WASHINGTON — The Senate cleared the first hurdle on Tuesday to pass a bipartisan measure aimed at keeping firearms away from dangerous people and has agreed to pass compromise legislation whose passage will end a years-long stalemate in federal legislation to combat gun violence would break through.
While the law falls short of the sweeping gun control measures that Democrats have long called for, its approval would represent the most significant move to overhaul the country’s gun laws in decades. The 64-34 vote came just hours after Republicans and Democrats released the bill and days of feverish negotiations to work out the details.
Proponents hope to have it passed by Saturday, and Democratic leaders have put it on the fast track at the normally sluggish Senate level.
The 80-page bill, titled the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, would improve background checks and give authorities up to 10 business days to review the juvenile and mental health records of gun buyers under the age of 21, and move millions to tell states to help implement so-called red flag laws, which allow authorities to temporarily confiscate weapons from people deemed dangerous, and other intervention programs.
The measure would also ensure, for the first time, that reputable dating partners would be included in a federal law that bars domestic abusers from buying firearms, a longstanding priority that has eluded gun safety advocates for years.
Senators agreed to allocate millions of dollars to expand mental health resources in communities and schools, in addition to funding to improve school safety. In addition, the legislation would increase penalties for those who dodge licensing requirements or make illegal “straw” purchases, buying guns and then selling them to people who are prohibited from buying handguns.
The voting margin — and quick support from leaders in both parties — suggested the measure has more than enough support to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to break a Republican filibuster that would allow such legislation in has thwarted the past and make it final passage in the next few days.
Fourteen Republicans, including Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, joined the Democrats to move the bill forward. Two Republican senators were absent; One of them, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, announced his support in a statement.
Proponents hoped to get final Senate approval for the bill before a planned July 4 pause, with the House of Representatives expected to follow suit quickly. The National Rifle Association announced its opposition almost immediately, and the vast majority of Republican officials joined it.
But both Senate leaders were quick to issue statements of public support, suggesting that public opinion in favor of tightening gun laws, especially after the recent mass shootings, had finally broken through in Congress. Mr McConnell called the law “a sensible package of popular steps that will help make these horrific incidents less likely, while fully upholding the rights of law-abiding citizens under the Second Amendment.”
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said he expects the bill to be passed by the end of the week.
“This bipartisan gun safety legislation is a step forward and will save lives,” he said ahead of the vote. “While it is not all we want, this legislation is badly needed.”
The frenzy of negotiations was fueled by two mass shootings in the past two months: a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers, and a racist attack that killed 10 black people at a Buffalo convenience store . The human devastation has brought the problem of gun violence back to the fore on Capitol Hill, where years of efforts to enact gun restrictions following such attacks have fallen short in the face of Republican opposition.
With 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats announcing their agreement on a bipartisan bill less than two weeks ago, the negotiators — Senators Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both Democrats, plus John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis — said North Carolina, both Republicans — have spent hours working out the details and struggling to hold their fragile coalition together.
“Today we completed bipartisan, common-sense legislation to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence in our country,” the four senators said in a statement. “Our legislation will save lives and will not violate the Second Amendment rights of a law-abiding American. We look forward to garnering broad, bipartisan support and enacting our common sense legislation.”
Talks had repeatedly teetered on the brink of failure last week as lawmakers grappled with late-night meetings and phone calls over how to translate their bill into legislation. The group spent the three-day weekend haggling over the details.
The bill’s title reflected that careful negotiation – it specifically emphasized “safety,” no particular limitations on a person’s right to own or buy a firearm. This was consistent with the way Republicans discussed the framework agreement and underscored every effort by Democrats to limit gun access, which they successfully kept out of the final bill.
In its final form, much of the bill’s spending was for mental health investments, according to a synopsis reviewed by The New York Times. It includes $60 million over five years to provide mental health and behavioral training to primary care clinicians, $150 million to support the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and $240 million over four years to Project AWARE Program focused on supporting the mental health of school children. $28 million of that is earmarked for trauma care in schools.
Two stipulations have proved particularly difficult in recent days of talks: whether funds for the implementation of red flag laws should be extended to states that do not have such laws, and how exactly a friend or intimate partner should be defined as lawmakers sought to closing what has come to be known as the “boyfriend loophole”.
Current law only prohibits domestic abusers who were married or cohabiting with the victim or who had a child with them from purchasing a firearm. The legislature added “a current or recent past dating relationship with the victim” to the definition, although the change cannot be applied retrospectively.
Negotiators also agreed to give dating partners convicted of a misdemeanor the right to buy a gun again after five years, provided they were first-time offenders and not found guilty of another violent offense or misdemeanor.
And lawmakers agreed to give states access to federal funds to either implement red flags or support what Mr. Cornyn called “crisis intervention programs,” including programs related to mental health courts, drug courts and veterans’ courts.
The bill is funded by delaying implementation of a Medicare rule approved under former President Donald J. Trump that would limit hidden rebates negotiated between drug companies and insurers.
A majority of Senate Republicans still opposed the measure, arguing that it violated the rights of gun owners. Over the weekend, Texas Republicans booed Mr. Cornyn and proceeded to formally “blame” him and eight other Republicans for their role in the negotiations.
Some progressive Democrats, particularly in the House, where they have introduced far more ambitious gun reform legislation, have expressed unease at the idea of ”hardening” schools or further stigmatizing mental health struggles.
But gun safety activists and groups like the NAACP, which support broader gun legislation, said they would back it to address at least some aspects of a crisis that has gripped the country.
“When schoolchildren, churchgoers and grocery shoppers are gunned down, the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good,” Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, said in a statement.
“This bipartisan legislation stands the most important test: it will save lives,” John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement. “We are now taking a big step closer to breaking the 26-year deadlock that has blocked congressional action to protect Americans from gun violence.”
Margot Sanger-Katz contributed reporting.
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