NYT: Bipartisan Gun Bill Clears Initial Vote in Senate

Emily Cochrane and Published June 21, 2022Updated June 22, 2022, 5:43 p.m. ET

Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, has been a lead negotiator on the legislation.
Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, has been a lead negotiator on the legislation.Credit…Shuran Huang for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday cleared the first hurdle to passing a bipartisan measure aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous people, agreeing to take up a compromise bill whose enactment would break a yearslong stalemate over federal legislation to address gun violence.

While the bill falls short of the sweeping gun control measures Democrats have long demanded, its approval would amount to the most significant action in decades to overhaul the nation’s gun laws. The 64-to-34 vote came just hours after Republicans and Democrats released the text of the legislation, and after days of feverish negotiations to hammer out its details.

Proponents hope to pass it by Saturday, and Democratic leaders put it on a fast track on the normally sluggish Senate floor.

The 80-page bill, called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, would enhance background checks, giving authorities up to 10 business days to review the juvenile and mental health records of gun purchasers younger than 21, and direct millions toward helping states implement so-called red-flag laws, which allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from people deemed dangerous, as well as other intervention programs.

The measure would also, for the first time, ensure that serious dating partners are included in a federal law that bars domestic abusers from purchasing firearms, a longtime priority that has eluded gun safety advocates for years.

Senators agreed to provide millions of dollars for expanding mental health resources in communities and schools in addition to funds devoted to boosting school safety. In addition, the legislation would toughen penalties for those evading licensing requirements or making illegal “straw” purchases, buying and then selling weapons to people barred from purchasing handguns.

The vote margin — and the swift backing of top leaders in both parties — indicated that the measure has more than enough support to scale the 60-vote threshold needed to break a Republican filibuster that has thwarted such legislation in the past and make it to final passage in the coming days.

Fourteen Republicans, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, joined Democrats in advancing the bill. Two Republican senators were absent; one of them, Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, announced his support in a statement.

Proponents hoped to win final Senate approval for the legislation before a scheduled Fourth of July recess, with the House expected to follow suit quickly. The National Rifle Association almost immediately announced its opposition, and the vast majority of Republican officeholders fell in line behind it.

But both Senate leaders swiftly issued statements of public support, suggesting that public sentiment in favor of toughening gun laws, particularly in the wake of recent mass shootings, had finally broken through in Congress. Mr. McConnell called the bill “a common sense package of popular steps that will help make these horrifying incidents less likely while fully upholding the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said he expected the legislation to pass by the end of the week.

“This bipartisan gun safety legislation is progress and will save lives,” he said ahead of the vote. “While it is not everything we want, this legislation is urgently needed.”

The flurry of negotiations was spurred by two mass shootings in the last two months: a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, which left 19 children and two teachers dead, and a racist attack that killed 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket. The human devastation brought the issue of gun violence back to the forefront on Capitol Hill, where years of efforts to enact gun restrictions in the wake of such assaults have fallen short amid Republican opposition.

Since 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats announced their agreement on a bipartisan outline less than two weeks ago, lead negotiators — Senators Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both Democrats, and John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, both Republicans — have spent hours hammering out the details and toiling to keep their fragile coalition together.

“Today, we finalized bipartisan, common sense legislation to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country,” the four senators said in a statement. “Our legislation will save lives and will not infringe on any law-abiding American’s Second Amendment rights. We look forward to earning broad, bipartisan support and passing our common sense legislation into law.”

Talks had teetered on the brink of failure repeatedly last week, as lawmakers, in late-night meetings and calls, wrestled with how to translate their outline into a legislative text. The group spent the three-day weekend haggling over the details.

The title of the bill reflected that careful negotiating — it notably emphasized “safety,” not any particular limits on an individual’s right to own or purchase a firearm. This was in line with the way Republicans have been discussing the framework agreement, emphasizing all the Democratic efforts to limit access to guns they have succeeded in keeping out of the final bill.

In its final form, much of the spending in the bill was directed toward mental health investment, according to a summary reviewed by The New York Times. It includes $60 million over five years to provide mental health and behavioral training for primary care clinicians, $150 million to support the national suicide prevention hotline and $240 million over four years for Project AWARE, a program that focuses on mental health support for school children, $28 million of which is set aside for trauma care in schools.

Two provisions proved particularly tricky in the final days of talks: whether to extend funds for the implementation of red flag laws to states that do not have such laws, and exactly how to define a boyfriend or intimate partner, as lawmakers sought to close what has come to be known as the “boyfriend loophole.”

Current law only bars domestic abusers who have been married to or lived with the victim, or have had a child with them, from buying a firearm. Lawmakers expanded the definition to include “a current or recent former dating relationship with the victim,” though the change cannot be applied retroactively.

Negotiators also agreed to allow dating partners convicted of a misdemeanor to regain the right to buy a gun after five years, provided that they were first-time offenders and not found guilty of any other violent misdemeanor or offense.

And lawmakers agreed to allow states access to federal funds either to implement red flag laws or support what Mr. Cornyn described as “crisis intervention programs,” including programs related to mental health courts, drug courts and veterans courts.

