The U.S. Senate on Thursday night passed a bipartisan bill to address gun violence that amounts to the first major federal gun safety legislation in decades.
The final vote was 65 to 33 with 15 Republicans joining Democrats in support of the measure, marking a significant bipartisan breakthrough on one of the most contentious policy issues in the country, CNN reports. The bill will next go to the House for a vote before it can be sent to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.
The bipartisan gun deal includes millions of dollars for mental health, school safety, crisis intervention programmes and incentives for states to include juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
It also makes significant changes to the process when someone ages 18 to 21 goes to buy a firearm and closes the so-called boyfriend loophole, a victory for Democrats, who have long fought for that.
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 isn’t retroactive. It will, however, allow those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes to restore their gun rights after five years if they haven’t 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.
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.
The vote on the federal gun safety bill came on the same day as the Supreme Court struck down a New York gun law enacted more than a century ago that places restrictions on carrying a concealed handgun outside the home.
The ruling highlights the conflicting political forces surrounding the issue at all levels of government, as the judicial branch implements the widest expansion of gun rights in a decade, happening right as the legislative branch appears on track to pass its most significant gun safety package in almost 30 years.
The gun safety bill had moved a step closer to passage in the Senate earlier in the day after a critical vote succeeded in advancing the measure with Republican support.
The vote was 65-34, with 15 GOP senators joining Democrats to break the filibuster. The same 15 GOP senators who voted to break the filibuster voted to approve the measure on final passage.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court earlier overturned a law in New York that restricted the carrying of concealed weapons in public.
This is a major expansion of gun legislation.
It was hours later that senators passed the modest gun control bill.
The US Supreme Court on Thursday rejected as unconstitutional New York state’s limits on carrying concealed handguns in public, AFP and Reuters report.
It is expected that the justices’ 6-3 decision could ultimately allow more people to legally carry guns on the streets of New York and other large cities such as Los Angeles and Boston.
The ruling — the high court’s first major gun decision in more than a decade — follows a series of recent mass shootings.
New York’s law — in place since 1913 — says that, to carry a concealed handgun, a person must have “proper cause.”
An individual would have to convince a state firearms licensing officer of a real, rather than speculative, need for self-defence. Licenses could also be granted for activities such as hunting or target practice.
The challenge was brought by the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. Two men were seeking an unrestricted ability to carry guns outside their homes.
Backers of the New York law say it ultimately prevents people from carrying guns on the streets, leading to less violent crime.
However, justices said the requirement violates the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms.”
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority that the Constitution protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defence outside the home.”
Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, in the dissenting opinion, highlighted the gun violence epidemic in the US and said his colleagues in the majority are ruling “without considering the potentially deadly consequences” of their decision.
The last decision the Supreme Court made on a major gun issue was in 2010 when it established a nationwide right to keep a gun at home for self-defence.