WASHINGTON ― A bipartisan bill aimed at curbing gun violence cleared a key procedural hurdle in the Senate on Tuesday, less than a month after the horrific mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, ignited calls for action in Congress.
The vote to advance the bill was 64-34. Fourteen Republicans joined Democrats in support of the measure, and senators now expect its final passage later this week.
The bill, titled the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, includes modest curbs on obtaining firearms, and aid for mental health and schools. It was agreed to after weeks of painstaking negotiations by a core group of four senators ― Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).
“Today, we finalized bipartisan, commonsense legislation to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country,” the senators announced in a statement earlier on Tuesday. “Our legislation will save lives and will not infringe on any law-abiding American’s Second Amendment rights.”
The bill includes funding to bolster mental health, enhanced background checks for people under 21, incentives for states to adopt “red flag” laws, and school security measures.
It would close the “boyfriend loophole,” a last-minute hang-up in the negotiations, by prohibiting romantic partners convicted of domestic violence who are not married to their victim from getting firearms. And it includes the first comprehensive federal criminal statute banning gun trafficking and straw purchasing.
It does not include broader restrictions sought by gun control advocates, however, such as bans on assault weapons, raising the age to purchase semi-automatic rifles to 21, safe storage rules at home, or required background checks on internet sales and at gun shows.
“This bipartisan gun-safety legislation is progress and will save lives. While it is not everything we want, this legislation is urgently-needed,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement on Tuesday, pledging to quickly bring it to the floor for a final vote.
In a rare move, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). also backed the agreement in a statement issued by his office.
“For years, the far left falsely claimed that Congress could only address the terrible issue of mass murders by trampling on law-abiding Americans’ constitutional rights. This bill proves that false,” McConnell said.
Still, the bill is likely to face substantial opposition on the right. The National Rifle Association announced it would oppose the legislation immediately after it was made public on Tuesday evening. The group said the agreement “can be abused to restrict lawful gun purchases, infringe upon the rights of law-abiding Americans, and use federal dollars to fund gun control measures being adopted by state and local politicians.”
Cornyn, the lead GOP negotiator, was hit with a barrage of boos over the weekend during an appearance at the Texas GOP Convention in Houston. He has defended the bill, saying it doesn’t infringe on the rights of law-abiding gun owners.
Yet in what is perhaps a testament to changing politics on guns following recent mass shootings, including the one that took place in Uvalde, more than a dozen Republican senators voted to advance the bill on Tuesday.
Murphy, the lead Democratic negotiator and a vocal gun control advocate after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, emphasized the deal is a product of what is possible in today’s narrowly divided Senate.
“This bill doesn’t include everything I want, but it will save countless lives and finally break a 30 year political logjam. I look forward to earning bipartisan support for this historic legislation among my Senate colleagues this week,” he said in a statement.