The Senate voted to advance bipartisan gun legislation on Tuesday, with hopes of passing it prior to the July 4 recess.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act falls short of more expansive proposals passed by Democrats in the House and is already facing opposition from top House Republicans. Should it become law, however, the bill would be the most sweeping gun safety legislation passed by Congress in decades.
The bill’s chief negotiators — Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. — released a joint statement celebrating the agreement.
“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.”
Here are some of the key provisions in the 80-page bill.
Funding for crisis centers and so-called red flag laws
Under the legislation, $750 million would be allotted over the next five years to help states implement red flag laws, which allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others. (Similar laws already exist in 19 states and the District of Columbia.) The legislation allows for the implementation of these programs through mental health, drug and veterans’ courts.
Republicans involved in the negotiations pushed to make sure no one is flagged without “the right to an in-person hearing, an unbiased adjudicator, the right to know opposing evidence, the right to present evidence, and the right to confront adverse witnesses,” as well as a right to bring counsel to the hearing.
“Under this bill, every state will be able to use significant new federal dollars to be able to expand their programs to try to stop dangerous people, people contemplating mass murder or suicide, from being able to have access to the weapons that allow them to perpetrate that crime,” Murphy said in a floor speech.
Closing the 'boyfriend loophole'
While spouses, co-parents or cohabitating partners convicted of domestic violence are already banned from purchasing firearms, abusers in relationships between people who are not married and live separately are still able to purchase guns, creating the so-called “boyfriend loophole.” (According to Everytown, a gun safety advocacy group, about 70 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner every month.)
Under the new legislation, anyone convicted of domestic violence against a former or current dating partner would be banned from purchasing a weapon.
Republican negotiators pushed for a strict definition of who would qualify as a dating partner and the length of time for which they’d be unable to purchase a gun. The law also would not apply retroactively, meaning that someone would have to be convicted of domestic violence after the law went into effect before they were stripped of their right to buy a firearm.
“Unless someone is convicted of domestic abuse under their state laws, their gun rights will not be impacted," Cornyn said in a floor speech.
"Those who are convicted of nonspousal misdemeanor domestic abuse — not felony, but misdemeanor domestic violence — will have an opportunity after five years to have their Second Amendment rights restored. But they have to have a clean record."
Expanded background checks for younger buyers
The legislation calls for an expansion of background checks into buyers under 21 years of age, providing three business days for the check into their criminal and mental health history to be completed. If that background check finds something questionable in a potential buyer’s record, the legislation would provide for an additional seven business days to look into the buyer.
Funding for mental health and school security
The bill provides funding for expanding access to mental health services, including making it easier for Americans on Medicaid to use telehealth services and work with “community-based mental health and substance use disorder treatment providers and organizations.” And it would provide additional funding for the national suicide prevention hotline (since guns accounted for a majority of suicide deaths in 2020) while schools would receive funding to increase the number of staff members providing mental health services.
The bill also provides $300 million for the STOP School Violence Act for increased security at schools, although some Democrats had expressed concern about this aspect of the bill. Last week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said she was worried about “the expansion of background checks into juvenile records,” arguing that previous attempts to secure schools were both ineffective and harmful.
After the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, Ocasio-Cortez said, "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.”
Licensed dealers and gun trafficking
The legislation would also require more sellers to register as “Federally Licensed Firearm Dealers,” including anyone who sells guns to “predominantly earn a profit.” These sellers would in turn be required to run background checks on potential buyers and keep records of the sales.
The bill would also impose penalties on “straw” purchasers who buy guns for people who can’t pass a background check.
Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images, Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images