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Gun control: What is in the new bipartisan firearms legislation passed by the Senate?

Breakthrough bill drafted after Buffalo and Uvalde atrocities voted through upper chamber 65-33

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 24 June 2022 12:06 BST
Related: Sister of Uvalde victim begs Texas lawmakers to pass new gun control laws

The US Senate has passed its first new gun control legislation in 28 years, winning the support of all 50 Democrats and 15 Republicans, including minority leader Mitch McConnell, as a landmark bipartisan bill was voted through 65-33.

The 80-page proposal was drawn-up by a negotiating panel of 20 senators led by Democrats Chris Murphy and Kyrsten Sinema and Republicans John Cornyn and Thom Tillis in response to the latest deadly mass shootings to strike the country, particularly the murder of 10 black grocery shoppers by a white supremacist at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, twin tragedies that occurred within days of each other last month.

There were a number of prominent GOP holdouts, however, notably Texas senator Ted Cruz, Missouri’s Josh Hawley and Kentucky’s Rand Paul, and the National Rifle Association has likewise been predictably outspoken in its opposition.

US president Joe Biden, who helped author the Federal Assault Weapons Ban passed in 1994, praised the new package, remarking: “This bipartisan legislation will help protect Americans. Kids in schools and communities will be safer because of it.

“The House of Representatives should promptly vote on this bipartisan bill and send it to my desk.”

House speaker Nancy Pelosi has already indicated that the lower chamber of Congress will move swiftly to pass it and could even do so as early as Friday.

While the bill represents a major breakthrough after years of stalemate in Washington, for many it falls far short of the more robust gun restrictions Democrats have sought and Republicans thwarted for years.

Those include bans on the assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as used in the massacres in both Buffalo and Uvalde.

“This is not a cure-all for all the ways gun violence affects our nation,” said Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer. “But it is a long overdue step in the right direction.”

Here is an overview of what was included.

Expanded background checks

Assuming the bill is passed by the House and signed off on by President Biden, federal background checks will be expanded so that firearms retailers will be obliged to examine the state and local juvenile and mental health records of prospective customers aged 18 to 20.

The current three-day maximum time period allowed for gathering those records will be lengthened to up to 10 business days, giving sellers more time to trawl databases for potential warning signs.

Should the 10 days lapse without cause for concern coming to light, the sale will be allowed to proceed.

Under the current law, anyone aged over 18 can buy rifles and shotguns, including military-grade semi-automatics and ammunition.

Support for ‘red flag’ laws

Up to $750m (£610m) in federal aid will be made available over five years to the 19 states, plus the District of Columbia, that currently have laws in place empowering authorities to obtain court orders permitting the temporary confiscation of guns from people deemed to pose a danger to themselves or others.

“Under this bill, every state will be able to use significant new federal dollars to be able to expand their programmes to try to stop dangerous people, people contemplating mass murder or suicide, from being able to have access to the weapons that allow them to perpetrate that crime,” Senator Murphy said on the chamber floor.

End of the ‘boyfriend loophole’

Convicted domestic violence offenders will be denied access to guns if they have a current or past “continuing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature” with their victim and added to the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System.

Abusers’ rights to buy firearms will be restored after five years if no additional violent crimes are committed in the interim.

Firearms are currently denied to domestic abusers if they are married, live with or have had a child with their victim but not if those conditions do not apply.

Clarification of federal licensing requirements for gun dealers

Currently, the law requires people “engaged in the business” of selling guns to be licensed, which obliges them to conduct background checks and keep records.

The new bill defines their role more specifically to mean selling firearms “to predominantly earn a profit” and requires anyone to whom that applies to register as a Federal Firearm Licensee in an effort to prosecute those who evade their legal requirements as responsible traders.

Stiffer penalties for gun traffickers

The bill also creates federal crimes for gun traffickers and “straw purchasers”, meaning those who buy guns on behalf of other people who would themselves not pass background checks.

It also imposes penalties of up to 25 years in prison for such an offence when, at present, offenders are primarily prosecuted on weak paperwork-violation grounds.

Support for community mental health measures

Funding will also be granted to help states support and expand community behavioural health clinics.

Additional funding for educational institutions

Further investment will be made available to boost school mental health programmes, crisis intervention, violence prevention, mental health worker training and school safety and security measures.

Total cost

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of the new bill at $13bn (£10.6bn), mostly on account of its mental health and schools initiatives.

That could be more than paid for by further delaying a 2020 regulation that has never taken effect requiring drug manufacturers to give rebates to Medicare recipients, a regulation that would increase federal Medicare costs.

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