WASHINGTON, June 23 (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate passed a modest bipartisan set of gun safety measures late Thursday even as the Supreme Court expanded gun rights by ruling Americans have a constitutional right to carry handguns in public for self-defense.
The landmark court ruling and Senate action on gun safety illustrate the deep division over firearms in the United States, weeks after mass shootings in Ovaldi, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, killed more than 30 people, including 19 children. Read more
The Senate bill, approved 65 to 33, is the first significant gun control legislation to pass in three decades, in a country with the world’s highest per capita gun ownership and the highest number of mass shootings annually among wealthy nations.
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“This bipartisan legislation will help protect Americans,” President Joe Biden said after the vote. “Children in schools and communities will be safer because of it.” “The House of Representatives must urgently vote on this bipartisan bill and send it to my office.”
The bill, which its supporters say will save lives, is a modest one — and its most significant restriction on gun ownership will tighten background checks for potential gun buyers who have been convicted of domestic violence or major crimes such as juveniles.
Republicans refused to concede more sweeping gun control measures favored by Democrats including Biden, such as a ban on assault rifles or high-capacity magazines.
“This is not a panacea for all the ways gun violence affects our nation, but it is a long overdue step in the right direction,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said before the vote.
A Supreme Court ruling earlier Thursday, which passed by a conservative majority, overturned New York state’s restrictions on carrying concealed handguns outside the home.
The court found that the law, enacted in 1913, violated a person’s right to “keep and bear arms” under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. Read more
In a Senate vote late Thursday, 15 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in voting for the bill.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised the bill’s approval and said in a statement that it will advance through the House on Friday with a vote as soon as possible.
House Republicans had instructed their members to vote against the bill, although since Democrats controlled the room, their support was not necessary for the bill to pass.
Biden will sign the bill into law.
The Senate action came weeks after an impassioned speech by Biden in which he declared “enough” gun violence and urged lawmakers to act.
Polls show that a majority of Americans support some of the new restrictions on firearms, demands that typically rise after mass shootings like those in Texas and New York.
Democrats have warned that Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling could have dire consequences for gun safety across the country.
“The Supreme Court misjudged,” Senator Chris Murphy, the Democratic chief negotiator on the Gun Safety Act, said in an interview.
“I am very concerned about the court’s willingness to wrest the ability to protect our voters from elected bodies, and that has real serious implications for the safety of our country,” said Murphy, whose home state is Connecticut, where 26 people were killed. In 2012 an elementary school shooting.
Conservatives defend a broad reading of the Second Amendment, which they say limits most of the new restrictions on gun purchases.
The Senate’s 80-page Safer Communities Act will encourage states to keep guns out of the hands of those deemed dangerous and tighten background checks for potential gun buyers convicted of domestic violence or major crimes as juveniles.
More than 20,800 people were killed in gun violence in the United States in 2022, including homicide and suicide, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group.
The Supreme Court ruling, written by conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, declared that the Constitution protects “the individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”
“This is a massive victory for NRA members and gun owners across the country,” Jason Oymet, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement.
“This ruling opens the door to properly changing the law in the remaining seven states that still do not recognize the right to carry a firearm for personal protection.”
In the Senate, Republican supporters of the new gun safety bill said the measure does not undermine the rights of law-abiding gun owners, who are among their most ardent voters.
“The order does not prejudice the rights of the overwhelming majority of American gun owners, who are law-abiding citizens of good conscience,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who supports the legislation.
The bill provides funding to help states adopt “red flag” laws to keep firearms out of the hands of those deemed a danger to themselves or others. It would also fund alternative intervention measures in the state where it opposes red flag laws and provides for enhanced school security.
It closes the “friend loop” by preventing gun purchases from those convicted of intimate partner abuse in dating relationships, although if they have no further convictions or penalties, they will be allowed to buy again.
It also allows states to add criminal juvenile records and mental health records to national background check databases.
Senator John Cornyn, the bill’s top Republican negotiator, was booed last week when he discussed its contents during a speech to a Republican convention in his native Texas.
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Additional reporting by David Morgan, Andrew Chung and Moira Warburton. Additional reporting by Rose Horwich, Katherine Jackson, Richard Cowan and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and Jonathan Otis
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