On Tuesday, the Senate cleared the first hurdle in taking up bipartisan gun legislation. 14 Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), joined the full Democratic caucus in voting to advance the bill, which would be the first major federal gun safety legislation in decades.
Senate Democrats have admitted that the bill’s scope is narrow and falls well short of the more sweeping measures proposed by House Democrats. But the overwhelming message coming from the party is: It’s something, and that matters.
“While it’s not everything we want, this legislation is urgently needed,” said Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), adding that the bill “is progress and will save lives.”
The bill’s chief negotiators, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT), John Cornyn (R-TX), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), released a joint statement emphasizing that the legislation was a compromise.
“Today, we finalized bipartisan, commonsense legislation to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country,” they said. “Our legislation will save lives and will not infringe on any law-abiding Americans’ Second Amendment rights. We look forward to earning broad, bipartisan support and passing our commonsense legislation into law.”
So what’s in the bill?
The legislation would allocate $750 million over the next five years to help states implement crisis intervention programs, like so-called “red flag” laws, which allow law enforcement to confiscate guns from people who have been determined to be a threat to themselves or others. 19 states already have red flag laws, but the legislation also provides resources for states without them, helping fund other kinds of crisis intervention programs through mental health, drug, and veterans’ courts.
The bill would also close the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” which allows people convicted of domestic violence who are in “intimate partnerships” — meaning they aren’t married and don’t live together — to purchase guns. According to Everytown, a gun safety advocacy group, about 70 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner every month. There are already laws on the books banning spouses, co-parents, and cohabitating partners convicted of domestic violence from purchasing guns — but now the law will be extended to bar guns from domestic abusers who are engaged in a “continuing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.”
Under the new legislation, there would be more extensive background checks for people aged 18-21 who want to buy guns. The bill provides grants for states to include juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) system, and implements a new system for checking those records. It also gives NICS more time to review an individual’s record — three days at first, and then if something potentially disqualifying comes up, an additional seven days.
The bill also requires more gun sellers to register as Federally Licensed Firearm Dealers. That distinction, while it may seem like a formality, actually has significant implications: federally licensed dealers are required to perform a background check before they sell to someone. The legislation would also provide additional funding for mental health programs and school security, and create new federal statutes against gun trafficking and “straw” trafficking, which is when people buy guns for people who can’t pass a background check.
The NRA has actively opposed the legislation, and the lead Republican negotiator, Senator Corynyn, has faced significant backlash from conservatives in his state and around the country. (Last week, he was booed and heckled at a state party convention in Houston.) But Republicans also gained significant concessions from Democrats, limiting both the scope of enforcement of red flag laws and pushing for a stricter definition of “intimate partner.” They also secured provisions for additional school security, which Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said she found concerning, telling reporters, “After Columbine, we hired thousands of police officers into schools and while it didn’t prevent many of the mass shootings that we’ve seen now, it has increased the criminalization of teens in communities like mine.”
This week on Stay Tuned, Preet spoke with Shannon Watts, the gun safety activist who founded Moms Demand Action and who has played a significant role in lobbying for the passage of the new bill. When pressed by Preet about whether the bill goes far enough, Watts talked about the importance of incremental change:
“I wish this legislation went further. But the fact that we have a split Senate, and for the first time in 10 years, actual bipartisan discussions and solutions that will save lives. I mean, that is part of our theory of change. And I wish I could go back to 2012, and there would be wholesale systemic change the day after the Sandy Hook school shooting, like other countries seem to be able to do. Our system is not set up that way. It is set up for incrementalism, which I know is a dirty word, but it’s what leads to revolutions, right?”
As the Senate moved closer to a vote on the bill, the Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a New York Law that placed limits on carrying concealed weapons outside the home, saying it was at odds with the Second Amendment. It remains to be seen how the Supreme Court’s decision impacts the politics of the gun deal.
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