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House sends gun control bill to Biden’s desk

The bipartisan legislation is the first major gun reform bill passed by Congress in decades.

WASHINGTON (CN) — In the wake of the elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, and the racially motivated shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan gun violence prevention bill on Friday afternoon in a 234-193 vote.

As the first major federal gun reform legislation in nearly 30 years, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act now heads to President Joe Biden's desk to be signed into law.

Just the night before, the bipartisan package passed through the Senate in a 65-33 vote, overcoming the major hurdle of the filibuster that left previous gun control bills at a dead end.

"Republicans and Democrats have come together like they never have before on this issue," said Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. "This bill will save lives."

While more Democrats supported the bill, 14 Republicans also voted in its favor on the House floor.

Before voting, many representatives in support of the bill expressed concern over gun deaths becoming the leading cause of death for American children in 2020 and the continuous trend of mass shootings occurring across the nation.

"I've heard from hundreds of constituents of all ages and walks of life who are demanding action to reduce gun violence," said Democratic Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania. "I refuse to tell the American people and particularly our children that they must be sacrificial lambs to a twisted theory of armed Second Amendment liberty that defies the express purposes of our constitution by undermining the general welfare and destroying domestic tranquility."

Key components of the bill include expanding background checks by requiring juvenile and mental health records for gun buyers under the age of 21. It also closes the so-called "boyfriend loophole," by including dating partners in the current federal law that prevents people convicted of domestic violence from purchasing a gun if they are living with their partner, married or have a child with their partner.

Since 2018, most of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S. were committed by men and boys under 21.

Millions in federal funding will also be provided under the bill to states with mental health courts, drug courts or veteran court programs, as well as those that pass red-flag laws, which give courts the power to seize guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.

Congresswoman Michelle Fischbach, a Minnesota Republican, criticized supporters of the bill and said it was "a small step towards their larger gun-grabbing agenda."

"it is at its core an effort to chip away the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens," Fischbach said.

Other opponents of the legislation, including Republican representatives from Georgia, Ohio, North Carolina and Kentucky, argued that it is an infringement on constitutional rights and called for other solutions like funding for more armed law enforcement, mental health interventions and tougher actions against criminals.

As part of a bipartisan compromise, the bill includes provisions to increase school security and the bulk of the funding is directed toward mental health programs in schools and local communities.

The legislation also targets gun trafficking and straw purchasing to reduce the practice of buying firearms on behalf of someone who cannot legally purchase one.

Congressman Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat, spoke on the recent fatal shooting of 10 Black people by a white supremacist in his community of Buffalo.

"There was a retired police officer by the name of Aaron Salter, a 30-year veteran to the Buffalo Police Department. He was working security that day. Someone once said that the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Officer Aaron Salter was a good guy with a gun, but he didn't stand a chance because he was out-gunned and out-equipped," Higgins said.

In 2022 alone so far, there have been 250 mass shootings across the United States, with over 100 people shot and killed each day.

While research continues to show that states with looser gun restrictions have higher rates of firearm-related homicides and suicides, some of the bill's opponents pushed back on that idea.

"We will see more suicides and more mass shootings. This bill will cost more lives than it will save," said Republican Congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky. "The Supreme Court is the institution that has taken two steps forward in the last 48 hours to save life."

At the same time the bill advanced through Congress, the Supreme Court struck down a New York law that placed restrictions on who is allowed to carry a concealed firearm in public, and overturned Roe. v. Wade, a nearly 50-year-old precedent protecting abortion rights across the country. 

"We actually think you should protect the sanctity of human life," said Ohio Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, speaking in opposition to the gun safety bill.

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