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Senate negotiators unveil bill meant to curb gun violence

‘This bill is going to save lives. This bill is going to save thousands of lives,’ Sen. Christopher S. Murphy says

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., talks with reporters in the Capitol after the Senate luncheons last week.
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., talks with reporters in the Capitol after the Senate luncheons last week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Bipartisan negotiators revealed a broad bill intended to combat a surge in mass shootings Tuesday, including mental health, school security and gun control provisions that the Senate could approve later this week.

The bill would beef up criminal background checks for those under age 21 for the next decade, create grants for state crisis intervention laws and provide several billion dollars in mental health and school security funding.

One of the lead negotiators, Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., called the legislation “the most significant piece of anti-gun violence legislation Congress will have passed in 30 years,” in a floor speech Tuesday.

“This bill is going to save lives. This bill is going to save thousands of lives,” Murphy said. “This is going to be something that every single member of the Senate who votes for it can be proud of.”

The framework comes out of a working group involving 10 senators from each party in response to dozens killed in recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas; Tulsa, Okla.; and Buffalo, N.Y. Senators spent more than a week hammering out the details of the legislative text.

In his own floor speech, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, emphasized the billions of dollars in the bill that would go to expand the federal certified community health center model.

Cornyn called it “the single largest investment in community-based mental health treatment in American history” and a major provision of the bill. The bill would provide several billion dollars for those mental health centers, as well as school security funding and local Justice Department grants, paid for by delaying a Medicare drug rebate by one year.

Bipartisan backing

The bill would require the backing of at least 10 Republicans to pass the 50-50 Senate, but the legislation released Tuesday appears to have bipartisan support. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., issued a statement that he supports the text of the bill.

“Our colleagues have put together a commonsense package of popular steps that will help make these horrifying incidents less likely while fully upholding the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, McConnell said.

Before the bill text was released, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters that he intended to have the Senate vote on the bill before it leaves Washington for the July Fourth recess. He said a procedural vote could happen as early as Tuesday evening.

Tuesday’s legislation, if passed, includes the broadest gun control provisions to have bipartisan Senate support in at least a decade. However, they fall far short of stated goals from Democrats and President Joe Biden.

Earlier this month the House passed a pair of broad gun control bills that would limit high capacity magazines, raise the age of purchase for most rifles to 21 and more. One bill does concern “red flag” provisions. However that bill, from Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., would create a federal extreme risk protection order process in federal court.

An earlier agreement to include grants for “red flag” emergency gun seizure provisions in all states appeared to have fallen out of the final bill. Murphy said the bill would extend grants to 19 states with those laws as well as potentially all 50 states if they pass certain provisions in state law.

Cornyn said any state law provisions for seizing guns had to have “robust” due process protections. Provisions in the bill would allow states to use federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grants to fund mental health courts, drug and veteran courts in addition to extreme risk protection orders — so-called “red flag” laws.

Other provisions

Murphy said the bill includes other provisions to tighten restrictions on straw purchases, gun trafficking and who must register as a federal firearms dealer.

The negotiators also ironed out a new provision to close the so-called “boyfriend loophole” for dating partners. Current federal law extends forfeiture of gun rights for people convicted of certain misdemeanor domestic violence against a spouse but not other domestic partners.

“This doesn’t limit law-abiding gunowners rights unless somebody’s convicted of domestic abuse under their state laws, their gun rights will not be impacted,” Cornyn said.

The bill also includes provisions to expand background checks for gun purchasers under the age of 21. For the next decade, states will be incentivized to provide records of criminal convictions and mental health crises to the National Instant Background Check System for people 16 and older.

Cornyn emphasized that the bill would not affect law-abiding gun owners. “That’s because law-abiding gun owners are not the problem,” Cornyn said. “What we’re trying to do is prevent dangerous individuals from unleashing violence on their communities.”

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