House Approves Landmark Gun Bill
After Senate passed measure with bipartisan support, House follows suit and sends it to Biden
The House on Friday passed a bipartisan bill aimed at removing guns from people deemed dangerous, hours after it was approved by the Senate. The legislation is the result of weeks of negotiations that started in the aftermath of back-to-back mass shootings in May. Photo:
By Siobhan Hughes, WSJ
Updated June 24, 2022 2:02 pm ET
WASHINGTON—The House passed the widest firearms legislation in decades Friday, hours after the bipartisan package won Senate approval, clearing the way for President Biden’s signature and giving supporters hope that the country’s political system can respond to mounting gun violence.
The 234-193 vote, with 14 Republicans joining all Democrats present in favor, put into law a requirement that background checks cover the juvenile and mental-health records of gun purchasers under 21 years of age. The bill would also encourage states to enact extreme risk protection orders, also known as red-flag laws, to allow courts to order guns to be temporarily removed from people deemed dangerous. It would impose new criminal penalties on straw purchases, or buying a gun for someone not permitted to, and gun trafficking.
More than half of the $15 billion allocated over 10 years would go for mental-health services, including allowing more states to test community-based behavioral health centers with round-the-clock emergency psychiatric services. It provides grants for school security and violence-prevention programs. It also closes the so-called boyfriend loophole, banning dating partners or recent dating partners convicted of domestic violence from purchasing a firearm.
“This bill will save lives,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.). “Americans are begging us to work together to protect our kids and our communities.”
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House Republican leaders whipped against the new firearms bill, arguing that it would infringe on constitutionally enshrined rights to keep and bear arms. “This legislation takes the wrong approach in attempting to curb violent crimes,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) wrote to his GOP colleagues.
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The House approved the bill one month to the day after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 students and two teachers. That shooting followed one at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 10 Black people. At the start of the Congress last year, when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House, the House had already passed more restrictive bills, including to expand background checks to nearly all gun sales, but those never got votes in the Senate.
The new bill was negotiated by Sens. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) and John Cornyn (R., Texas), with the support of leadership from both parties.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) was one of the lead negotiators for the new gun bill, the most substantive firearms legislation since 1994.
PHOTO: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES
Until now, Congress has been unable to pass substantive firearms legislation since 1994, when it enacted a 10-year assault-weapons ban. The ban drew opposition from the National Rifle Association, which that year succeeded in blocking Democrats including House Speaker Tom Foley (D., Wash.) from being re-elected after he supported the ban. Since then, lawmakers had viewed gun bills as political suicide.
But Democrats see signs of cracks in that resistance, driven in part by parents, especially the suburban mothers who can swing the outcome of congressional races. In 2020, firearm-related deaths were the leading cause of death among people from one to 19 years old, surpassing car crashes, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Some 4,142 children between 12 and 17 years old were killed by a gun in 2020, up from 2,318 in 2014, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
A total of 14 Republicans broke with the party, including Rep. Tony Gonzales, whose district includes Uvalde, and Rep. Chris Jacobs, whose district is near Buffalo. Mr. Jacobs has said he would not run for re-election after drawing opprobrium from some Republican leaders over his new support for some gun restrictions.
One of the major flashpoints was over a provision to provide $750 million in grants that could be used to put in place and enforce red-flag laws. Some 19 states already have such laws, including Florida, New York and California. Many Republicans say that the due-process protections written into the bill are weak.
“In places where red-flag laws have been adopted, these types of laws always infringe on the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners,” said Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R., Minn.). “This ambiguous language contains insufficient guardrails to ensure that the money is actually going towards keeping guns out of the hands of criminals or preventing mass violence.”
Democrats said that the bill was far less than their ideal, noting that it excluded some of their priorities like raising to 21 the age for purchasing rifles or expanding background checks to cover nearly all gun purchases. But they said that incremental progress could test the notion that enacting new firearm laws would end a political career.
“It’s not everything we want, we must keep working toward universal background checks…but this will save lives,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) told reporters. “Maybe not so much a giant, but a small step forward.”
Natalie Andrews contributed to this article.
Write to Siobhan Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org