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For the first time in decades, a bipartisan gun bill is on the move

For the first time since the early 1990s, a bill to address gun violence might actually pass Congress and be signed into law.


It was relatively early in Bill Clinton’s first term when Congress approved legislation to address gun violence, including the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act — the “Brady Bill” — that required federal background checks on many gun purchases. It was an important and popular legislative breakthrough.

It was also the last time federal lawmakers tackled the issue in earnest. Nearly three decades later, Congress is taking some additional steps in the same direction. NBC News reported:

A bipartisan group of senators overcame some last-minute hurdles and released legislative text Tuesday on a narrow set of provisions to combat gun violence, including state funding to implement “red flag” laws and enhanced background checks.

Soon after the bill was unveiled, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer quickly brought the measure to the floor for a procedural vote that formally began debate on the bill that’s now called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

That initial vote didn’t prove to be a problem: It advanced 64 to 34, with 14 Republicans voting with the Democratic majority. (This actually understated matters a little: Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey also helped negotiate the package, but he missed last night’s procedural vote. He’s expected to support the bill when it comes time for final passage.)

Of the six members who represent the Senate GOP leadership team, three — Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican Policy Committee Chairman Roy Blunt, and Republican Conference Vice Chair Joni Ernst — voted to advance the legislation.

As for the contents of the bill, much of which was negotiated by Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, there’s no denying the fact that its policy scope is relatively narrow. That said, according to the summary released by Murphy’s office, the 80-page bill 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 a bill exists, it’s on the move, and its Democratic proponents have made a compelling case that it will save lives, even if it’s not as ambitious as many reformers would like.

So what happens now? After last night’s procedural vote, the Senate appears to be on track for a final floor vote by the end of this week — which is notable in part because the chamber is scheduled to take a two-week 4th of July break.

Though circumstances may yet change, especially as far-right lobbying efforts begin in earnest, the odds are pretty good that the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will clear the 60-vote threshold and pass the Senate.

At that point, it would head to the House, which is also poised to take a break, though it’s a distinct possibility that the chamber will alter its schedule to vote on this legislation next week.

One thing to keep an eye on is the scope of the House opposition. At face value, this may seem relatively easy: There’s a House Democratic majority, and if it wants to pass a bill to address gun violence, it can.

But some notable progressive members have expressed concerns about the bill’s school-safety measures, fearing that it might increase policing and surveillance policies that could adversely affect young Black and Brown students.

 Given the narrow Democratic majority in the House, this could make final passage tricky, and dependent on at least some GOP votes. Watch this space.