The United States Senate has passed a gun safety bill, the most significant action against rising gun violence in the country. The bill was passed on Thursday (June 23), hours after the US Supreme Court ruled that Americans have a constitutional right to carry firearms in public for their safety and self-defence.
The bipartisan bill was passed with a majority of 65-33 votes in the Senate. At least 15 Republicans voted for the measure, a surprisingly high number for a party that has largely voted against gun control over the years. The bill will now be sent to the Democrat-dominated House of Representatives, where it is likely to sail through, after which it will be sent to US President Joe Biden for his approval.
The bill was passed exactly a month after a mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman stormed an elementary school and killed 21 people, including 19 children. The Uvalde incident came days after a racial shooting in a Buffalo supermarket in New York, where 10 black people were fatally shot.
While talking about the bill, Democrat Chris Murphy said on the floor of the House that it “will become the most significant piece of anti-gun-violence legislation Congress will have passed in 30 years”.
The bill was introduced on Tuesday with the aim “to make our communities safer”, and has been called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. The 80-page bill is set to cost around $15 billion, which according to Chris Murphy, will be paid for in full.
The bipartisan bill focuses on firearms and improving medical care in the US.
The bill will also release funds for educational institutions, to expand their mental health resources and make schools safer.
The bill seeks to ensure strict background checks for gun buyers, especially minors. It states that if a firearm is being transferred to a person less than 21 years, the system should contact the criminal history repository or juvenile justice information system, the state custodian of mental health adjudication records, and the local law enforcement agency of the state in which the person resides. According to the bill, this will help authorities determine whether the person has a possibly disqualifying juvenile record within 3 days of the licensee approaching the system for a license.
In case further investigation is needed, the licensee should be notified within 10 days that transferring or receiving a firearm for them is a violation.
The bill also requires every state and federal agency to submit a detailed report consisting of information on “removal from the system of records that no longer prohibit an individual from lawfully acquiring or possessing a firearm”. It should consist of the number of records that have been removed, and why have they been removed. The report should be submitted to the Committee on the Judiciary, the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate, and the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives.
The bill also puts penalties on straw purchasing, which is buying a firearm on behalf of someone else. It states, “It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly purchase, or conspire to purchase, any firearm in or otherwise affecting interstate or foreign commerce for, on behalf of, or at the request or demand of any other person, knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such other person…intends to use, carry, possess, or sell or otherwise dispose of the firearm in furtherance of a felony, a Federal crime of terrorism, or a drug trafficking crime.”
The penalty for straw purchasing, as stated in the bill, will be from 15 to 25 years of imprisonment.
Regarding gun trafficking, the bill states, “It shall be unlawful for any person to ship, transport, transfer, cause to be transported, or otherwise dispose of any firearm to another person in or otherwise affecting interstate or foreign commerce, if such person knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the use, carrying, or possession of a firearm by the recipient would constitute a felony, receive from another person any firearm in or otherwise affecting interstate or foreign commerce, if the recipient knows or has reasonable cause to believe that such receipt would constitute a felony.”
The penalty for the same is 15 years of imprisonment.
The bill also blocks sales of firearms to those who have been convicted of abusing unmarried intimate partners.
The bill will allow for funds to be provided to states to implement red flag laws, which will enable authorities to temporarily confiscate firearms and weapons from people that are deemed dangerous.
Murphy said, “I believe that the same people who are telling us to do something, are sending us a clear message to do what we can to keep our children and communities safe. I’m confident this legislation moves us in a positive direction.”
The bill, however, lacks strong resolutions that many Democrats and activists have been pushing for, including banning assault-type weapons, raising the minimum age to purchase firearms, and banning high-capacity magazine ammunition among others.
Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer said, “This bipartisan gun safety legislation is progress and will save lives…While it is not everything we want, this legislation is urgently needed.”
The National Rife Association, a group that supports gun rights in the US, issued a statement against the bill. It said the bill “falls short at every level. It does little to truly address violent crime while opening the door to unnecessary burdens on the exercise of Second Amendment freedom by law-abiding gun owners”.
The US has the highest rate of deaths from using firearms among developed nations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 79 per cent of homicides in the US are gun-related killings.
According to Pew Research, “In 2020, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries in the US.”
Pew Research further states, “In 2020, 54 per cent of all gun-related deaths in the US were suicides (24,292), while 43 per cent were murders (19,384), according to the CDC. The remaining gun deaths that year were unintentional (535), involved law enforcement (611) or had undetermined circumstances (400).”
BBC reported that according to a Swiss-based research project, in 2018, there were approximately, in circulation, 390 million guns in the US. The US has 120.5 firearms per 100 people.