WASHINGTON, June 23 (Reuters) – A two-part package of modest gun safety measures passed the U.S. Senate late Thursday, even as the Supreme Court broadly expanded gun rights by ruling that Americans have a constitutional right to carry small arms in public for self-defense.
The landmark court decision and the Senate’s action on gun safety illustrate the deep divide around firearms in the United States, weeks after mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York, killed more than 30 people, including 19 children. Read more
The Senate bill, passed by 65-33 votes, is the first significant gun control legislation passed in three decades in a country with the highest gun ownership per capita. per capita in the world and the highest number of mass shootings annually among affluent nations.
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“This two-pronged legislation will help protect Americans. Children in schools and communities will be safer because of it,” President Joe Biden said after the vote. “The House of Representatives should immediately vote on this two-part bill and send it to my desk.”
The bill, which supporters say will save lives, is modest – its main restriction on gun ownership will tighten background checks on potential gun buyers convicted of domestic violence or significant crimes as young people.
Republicans refused to compromise on more sweeping gun control measures favored by Democrats, including Biden, such as a ban on assault-like rifles or high-capacity magazines.
“This is not a cure for the way gun violence is affecting our nation, but it is a long-awaited step in the right direction,” Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the floor ahead of the vote.
The Supreme Court ruling earlier Thursday, pushed through by its conservative majority, struck down New York’s restrictions on carrying concealed handguns outside the home.
The court found that the law passed in 1913 violated a person’s right to “preserve and bear arms” under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Read more
In the Senate vote late Thursday, 15 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in voting for the bill.
Democratic House President Nancy Pelosi welcomed the passage of the bill and said in a statement that it would move forward in the House on Friday, with a vote as soon as possible.
House Republicans had instructed their members to vote against the bill, though since the House is controlled by Democrats, their support was not necessary for the bill to pass.
Biden will sign the bill.
The Senate’s action came weeks after a passionate speech by Biden, in which he declared “enough” of gun violence and urged lawmakers to act.
Opinion polls show that a majority of Americans support some new limits on firearms, demands that are typically rising after mass shootings like those that took place in Texas and New York.
Democrats warned that the Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday could have serious consequences for gun security across the country.
“The Supreme Court took the verdict wrong,” Senator Chris Murphy, the leading Democratic negotiator on gun safety legislation, said in an interview.
“I am deeply concerned about the court’s willingness to deprive elected bodies of the ability to protect our constituents, and that has real serious consequences for the security of our country,” said Murphy, whose home state of Connecticut killed 26 people. in a shooting in 2012 at an elementary school.
Conservatives defend a broad reading of the second amendment, which they say limits most new restrictions on arms purchases.
The Senate’s 80-page Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will encourage states to keep guns out of the hands of those deemed dangerous, and tighten background checks on potential gun buyers convicted of domestic violence or significant crimes as juveniles.
More than 20,800 people have been killed in gun violence in the United States by 2022, including through homicide and suicide, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit research group.
The Supreme Court ruling, written by Conservative Judge Clarence Thomas, declared that the Constitution protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”
“This is a monumental victory for NRA members and for gun owners across the country,” Jason Ouimet, executive director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement.
“This judgment opens the door to rightly change the law in the seven remaining states that still do not recognize the right to carry a firearm for personal protection.”
In the Senate, Republican supporters of the new gun safety law said the measure does not undermine the rights of law-abiding gun owners, who are among their most ardent voters.
“It does not affect as much as the rights of the overwhelming majority of U.S. gun owners, who are law-abiding citizens with a healthy mind,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who backs the legislation.
The bill provides funding to help states pass “red flag” laws to keep firearms out of the hands of those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. It will also fund alternative intervention measures in states where red flag laws are opposed, and ensure increased school security.
It closes the “girlfriend’s loophole” by refusing to buy weapons to those convicted of abusing intimate partners in dating relationships, even if they have no more convictions or penalties, will be allowed to buy again.
It also allows states to add juvenile delinquency and mental health records to national background check databases.
Senator John Cornyn, the leading Republican negotiator on the bill, was hailed last week as discussing its contents during a speech before a Republican party convention in his home state of Texas.
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Reporting by David Morgan, Andrew Chung and Moira Warburton; further reporting by Rose Horowitch, Katharine Jackson, Richard Cowan and Dan Whitcomb; Editing Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and Jonathan Oatis
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