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Senate passes gun safety bill in wake of mass shootings

The House is expected to pass the legislation Friday, fast-tracking the bill to soon become law.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A bipartisan gun violence bill made its way out of the Senate late Thursday night, paving the way for Congress to pass the most comprehensive federal gun legislation in decades as the nation remains reeling from a series of devastating mass shootings.

While the legislation still has to pass the House, the bipartisan package overcame the filibuster, a major hurdle that doomed previous gun control bills, and passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 65-33.

The bill’s survival through the deeply partisan Senate marks a major win for gun control advocates. House leaders are expected to hold a vote on the legislation Friday, setting it on a quick path to become law.

Although much narrower than initial proposals supported by Democrats, the legislation, known as the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, would expand background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21 and close the so-called ‘boyfriend loophole,’ by including serious dating partners in a federal law that prevents people convicted of domestic abuse from buying guns.

Existing federal law only prevents people convicted of domestic abuse against a spouse, a partner they live with or a partner they share a child with from obtaining a firearm, a policy that gun control advocates and Democrats have long-argued hinges on an overly narrow definition of domestic abuse. 

Under the bill, people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence will be able to have their gun rights restored after five years if they maintain a clean record.

The legislation would also expand background checks for young gun buyers by requiring juvenile and mental health records to be included in background checks for purchasers between the ages of 18 and 21. 

Federal authorities will be required to review state records for young gun buyers and determine if they have a juvenile criminal history or mental health history that could make them ineligible to purchase a gun.

It would also extend the amount of time officials have to vet these prospective gun buyers from three days to 10 days.

The expanded background check provision, unlike the rest of the bill, would expire after 10 years.

The bill also provides funding to encourage states to pass ‘red flag laws,’ which give courts the power to seize guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.

States with red flag laws or mental health courts, drug courts or veterans court programs would be able to access a pot of $750 million in federal funding to support their initiatives.

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

It includes $150 million for the national suicide prevention hotline and $240 million over the course of four years for a federal program that provides mental health and trauma resources to schools and school-age kids.

The bill would also target gun trafficking and straw purchasing, the practice of buying firearms on behalf of someone who cannot legally purchase one.

Notably, the legislation does not curtail the sale of assault-style firearms, a gun control measure Democrats have pushed for ever since a previous federal ban on assault weapons lapsed in 2004.

Calls for federal action on gun control reached a fever pitch in recent months after a slew of mass shootings including a white supremacist attack at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.

Just days later, 19 children and two teachers were killed during a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

After the Uvalde shooting, a bipartisan group of senators led by Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican John Cornyn of Texas began hours of negotiations to craft bipartisan gun control legislation.

"This will become the most significant piece of anti-gun violence legislation Congress has passed in three decades. And as a result, this bill also has the chance to prove to the weary American public that democracy is not so broken that is unable to rise to the moment when the need for action, like right now, in the wake of Uvalde and Buffalo, is most acute," Murphy said on the Senate floor Thursday night.

Cornyn praised the bipartisan work behind the legislation.

“Doing nothing is an abdication of our responsibility as representatives of the American people here in the United States Senate,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor Thursday night. “At the same time, I reiterated my bottom line which is that I would not support any provisions that infringed on the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Again, they're not the problem. But I knew that this effort was about the art of the possible, looking at areas where we could agree and setting aside those areas where we could not.”

The Senate passed the gun control package the same day the Supreme Court struck down a New York law that placed restrictions on who is allowed to carry a concealed firearm in public.

Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas ruled, “that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.” 

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