The Senate passed federal gun control for the first time in many years after hours of debate Thursday night. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act now goes to the House, where it’s expected to shortly thereafter be sent on to President Biden to be signed into law. Those who opposed did so vociferously – but after Wednesday’s procedural vote, this outcome was all but a foregone conclusion.
In addition to obligating several billion dollars to mental health resources – and, as amended, renaming a couple of federal buildings – the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act grows the list of restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms in a few ways. It allows the federal government to use tax money to pay states to implement red-flag laws. Though no nationwide red-flag law has made it through Congress, this $750 million grant program aims to achieve the same practical outcome by effectively bribing the states – much as was done in the Reagan era to make all 50 states raise the drinking age to 21. It also expands background checks for any prospective firearm purchaser aged 18, 19, or 20. In addition to an adult criminal record, for these would-be buyers, a juvenile record might well disqualify them – as could any documented mental health issues. And the third way the Act further restricts the right to keep and bear arms is in expanding the list of prohibited persons. In “closing the boyfriend loophole,” this bill would open up those convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse against “dating partners” to the loss of Second Amendment rights.
Despite sufficient GOP support being evident before even the first votes, the remaining Republicans fought a hard fight. The Act overcame the first procedural hurdle Wednesday with the support of 14 Republicans. By noon Thursday, 65 senators – including 15 Republicans – voted to invoke cloture and end the Republican filibuster. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) did try to amend the bill, as he promised he would, but to no avail. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) proposed an amendment to replace the bill entirely with one of his own, which he said might actually save lives – but, just as Paul before him, his pleas fell on deaf ears. Those committed to passing the Act as well as those determined to defeat it had their minds made up already.
At 9:42 pm, June 23, 15 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats, for a final vote of 65-33. The Republicans who signed on were Roy Blunt (MO), Richard Burr (NC), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Bill Cassidy (LA), Susan Collins (ME), John Cornyn (TX), Joni Ernst (IA), Lindsey Graham (SC), Mitch McConnell (KY), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), Mitt Romney (UT), Thom Tillis (NC), Pat Toomey (PA), and Todd Young (IN). Tom Cotton of Arkansas and North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer didn’t vote, and the remaining 33 Republicans opposed.
While this bill falls well short of the gun control most Democrats actually hoped for, they seem happy to have even this much – for now, at least. “This is not a cure-all for the ways gun violence affects our nation, but it is a long-overdue step in the right direction,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on the floor just before the vote.
“This bipartisan legislation will help protect Americans,” President Biden said following the vote. “Kids in schools and communities will be safer because of it. The House of Representatives should promptly vote on this bipartisan bill and send it to my desk.”
And that’s precisely what the House stands ready to do.
Democrats had hoped to have this enshrined as the law of the land by Independence Day, and it seems now they’re most likely to get it before this weekend. Most House Republicans are expected to unite against it – but rumor has it that at least a handful will support the Act. Some few progressives dislike the bill, either because it falls too far short of the gun control they wanted or because it expands background checks into juvenile behavior and mental health. None of that, however, seems likely to present enough resistance to significantly slow this train down – never mind stop it.