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Senate makes first move on bipartisan gun safety bill


The Senate took the first procedural step Tuesday to move forward on a highly anticipated bipartisan gun safety bill, setting up a likely floor vote on final passage by the end of the week.

The Senate advanced the legislation in a 64-34 vote, roughly two hours after a bipartisan group of senators released the bill text. Fourteen Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in backing the bill.

Prior to the vote, the four lead negotiators — Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) — said the legislation would “protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country.”

”Our legislation will save lives and will not infringe on any law-abiding American’s Second Amendment rights,” the senators said in a statement. “We look forward to earning broad, bipartisan support and passing our commonsense legislation into law.”

Tuesday’s procedural vote puts the Senate on track to meet negotiators’ self-imposed timeline to pass the legislation before lawmakers leave Washington for their July Fourth recess. The package would amount to Congress’ most significant response to mass shootings in nearly 30 years.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed Tuesday that the Senate would “move to final passage as quickly as possible.” And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his intent to support the legislation, calling it a “commonsense package of popular steps.”

While senators involved in the talks had hoped they’d finalize legislative language last week, talks hit a snag over two problems: how to encourage so-called red flag laws, which allow the seizure of weapons from those deemed a danger to themselves or others, and closing what’s known as the “boyfriend loophole” by broadening limits on firearms purchases by people who have abused romantic partners.

Republicans had raised concerns about the definition of a long-term relationship under those expanded restrictions, as well as about the importance of restoring gun rights to people with misdemeanor convictions. Those issues were resolved by the time lawmakers released bill text.

“This bill is not going to please everyone,” Cornyn said. “But I believe the … same people who are telling us to do something are sending us a clear message: to do what we can to keep our children and communities safe.”

The legislation would change federal law so that if a person has a misdemeanor conviction for assaulting a dating partner or a recent former dating partner, they would be barred from purchasing a firearm. Under the deal, that person’s right to purchase a firearm would be reinstated after five years if he or she is not involved in any violent acts or felonies during that period. This would apply to people in this newly created category who are first-time offenders.

Murphy predicted that closing the boyfriend loophole alone would “save the lives of so many women who unfortunately die at the hands of a boyfriend or an ex-boyfriend who hunts them down with a firearm.”

It took nine days after senators announced the framework for the bill for legislative text to be released, a fairly swift timeline for a chamber known to plod on policymaking. Proponents of the legislation said they want to seize on momentum before the Senate’s expected departure at the end of this week for a two-week recess. But absent an agreement from all 100 senators, a vote on final passage of the guns legislation could slip into the weekend.

Nearly a month has passed since a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. That shooting occurred more than a week after a racist mass shooter killed 10 people, most of them Black, at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.

In addition to closing the boyfriend loophole, the bill provides grants for states to implement red flag laws or other crisis intervention programs, as well as changes the background check system to include additional scrutiny of juvenile records for gun buyers under the age of 21.

The legislation would require the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System to contact state authorities for mental health adjudication as well as local law enforcement, and the state’s juvenile justice information system to determine if an individual has “disqualifying” juvenile records for purchasing a firearm. The changes to the background checks system would sunset after ten years.

In addition, the legislation includes new spending for mental health treatment and school security. It would also make purchasing a gun on behalf of an individual barred from a firearms purchase a federal crime.

While Cornyn said he’d like 70-plus senators to vote for the legislation, so far five Republicans outside of the original group of ten who endorsed the framework have indicated they may back the package on the floor. Conservatives in the conference pushed back on some of the framework’s provisions during a private GOP lunch last week. And over the weekend, the Texas GOP rebuked Cornyn and the other Republicans for participating in the gun talks.

The National Rifle Association announced Tuesday evening that it would oppose the legislation, saying “it falls short at every level” and “does little to truly address violent crime while opening the door to unnecessary burdens on the exercise of Second Amendment freedom by law-abiding gun owners.”

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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