A bipartisan gun-control bill cleared the Senate filibuster hurdle on Thursday, with Republicans providing the necessary votes to all but guarantee passage of the first major federal firearm laws in decades.
The bill, which would expand background checks to include juvenile records and incentivize states to adopt “red flag” laws to confiscate guns from people deemed dangerous by a judge, survived the Senate test vote 65-35, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and 14 other Republicans joining the chambers’ Democrats to advance the legislation.
“The American people want their constitutional rights protected and their kids to be safe in school. They want both those things at once. And that is just what the bill before the Senate will help accomplish,” said Mr. McConnell.
The action in Congress was spurred by a series of mass shootings that horrified the nation, including a racially motivated attack that killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and a rampage at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers.
The legislation is expected to pass the Senate as soon as Thursday. It then would head to the House for a final vote, where it is expected to pass before Congress leaves Friday for a two-week recess.
The bill will deliver a big win for President Biden who has championed stricter gun-control laws throughout his long political career.
Despite the support from 15 Senate Republicans to clear the 60-vote hurdle that killed previous gun bills, the legislation remains unpopular with most in the GOP and with gun-rights groups such as the National Rifle Association.
Former President Donald Trump also opposes the bill and criticized Mr. McConnell for his role in helping get the bill to Mr. Biden’s desk.
Mr. Trump wrote Thursday on Truth Social: “Mitch McConnell’s push for Republican Senators to vote for Gun Control will be the final straw. Just like he gave away the Debt Ceiling and got NOTHING in return, or handed the Dems a great sound bite and victory with the Infrastructure Bill, which is actually all about the Green New Deal, he is now forcing approval of the FIRST STEP IN TAKING AWAY YOUR GUNS! Republican Senators SHOULD NOT VOTE FOR THIS CAREER ENDING BILL!!!”
The bill contained a slew of expanded gun-control laws and funding for school security and mental health treatment, including:
• Incentivizes for states to adopt red-flag laws or other crisis intervention programs;
• Expands the definition of domestic violence to close the “boyfriend loophole” by including dating relationships, blocking people with such convictions from gun ownership;
• Allows individuals with domestic violence charges to be eligible for gun ownership after five years provided they keep a clean criminal record;
• Creates a new felony designation for individuals that purchase guns for those that cannot legally buy or own them;
• Expands federal background checks to include state juvenile records and makes it illegal to sell guns or ammunition to people with felony juvenile records;
• Requires individuals who repeatedly buy and sell firearms to license as gun dealers;
• Adds $100 million in taxpayer funds to the federal background check system;
• Gives $2 billion to the Education Department for mental health and school safety;
• $1 billion in grants for mental health programs to be administered by HHS.
Second Amendment advocacy organizations actively oppose the bill, including the NRA and Gun Owners of America. The National Shooting and Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearm industry, also opposes the legislation.
The NRA said the legislation falls short of the goal of improving safety and security while threatening Second Amendment rights.
“This legislation 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. This bill leaves too much discretion in the hands of government officials and also contains undefined and overbroad provisions – inviting interference with our constitutional freedoms,” the NRA said in a statement.
In the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and GOP Whip Steve Scalise are whipping against the legislation, but some Republican defections are expected and House Democrats should be able to pass the bill without GOP support.
“Obviously, Nancy Pelosi is the speaker so she has the majority,” said Mr. Scalise, Louisiana Republican. “But we’re pushing for reforms in the mental health system [and] we shouldn’t be taking away or infringing upon the rights of law-abiding citizens to own a gun.”
House Republicans expected to back the bill include Rep. Tony Gonzalez of Texas whose district includes Uvalde.
“I am a survivor of domestic abuse, my stepfather would come home drunk and beat on me and my mother,” he wrote on social media. “School was my sanctuary from the chaos at home. … As a congressman it’s my duty to pass laws that never infringe on the Constitution while protecting the lives of the innocent.”