WASHINGTON — President Biden signed a bipartisan gun law on Saturday that would bar dangerous people from accessing firearms and increase investment in the nation’s mental health system, ending nearly three decades of deadlock in Washington over combating gun violence in the United States .
The final passage of the bill in Congress came a month after a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers, a horror that prompted a bipartisan group of lawmakers to find a tight compromise.
“God willing,” Mr. Biden said as he put down his pen Saturday morning, “it’s going to save a lot of lives.”
The president acknowledged the legislation fell far short of the sweeping measures he had been pushing for, but said they included some long-awaited priorities.
“When it seems impossible to get something done in Washington, we do something consistent,” Biden said.
For lawmakers, advocates and survivors of gun violence, the law is the culmination of decades of work that builds on repeated failed efforts to overcome Republican opposition and revise the country’s gun laws in response to mass shootings across the country. But the passage of the law came the same week the Supreme Court struck down a New York law restricting where gun owners could carry a firearm outside the home, citing the Second Amendment.
Passing the gun bill also gave Mr. Biden a legislative achievement just before he headed to Europe for two summits that will primarily focus on Ukraine. On Saturday, the president also signed legislation extending free meals and other food aid to children.
Gun legislation expands the background check system for potential gun buyers under the age of 21, giving authorities up to 10 business days to review youth and mental health records. It allocates millions of dollars to allow states to fund intervention programs like psychiatric and drug courts, and to enforce so-called red flag laws that allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from anyone a judge has found too dangerous for them .
It’s putting more federal money into mental health resources in communities and schools across the country, and allocating millions to school safety. The legislation also strengthens laws against gun selling and straw-buying, the practice of purchasing a gun on behalf of a person who is prohibited from purchasing a gun. And for the first time, it includes serious or new dating partners in a ban on buying domestic violence firearms, thereby exacerbating the so-called boyfriend loophole.
“I think the whole country was longing for something real to happen after the terrible tragedies,” New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the Majority Leader, said in an interview last week. Before the Texas shooting, he had spent time in Buffalo counseling grieving families after ten black people were killed in a racist attack at a convenience store.
Mr. Biden said he would host both families affected by gun violence and the lawmakers who helped draft the measure at an event at the White House in July after the July 4 break, and suggested the compromise was a sign ensuring that more bipartisan efforts were made possible.
“Her message to us was to do something,” Mr. Biden said of gun violence families and survivors. “How many times have you heard that? just do something For God’s sake just do something.”
“Well, today we did that,” added the President.
For Mr. Biden and others, the compromise reflected decades of work on gun safety legislation. After 20 children were shot in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, then-Vice President Mr. Biden was commissioned by President Barack Obama to create a list of executive actions on guns. Mr. Biden also called on lawmakers to expand background checks, but an attempt to pass that measure and other gun control provisions fell through in the Senate.
After the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, Mr. Biden called for the reinstatement of an assault weapons ban — a restriction he helped pass as a senator that lasted a decade before expiring in 2004.
Most congressional efforts on guns have been stymied by the Republican opposition in recent years, as the party has largely banded together to block new gun control measures and prevent this legislation from reaching the 60-vote threshold required to so that most bills move forward in the Senate. However, as lawmakers were rocked by images of the Texas shooting, party leaders offered their tacit blessing to a small coalition of senators eager to find a compromise.
But even as Mr. Biden used a rare evening address this month to urge Congress to take sweeping measures, like banning assault weapons and banning the sale of semi-automatic rifles to anyone under the age of 21, senators focused on measures that were sufficiently Republican Secure support could pass in the Senate.
They brushed aside calls for a red-flag federal law and instead agreed to $750 million in federal grants to help states implement those laws and fund crisis intervention programs. Lawmakers also agreed to phase out expanded background checks for younger buyers after a decade and let their successors debate an extension, a tactic that led to the assault weapons ban ending in 2004.
And while lawmakers and activists have long campaigned to close the boyfriend loophole, negotiators also agreed that first-time offenders could regain their ability to purchase a firearm after five years, so long as they have not committed another violent act. (The ban previously only applied to domestic abusers who lived with, were married to, or had a child with the victim.)
“I have to say that this bill does not do everything that we would like to do,” spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi said in a speech on Friday. However, she added, “It is a necessary step in fulfilling our solemn duty as lawmakers to protect and defend the American people.”
Ultimately, 15 Senate Republicans backed the measure, including Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader. Fourteen House Republicans voted in favour. A majority of Republicans in Congress, supported by the National Rifle Association, rejected it as too broad, although Mr. McConnell and Mr. Cornyn acknowledged voters’ desire for action and emphasized their success in narrowing Democratic ambitions.
Many of the supporting Republicans, particularly in the Senate, won’t have to face voters this year. But after being inundated with calls for action, those supporting the measure seemed largely unfazed by opposition from both gun rights groups and their own peers.
“I know the discussion is mostly about politics, and frankly, to quote a famous movie, I don’t care,” said Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, recalling that he supported raising the minimum age to purchase had supported an offensive weapon before it became clear that she was a non-starter for most Republicans.
“By far the highest priority is trying to reduce the shootings of children in America, especially the mass shootings,” he added. “I believe this bill will help in that regard. Will it stop her? Of course not, but will it make a difference? I think so. And for me that’s enough.”