The US House on Friday passed a bipartisan bill to strengthen federal gun regulations, bringing an end to decades of congressional inaction and sending the historic legislation to Joe Biden’s desk.
Passage of the bill came a day after the supreme court overturned a New York law regulating handgun ownership, a significant blow for proponents of gun reform.
Nonetheless, advocates celebrated passage of the first major gun-control legislation passed by Congress in nearly 30 years despite hundreds of mass shootings happening in the US every year.
Just last month, 10 people were killed in a racist attack at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and 19 children and two adults were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
The House passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act by a vote of 234-193, 14 Republicans joining every Democrat in supporting the bill. It came a day after the Senate approved the bill 65-33, following weeks of negotiations.
The law will establish enhanced background checks for those under 21 attempting to buy a gun and expand restrictions for people convicted of domestic abuse.
The law will also provide funding to implement crisis-intervention policies, including so-called “red-flag laws”, which allow courts to restrict gun access for those considered a danger to themselves or others.
Additional funds will be made available for community violence intervention programs and mental health services for children and families.
Democrats took a victory lap after the House vote, promising that the law, if not perfect, would help combat gun violence in America.
“While it isn’t everything we would have liked to see in legislation, it takes us down the … path to more safety [and] saving lives,” said the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. “Let us not judge the legislation for what it does not do but respect it for what it does.”
Kris Brown, president of the gun-control group Brady, said: “This is a watershed moment for gun violence prevention and for the nation, and one that would not be possible if not for the decades of action from activists and organizers, particularly Black and brown activists, and the millions of voters who elected gun violence prevention majorities to both chambers of Congress.”
Echoing Pelosi, Brown added: “While this bill is not perfect, it takes a comprehensive approach and is a significant and a meaningful step forward.”
The bill falls far short of legislation passed by the House earlier this month, which would have raised the minimum age required to buy a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21 and implemented severe restrictions on buying and possessing large-capacity magazines.
That bill, the Protecting Our Kids Act, was a nonstarter in the evenly divided Senate, where Democrats needed the support of at least 10 Republicans to pass gun-control legislation.
The proposal sent to Biden’s desk represents the culmination of weeks of debate among a bipartisan group of senators that sought to craft a consensus gun-control bill in the wake of the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings.
After the Senate passed the bill on Thursday night, the majority leader, Chuck Schumer, applauded the “amazing courage” of Republicans who helped lead the negotiations, despite the political risks of doing so.
John Cornyn was booed at the Texas Republican convention last week over his role as one of the chief negotiators.
“This is not a cure-all for all the ways gun violence affects our nation but it is a long-overdue step in the right direction,” Schumer said.
“It was so, so significant that we let the process work instead of just having one vote which would divide us and not accomplish anything. And I hope that portends doing it again, on guns and on other issues as well.”
On Friday, the significant accomplishment of passing the bipartisan bill was overshadowed by the release of the supreme court decision overturning Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling that established the right to abortion.
As the country braced for the end of nearly 50 years of federal protections for abortion access, Biden prepared to leave the US to attend the G7 summit in Germany and the Nato summit in Spain.
When he returns, he will have a very significant bill to sign.