WASHINGTON – The House Friday gave final approval to a bipartisan gun-reform bill that is the first major federal gun safety legislation in decades, voting just hours after the measure cleared the Senate.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is less restrictive than a pair of bills that passed the House a little more than two weeks ago, but House members appeared ready to accept what one called a “much-needed step” toward gun reform in the wake of recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde.
“It shouldn’t take the massacre of two teachers and 19 children in Uvalde or the deaths of 10 Black people at the hands of a white supremacist in Buffalo to address this heart-wrenching crisis,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said in a statement Friday. “Common-sense policy can change the legacy we leave our children. The time to act is now.”
But Republicans, most of whom voted against the bill Friday, repeated concerns that it violates due process, restricts the Second Amendment and makes it harder for people to purchase guns. Many were like Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, who took to the floor of the House to say the bill “violates a basic God-given right.”
The bill, which President Joe Biden has said he will sign, adds $15 billion for mental health programs and school safety upgrades, closes the “boyfriend loophole” in domestic violence laws, and requires tougher background checks on gun buyers under age 21. It would also help states implement “red flag” laws, requiring more gun sellers to register as federal firearm dealers and create new federal statutes against gun trafficking.
The bill was the product of weeks of bipartisan negotiating between 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats in the Senate, including Arizona Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly. It passed the Senate Thursday night on a 65-33 vote, with 15 Republicans crossing party lines to give it a filibuster-proof majority.
The 234-193 vote in the House was more partisan, with just 14 Republicans joining all Democrats to approve the 80-page bill. Arizona’s House delegation split on party lines for the vote.
It came just weeks after House Democrats pushed through two bills with more extensive gun restrictions.
One bill would have made 21 the minimum age to buy a semiautomatic weapon, toughened gun-trafficking rules and regulated so-called “ghost guns,” among other measures. The second would have extended red-flag laws – which allow courts to order the confiscation of weapons from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others – nationwide.
But those bills were not expected to pass the Senate, and gun-reform advocates Friday said they were pleased to get the bill they did, the first major congressional gun-reform legislation in decades.
“Our grassroots army has been organizing for this moment for nearly a decade and today is proof that progress is possible,” said a statement from Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action. “The fight to end this gun violence epidemic is far from over, but this bill will save lives and we’re proud to see it so close to the finish line.”
The bipartisan group of senators that shepherded the bill through Congress, came together after the mass shooting that killed 10 people in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, over a month ago. Their efforts were accelerated by the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 students and two teachers.
The group included Sinema and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who led the Democratic negotiators, and Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, applauded Murphy, saying that “thanks to his commitment to the gun-safety movement, Congress today approved legislation that takes a much-needed step to protect our children, families, and communities.”
Final passage of the bill came one day after the Supreme Court overturned a New York law that limited people’s ability to carry firearms in public, ruling that the Second Amendment gives Americans a broad right to arm themselves inside and outside their homes.
While the bill passed Friday is not as comprehensive as the bills passed through the House, advocates are still excited by the change. And lawmakers vowed to continue the fight for stricter gun legislation.
“Make no mistake, this bill will save lives. However, ridding our country of mass shootings and gun deaths will require bolder solutions – solutions the House has repeatedly approved,” Gallego said.
“The work is not done, but today we should celebrate this historic legislative achievement,” he said.