By William Bornhoft
Senators representing Minnesota voted for a bipartisan gun violence bill that cleared an initial procedural hurdle Tuesday, passing the Senate 64-34, and could win final approval before the two-week 4th of July recess starts at the end of the week.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act would strengthen background checks for the youngest firearms buyers, expand the definition of a gun seller and impose new penalties on gun traffickers. It could also give Minnesota and its communities a share of $15 billion to improve school safety and fund mental health initiatives.
The legislation would also make $750 million available to the 19 states and the District of Columbia that have “red flag” laws to make it easier for them to temporarily take away firearms from people who have been adjudged to be dangerous, and to other states with violence prevention programs. To receive the money, a state with a red flag law would have to have a legal process in place for the gun owner to fight the removal of the firearm.
Minnesota does not have a red flag law.
If the Senate approves it on a final vote, the Democratic-controlled House is expected to do the same in short order, making it the most significant curbs on firearms since an assault weapons ban in the 1990s that was allowed to expire.
“This bipartisan legislation is an important step forward as we work to address gun violence,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
“I am especially pleased it includes provisions from a bill I have led for years to close the boyfriend loophole, which will keep guns out of the hands of abusive dating partners convicted of domestic violence. As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen firsthand the serious emotional and physical toll domestic violence can take on victims, particularly when a gun is involved. It is long past time to protect victims of abuse and their families by passing this commonsense reform.”
Fourteen Republicans joined 48 Democrats and two allied independents in voting for the landmark legislation, crafted in response to a supermarket shooting that killed 10 Black people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and the killing of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas.
Agreement on the 80-page bill was reached nine days after a committee of 20 senators — 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans — reached agreement on the framework.
One sticking point was the “boyfriend loophole,” Klobuchar pushed for. Current federal law prohibits people convicted of domestic abuse from purchasing a firearm only if they are living with, married to, or have a child with their partner. The proposed legislation would expand restrictions to include domestic violence offenders who have been in a “continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature” with their victims.
The legislation falls short of measures President Joe Biden and other Democrats sought, such as the reinstatement of an assault weapons ban and restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines, but it represents a breakthrough that could turn the midterm elections into an incendiary culture war.
The Uvalde shooting, in particular, had the power that previous mass shootings hadn’t to sway some Republicans to support gun violence legislation.
“I saw a level of fear on the faces of the parents and the children that I spoke to that I’ve never seen before,” Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, the lead Democratic bargainer, told The Associated Press.
He told the AP his colleagues have encountered anxiety among voters “not just for the safety of their children, but also a fear about the ability of government to rise to this moment and do something, and do something meaningful.”
The bill, Murphy said, would “save thousands of lives.” Before entering the Senate, his House district included Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six staff members perished in a 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The Republicans’ top bargainer, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said of the agreement: “Some think it goes too far, others think it doesn’t go far enough. And I get it. It’s the nature of compromise.
“I believe that 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,” he added. “I’m confident this legislation moves us in a positive direction.”
Kentucky Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the legislation is “a commonsense package of popular steps that will help make these horrifying incidents less likely while fully upholding the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”
The National Rifle Association, which has spent decades derailing gun control legislation, denounced the bill.
“It falls short at every level. It 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,” the gun lobby group said.
Besides McConnell and Cornyn, Republicans voting for the measure included Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Todd C. Young of Indiana.
Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania did not vote Tuesday, but issued a statement supporting the legislation.