The bill will be financed by delaying implementation of a Medicare rule approved under former President Donald J. Trump that would limit hidden discounts negotiated between drug companies and insurers.

A majority of Senate Republicans still opposed the measure, arguing that it infringed on the rights of gun owners. Over the weekend, Texas Republicans booed Mr. Cornyn and moved to formally “rebuke” him and eight other Republicans for their role in the negotiations.

Some progressive Democrats, particularly in the House, where they have advanced far more ambitious gun reform legislation, have expressed uneasiness about the notion of “hardening” schools, or further stigmatizing mental health struggles.

But gun safety activists and groups like the N.A.A.C.P., which support more sweeping gun legislation, said they would back it in a bid to address at least some aspects of a crisis that has gripped the country.

“When school children, churchgoers and grocery store shoppers are being gunned down, the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good,” Derrick Johnson, president of the N.A.A.C.P., said in a statement.

“This bipartisan legislation meets the most important test: it will save lives,” John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement. “We now move one big step closer to breaking the 26-year logjam that has blocked congressional action to protect Americans from gun violence.”


Margot Sanger-Katz contributed reporting.

Emily Cochrane is a reporter in the Washington bureau, covering Congress. She was raised in Miami and graduated from the University of Florida. @ESCochrane

Annie Karni is a congressional correspondent. She was previously a White House correspondent. Before joining The Times, she covered the White House and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign for Politico, and spent a decade covering local politics for the New York Post and the New York Daily News. @AnnieKarni

A version of this article appears in print on June 22, 2022, Section A, Page 12 of the New York edition with the headline: Senators Release a Compromise Bill on Gun Safety.


As the Lake County State’s Attorney, I am honored and humbled every day to lead the fight against crime, and to strive to ensure equal and just treatment under the law. I have been an attorney for twenty-two years – and each of those years has made me a stronger and smarter advocate for people, for ideas, and for the principles that unite us all.

I am so proud to lead an office of 140 dedicated colleagues who serve the public by prosecuting crime, advocating for victims, and planning crime prevention programs. I am also proud to work with hundreds of Lake County police officers on a daily basis to connect with every community and to develop comprehensive, holistic plans to respond to the mental health and economic crisis that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On one particular day, July 4, 2022, I was saddened, inspired, and motivated by the bravery of so many people. We will always stand with the victims and honor the police and other first responders who ran toward the danger. Just as so many heroes that day thought only of themselves, I also witnessed the prosecutors in my office answer the call to serve survivors and their community – even on one of its darkest days.

Every moment that I have been your legal representative, I have worked tirelessly to oversee prosecutions and to implement policies that make my family and my neighbors safer in the short term and in the long term. That is the job of the State’s Attorney: to prosecute, to innovate, and to strategically plan.

I was raised in a small town. My parents are teachers, and from them, I learned that everyone must be treated equally and that America’s sacred mission is to provide a political, economic, and legal system that allows anyone to prosper regardless of the circumstances of their birth. After graduating from Knox College and the University of Chicago Law School, I spent two years at a first-rate civil law firm in Chicago where I learned that hard work and attention to detail on every case mean the difference between success and failure.

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I joined the Lake County Public Defender’s Office in 2003 and started my own law firm in 2009. From 2003 until 2020, I watched the Lake County legal system fail to prioritize violent crime, prevent wrongful prosecutions, or address racial disparities.

So, in 2019, I decided to run for State’s Attorney so that I could serve our community by improving a local legal system that cared more about covering up its mistakes and biases than uncovering new and innovative ways to help people.

I won the 2020 election, and became the first Democrat to hold this position in 40 years. Bringing in a new party wasn’t as important as ending 40 years of one mindset that had forgotten the people and that had failed to act urgently to develop new strategic plans to prevent crime while also ensuring that each prosecution is smart, moral, and just.

We have followed through on our promises. We have built the first-ever violent crimes unit, increased prosecutors in our domestic violence division, and vastly upgraded our cyber lab. Now, we have top-notch software and personnel to finally keep up with those who would exploit others.

We have been awarded a large federal grant to bring the first ever Human Trafficking Task Force to Lake County. We have deepened our investment in people by bringing in more victim specialists and raising the salaries of many of our prosecutors.

But the work goes on. We must expand our prevention efforts that are starting with the Gun Violence Prevention Initiative launched in 2022. And we know that the opioid crisis touches thousands of lives throughout this country.

I am proud to serve on the Executive Board of the Lake County Opioid Initiative which has been working tirelessly since its founding in 2012 to reverse a devastating trend of increased overdoses. In 2022, our office was part of a national settlement against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

As an attorney of 22 years, I have committed my life to helping people, and I have conducted over 70 jury trials in Lake County, and handled appeals that have culminated in over 20 oral arguments before the appellate court and Supreme Court of Illinois.

I see my time in this office as the next phase of helping a community that I love and where I have chosen to raise my family. In my first term, we have made Lake County safer and fairer through just prosecutions, constitutional policing, and innovative crime prevention policies.