Senate passes most sweeping gun bill in decades, setting up House vote

Dominick Reuter

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday night passed the most sweeping gun bill designed to prevent gun violence in decades, a major victory for advocates and a rare defeat for the National Rifle Association.

The vote was 65 to 33, with all 50 Democratic-voting members and 15 Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, voting to send the bill to the House for a vote expected Friday.

“The United States Senate is doing something many believed was impossible even a few weeks ago. We are passing the first significant gun safety bill in nearly 30 years,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said immediately before the vote. “The gun safety bill we are passing tonight can be described with three adjectives: bipartisan, commonsense, lifesaving.”

The measure would offer grants to states for “red flag” laws and crisis prevention programs. It would enhance background checks for people ages 18 to 21, opening the door to access to juvenile records. It also seeks to close the “boyfriend loophole” by keeping guns away from non-spouse dating partners convicted of abuse, with caveats to restore their access under certain circumstances.

In addition, the legislation would clarify which sellers are required to register as firearm licensees, which would require them to conduct background checks on potential buyers. And it would toughen penalties for gun trafficking.

The bipartisan package now goes to the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., vowed in a statement Thursday that she will bring the "life-saving legislation" to a floor vote Friday and "send the bill to President Biden" for his signature.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said: "Shooting after shooting, murder after murder, suicide after suicide — for 30 years, Congress stood in its political corners and did nothing. But not this time. This will become the most significant piece of anti-gun-violence legislation Congress has passed in three decades."

Murphy negotiated the modest collection of policies with Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

"I'm encouraged about how much common ground we were able to find," Cornyn said. "People who've suffered unthinkable losses in some of these mass shootings incidents. But I want to tell them that their advocacy has turned their pain into something positive."

The NRA opposed the bill, arguing that it "falls short at every level."

"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," the group said in a statement.

In recent days, numerous GOP supporters sought to debunk right-wing claims that the legislation would curtail Second Amendment rights, vowing it would preserve gun rights for law-abiding Americans and that it would go only after criminals.

"If you're pro-Second Amendment, you should be for this bill," said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.

The Senate voted the same day the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution provides a right to carry a gun outside the home, delivering a major win for the NRA.

President Joe Biden, who as a senator helped craft gun laws in the 1990s, said he is looking forward to signing the measure into law.

"I am glad to see Congress has moved significantly closer to finally doing something — passing bipartisan legislation that will help protect Americans," he said in a statement after the bill cleared a key test vote earlier Thursday. "Our kids in schools and our communities will be safer because of this legislation. I call on Congress to finish the job and get this bill to my desk."

In a separate statement, the White House said the legislation "would be one of the most significant steps Congress has taken to reduce gun violence in decades, giving our law enforcement and prosecutors new tools to prosecute gun traffickers."

Cornyn emphasized the limitation of the boyfriend loophole policy.

“Unless someone is convicted of domestic abuse under their state laws, their gun rights will not be impacted,” he said this week. “Those who are convicted of non-spousal misdemeanor domestic abuse — not felony, but misdemeanor domestic violence — will have an opportunity after five years to have their Second Amendment rights restored. But they have to have a clean record.”

The negotiations were prompted by mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, that killed a combined 31 people, including 19 schoolchildren. The shootings were 10 days apart, and there have been more mass shootings since then.