The U.S. Senate approved landmark bipartisan legislation on Thursday aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous people, following the tragic shooting of 19 children and two teachers were murdered in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
The bill passed 65 to 33, with 15 Republicans including minority leader Senator Mitch McConnell breaking ranks to side with Democrats in support of the measure. Known as the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the legislation would enhance background checks for prospective gun buyers ages 18 to 21, provide incentives for states to pass “red flag” laws that allow guns to be temporarily confiscated from people deemed by a judge to be too dangerous to possess them, tighten a federal ban on domestic abusers buying firearms, and strengthen laws against straw purchasing and trafficking of guns. It also includes hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for mental health programs and to beef up security in schools.
After its successful passage through the Senate, the bill now heads next to the House, where it is expected to easily pass. Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Thursday night that the House would move to take up the measure on Friday morning. White House officials have said President Joe Biden would sign it, calling the bill “one of the most significant steps Congress has taken to reduce gun violence in decades.”
Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn was a lead sponsor for the bill. Though it is widely seen as falling short of the proposals pushed by House Democrats and Biden, Cornyn was still subjected to the ire of GOP supporters in his state for his role in the bipartisan negotiations. Fellow Republican Senator Ted Cruz was among those who voted against the bill, arguing that the bill would “strip away Americans’ constitutional rights.”
In a floor speech ahead of the vote, Cornyn acknowledged the controversial subject of the bill.
“While the discussion surrounding this topic causes emotions to run high, and I understand why,” Cornyn said, “for too long, some politicians have tried to pit the right to live in a safe community against the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. They make it seem like our country can only have one or the other.”
He went on to say that politicians have posed “a false choice” between public safety and the right to bear arms.
“I don’t believe in doing nothing in the face of what we saw in Uvalde, and we’ve seen in far too many communities,” he continued. “Doing nothing is an abdication of our responsibility as representatives of the American people here in the United States Senate,” he added, while stressing he “would not support any provisions that infringed on the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”
Afterward, several Democrats went up to Mr. Cornyn, who was heckled at a Republican gathering in Texas last week for participating in the talks, to offer thanks and shake his hand.