlikely to end the gun debate anytime soon. Democrats have said they will continue to push for more reform, and Republicans are now running on the midterm issue, saying the deal unnecessarily restricts the right to own guns.
Look forward: Congress could pass a gun deal in the Senate, but a broader, tougher standoff is unlikely to move
‘Angry no matter what’: Senate gun deal leaves voters on both sides unsatisfied and frustrated
Candy Woodall is a congressional reporter for USA TODAY. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.
This coverage is only possible with the support of our readers. Sign up today for a digital subscription.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Senate Passes Historic Bipartisan Gun Deal, Gives Biden the Victory He Needed