US Senate sets gridlock aside, passes first gun-control bill in nearly 30 years

The Senate approved the measure Thursday by 65-33. Fifteen Republicans — a remarkably high number for a party that has derailed gun curbs for years — joined all 50 Democrats, including their two independent allies, in approving the bill

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Friday, June 24, 2022, 11:50 AM IST
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Representative Image | Stephanie Frey/Fotolia

The US Senate has approved a bipartisan gun violence bill that seemed unthinkable just a month ago, clearing the way for final congressional approval of what will be lawmakers’ most far-reaching response in decades to mass shootings.

The Senate approved the measure Thursday by 65-33. Fifteen Republicans — a remarkably high number for a party that has derailed gun curbs for years — joined all 50 Democrats, including their two independent allies, in approving the bill.

The House was set to vote on the $13 billion package Friday, exactly one month after a gunman massacred 19 students and two teachers at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school. Just days before that, a white man motivated by racism allegedly killed 10 Black grocery shoppers in Buffalo, New York.

The two slaughters — days apart and victimizing helpless people for whom the public felt immediate empathy — prompted both parties to conclude that Congress had to act, especially in an election year.

After weeks of closed-door talks, Senate bargainers from both parties produced a compromise taking mild but impactful steps toward making such mayhem less likely.

Significant, but not enough

Although significant, the proposals fall far short of what many Democrats and activists have called for.

The reforms include tougher background checks for buyers younger than 21 and $15bn in federal funding for mental health programs and school security upgrades.

It also calls for funding to encourage states to implement "red flag" laws to remove firearms from people considered a threat. And it closes the so-called "boyfriend loophole" by blocking gun sales to those convicted of abusing unmarried intimate partners.

While the bill was noteworthy for its contrast with years of stalemate in Washington, it falls far short of more robust gun restrictions Democrats have sought and Republicans have thwarted for years. Those included bans on the assault-type weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines used in the slayings in Buffalo and Uvalde.

Yet the accord let both parties’ Senate leaders declare victory and demonstrate to voters that they know how to compromise and make government work, while also leaving room for each side to appeal to its core supporters.

“This is not a cure-all for the all the ways gun violence affects our nation,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., whose party has made gun restrictions a goal for decades. “But it is a long overdue step in the right direction.”

Historic move

The bill is also significant because it is the first time in decades that proposed reforms have received this level of support from both Democrats and Republicans. Historically, efforts to strengthen US gun laws have been blocked by the Republican party.

The last time the US passed a significant bill on gun control was the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act or Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB), a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a United States federal law which included a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms that were defined as assault weapons as well as certain ammunition magazines that were defined as large capacity.

The 10-year ban was passed by the U.S. Congress on August 25, 1994 and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994.

The ban applied only to weapons manufactured after the date of the ban's enactment. It expired on September 13, 2004, in accordance with its sunset provision. Several constitutional challenges were filed against provisions of the ban, but all were rejected by the courts.

There were multiple attempts to renew the ban, but none succeeded.

(with inputs from agencies)

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