Here’s What Is In the Senate’s Gun Bill — And What Was Left Out
WASHINGTON — The Senate is debating a bipartisan bill aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people, the product of a compromise that could lead to the most substantial gun safety legislation in decades.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, written by a small group of Republicans and Democrats in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings, would improve background checks for gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 21, incentivize states to enact “red flag” laws that can temporarily confiscate firearms from people deemed dangerous, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for mental health and safety at school. It would also extend a federal law to dating partners that prohibits domestic abusers from purchasing guns.
A test vote on Thursday indicated the measure has more than enough support to pass the evenly divided Senate after 15 Republicans crossed party lines to support the consideration, propelling it past a filibuster. A final vote on the passage is expected on Thursday evening.
The 80-page bill doesn’t meet the strictest gun control measures Democrats have long sought, but its enactment would still represent a remarkable breakthrough after years of stalemate in Congress over tackling gun violence in the United States. To win over Republicans, Democrats had to drop some of their more elaborate 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 left out.
Improved background checks for younger gun buyers
Juvenile files, including those related to mental health, would be required for the first time in criminal background checks for potential arms buyers under the age of 21, and authorities would have more time to conduct the checks – 10 days, more than the current three.
Under the law, federal authorities would be required to consult with local law enforcement officers and review state records to determine whether a potential purchaser has a juvenile delinquency or mental health history that would disqualify them from purchasing a gun. If they found such a record, they would hand it over to the FBI for further investigation.
What has been left out?: The proposal falls far short of legislation passed by the House that would prohibit anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing a semi-automatic weapon.
Democrats also agreed to allow the stricter background checks for younger buyers to expire after 10 years, so that future Congresses can negotiate whether to extend it. A similar “sunset” provision caused the federal ban on assault weapons enacted in 1994 to be repealed in 2004, much to the dismay of Democrats, who have never been able to rally enough support to revive it.
And there’s a limit to how long authorities would be able to reach back into a buyer’s mental health history; such records from before a potential buyer turned 16 could not disqualify them from purchasing a gun.
Incentives for States to Implement Red Flag Laws
The bill would provide $750 million in federal money to states creating so-called red flag laws that allow for temporary confiscation of weapons from people deemed dangerous by a judge. The funding, intended to encourage the introduction of such measures, would also support the establishment of crisis intervention court programs.
What has been left out?: Democrats wanted to go beyond giving incentives to states and introduce a federal red flag measure passed in the House that would allow the taking of guns from anyone deemed dangerous by a federal judge.
Closing the ‘boyfriend loophole’
One of the bill’s final sticking points was a provision to tighten federal law to keep guns out of the hands of domestic violence. It would expand the current law that prohibits people convicted of domestic violence or subject to a restraining order from purchasing a gun. The current law only applies to people who are married to or cohabiting with the victim, or who have a child with them.
The legislation would include other intimate partners, putting an end to what has come to be known as the “friend in the law.”
What has been left out?: Democrats wanted a blanket ban, but in negotiations with Republicans they agreed to give some offenders the opportunity to buy a gun again. If a person first transgresses and the crime is a violent crime, the ban would disappear five years after the end of his criminal conviction, as long as he didn’t commit any further violent crimes. The negotiators also agreed not to make the provision retroactive, bowing to another Republican demand.
Financing for Mental Health and Safety in School
The bill would allocate billions of dollars to schools and communities to expand mental health programs. The funding is also intended to increase safety at school. The bill allocates $300 million over five years for school safety programs that target violence and would fund school resources and improve safety in schools. In addition, money would be spent on training school staff and adults who interact with minors to respond to mental health problems.
What has been omitted: Republicans urged to keep the cost of the bill as low as possible. In total, the measure would cost $13.2 billion.
Higher penalties for illegal purchases
The bill would crack down on “straw buyers” or people who buy guns for those who would not qualify. No current law prohibits these buyers or illegal arms trade, so prosecutors have relied on people making false statements in connection with buying a gun.
The bill provides for a penalty of up to 15 years in prison or 25 years if the firearms are used in connection with serious criminal activities such as drug trafficking or terrorism. It would also provide resources to help prevent and investigate these purchases.
What has been omitted: The bill does not contain more drastic measures to impose universal background checks or ban the sale of high-capacity magazines. Republicans also said they declined to consider a mandatory waiting period for weapons sales or a licensing requirement to purchase an assault weapon.
Annie Karnic contributed reporting.