The package amounts to the most significant new federal legislation to address gun violence since the expired 10-year assault weapons ban of 1994 – though it fails to ban any weapons and falls far short of what Democrats and polls show most Americans want to see.
That is expected to happen, however, after 14 Republicans voted to advance the bill in an initial vote Tuesday night.
Once the Senate breaks a filibuster, it will pave the way for a final passage vote.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has called to pass the bill this week, though the exact timing of a final vote is still to be determined. A final Senate vote could come as early as Thursday if all 100 senators consent to a time agreement. It will take place at a simple majority threshold.
The House would next have to take up the bill before it can be signed into law.
The legislation came together in the aftermath of recent, tragic mass shootings at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school and at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket, which was in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
A bipartisan group of negotiators set to work in the Senate and unveiled legislative text on Tuesday. The bill – titled the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act – was released by Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
Lawmakers are now racing to pass the bill before they leave Washington for the July 4 recess.
The fact that bill text was finalized, and the legislation now appears poised to pass the Senate, is a major victory for the negotiators who came together to strike a deal.
Reaching a bipartisan agreement on major gun legislation has been notoriously difficult for lawmakers in recent years even in the face of countless mass shootings across the country.
“For too long political games in Washington on both sides of the aisle have stopped progress towards protecting our communities and keeping families safe and secure,” Sinema said Wednesday in a Senate floor speech.
“Casting blame and trading political barbs and attacks became the path of least resistance, but the communities across our country who have experienced senseless violence deserve better than Washington politics as usual,” the Arizona Democrat said. “Our communities deserve a commitment by their leaders to do the hard work of putting aside politics, identifying problems that need solving, and working together towards common ground and common goals.”
Key provisions in the bill
This bill closes a years-old loophole in domestic violence law – the “boyfriend loophole” – that barred individuals who were convicted of domestic violence crimes against married partners, or partners with whom they shared children or partners with whom they cohabitated, from having guns. Old statutes did not include intimate partners who may not live together, be married or share children. Now, the law will bar from having a gun anyone who is convicted of a domestic violence crime against someone they have a “continuing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.”
The law is not retroactive. It will, however, allow those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes to restore their gun rights after five years if they have not committed other crimes.
The bill encourages states to include juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System with grants as well as implements a new protocol for checking those records.
The bill goes after individuals who sell guns as primary sources of income but have previously evaded registering as federally licensed firearms dealers. It also increases funding for mental health programs and school security.
GOP divided over the bill
A split has emerged among some prominent members of House and Senate GOP leadership.
But even with House GOP leaders opposing the bill, there are already some House Republicans who have indicated they plan to vote for it, and the Democrat-controlled chamber is expected to be able to pass the legislation once it passes in the Senate.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised to “swiftly bring it to the floor” of the House once it passes the Senate, “so that we can send it to President Biden’s desk.”