WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday passed a bipartisan bill to keep guns away from dangerous people, the product of a compromise that could result in the most significant gun safety legislation in decades.
The bipartisan Safer Communities Act, drafted by a small group of Republicans and Democrats in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings, would improve background checks on gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 21, encourage states to enact “red flag” laws that allow firearms to be temporarily confiscated from people deemed dangerous, and provide hundreds of millions of dollars for mental health and school safety. It would also extend to dating partners a federal law that prohibits domestic abusers from purchasing firearms.
Fifteen Republicans crossed party lines to support the legislation.
The 80-page bill falls short of the toughest gun control measures Democrats have long sought, but its enactment would still represent a remarkable breakthrough after years of deadlock in Congress over curbing violence. army in the United States. To win over Republicans, Democrats had to drop some of their broadest proposals, many of which passed the House but stalled in the Senate amid Republican opposition.
Here’s a look at what’s in the bill — and what’s been left out.
Improved background checks for young gun buyers
Minors’ records, including mental health records, would for the first time be required in criminal background checks of potential gun buyers under 21, and authorities would have more time to complete the checks – 10 days, against the current three.
Under the law, federal authorities would have to check with local law enforcement and review state records to determine if a potential buyer has a criminal or juvenile mental health history that would prevent them from buying a car. firearm. If they found such a file, they would turn it over to the FBI for further investigation.
What was left out: The proposal is a far cry from legislation passed by the House that would ban anyone under the age of 21 from buying a semi-automatic weapon.
Democrats also agreed to allow the enhanced background check requirement for young buyers to expire after 10 years, leaving future Congresses to negotiate whether it should be extended. A similar “sunset” provision allowed the federal assault weapons ban enacted in 1994 to expire in 2004, much to the dismay of Democrats, who were never able to muster enough support to revive it. .
And there’s a limit to how long authorities could look back on a buyer’s mental health history; such records prior to the age of 16 of a potential buyer could not prevent him from buying a firearm.
Incentives for States to Implement Red Flag Laws
The bill would provide $750 million in federal funds to states that create so-called red flag laws, which allow weapons to be temporarily confiscated from people deemed dangerous by a judge. The funding, intended to incentivize the adoption of such measures, would also support the creation of crisis intervention programmes.
What was left out: Democrats wanted to go further than provide incentives to states and enact a federal red flag measure, passed in the House, that would allow guns to be taken away from anyone deemed dangerous by a federal judge.
Closing the “boyfriend loophole”
One of the bill’s final sticking points was a provision to toughen federal law to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. This would expand the current law that prohibits people convicted of domestic violence or subject to a domestic violence restraining order from purchasing a firearm. The current law only applies to people who are married to or living with the victim, or who have had a child with them.
The legislation would include other intimate partners, closing what has become known as the “boyfriend loophole”.
What was left out: Democrats wanted a blanket ban, but in negotiations with Republicans they agreed to allow some violators to regain the ability to buy a gun. If a person is a first-time offender and the crime is a violent offense, the ban would disappear five years after the end of their criminal sentence, as long as they did not commit other violent crimes. Negotiators also agreed not to make the provision retroactive, bowing to another request from Republicans.
Funding for mental health and school safety
The bill would allocate billions of dollars to schools and communities to expand mental health programs. The funding also aims to strengthen school safety. The bill provides $300 million over five years for school safety programs targeting violence that would fund school resource officers and make schools safer. Additionally, the funding will go towards training school staff and adults who interact with minors to respond to mental health issues.
What was left out: Republicans insisted on keeping the cost of the bill as low as possible. In total, the measure would cost $13.2 billion.
Tougher penalties for illegal purchases
The bill would crack down on “straw buyers” or people who buy guns for those who don’t qualify. No current law specifically prohibits such buyers or the illegal trafficking of firearms, so prosecutors have relied on people who make false statements in connection with the purchase of a firearm.
The bill would establish a penalty of up to 15 years in prison or 25 years if the firearms are used in serious criminal activities such as drug trafficking or terrorism. It would also provide resources to help prevent and investigate these purchases.
What was left out: The bill does not include more sweeping measures to mandate universal background checks or ban the sale of high-capacity magazines. Republicans also said they refused to consider any mandatory waiting period for gun sales or a licensing requirement to purchase an assault weapon.
Annie Karni contributed report.