Given Congress’ track record over the last few decades, it was easy to imagine the latest legislative effort to address gun violence failing. To the surprise of many, it did not, but just as surprising was the speed in which the bipartisan legislation passed.
It was on June 12 when Senate negotiators said they’d agreed to the terms of a framework. Nine days later, they finished work on the text of the bill. Two days after that, the proposal passed the Senate with relative ease, and the next day, it cleared the House.
One day later — not quite two weeks after Democratic and Republican senators shook hands on a deal — the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was signed into law. NBC News reported:
President Joe Biden signed into law the most sweeping legislation aimed at preventing gun violence in 30 years at the White House on Saturday shortly before departing for Europe for a series of meetings with world leaders. Biden called the signing of the legislation a “monumental day” and said it was proof that Democrats and Republicans could find common ground on important issues.
“God willing, it’s going to save a lot of lives,” the Democratic president added.
As for the contents of the bill, as we discussed the other day, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, much of which was negotiated by Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, includes plenty of worthwhile provisions:
- The legislation creates resources for red flag grants to every state. Those that choose not to approve red flag laws will get related funds for other crisis prevention programs.
- It closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” restricting the gun rights of non-spouse dating partners who are convicted of domestic abuse.
- It makes new investments in mental health services and school-safety measures.
- It brings new clarity to laws regarding licensed gun dealers, as a way to strengthen the existing background-check system.
- It expands the background-check system for gun buyers under 21, allowing up to three days to conduct checks, and an extra 10 days if there are signs of concern.
- It creates new criminal penalties for firearm straw purchasing.
To be sure, there are all kinds of popular ideas reformers support — universal background checks, the restoration of the assault weapons ban, bans on high-capacity magazines, et al. — that were never seriously considered in the Senate talks due to Republican opposition.
But this modest, narrowly focused bill passed, it’s likely to save lives, and it’s a breakthrough unlike anything Americans have seen in a generation.
Before we move on, however, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the White House and congressional leaders are putting together a fairly compelling list of bipartisan breakthroughs. NBC News noted in February that there’s been a “flurry of bipartisan activity” of late, and as we’ve discussed, there’s ample evidence to bolster the thesis.
In March, for example, both parties agreed on an important Postal Service Reform Act, which Biden was only too pleased to sign into law. Before that, a bill on forced arbitration was also a worthwhile breakthrough, as was the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act. The parties also reached an agreement on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, which was added to a larger spending package that passed.
What’s more, it was last fall when the president also signed into law a significant, bipartisan infrastructure package.
Are these historic bills that will help define the generation along the lines of the Voting Rights Act or the Affordable Care Act? Probably not. Did Republicans still derail all kinds of other worthwhile bipartisan proposals? Without a doubt, yes.
But for a White House eager to show that Biden and Democratic leaders can make meaningful progress on bipartisan measures that will make a difference, there’s a growing list of success stories.