The lawmakers have approved the first key gun safety law in decades in the wake of several high-profile shootings
The US House on Friday passed a package of gun control measures, including stepped-up background check requirements for younger buyers and funding for mental health programs. Already passed by the Senate on Thursday, the legislation heads to President Joe Biden’s desk, where it is expected to be signed.
Biden described the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act as “one of the most significant steps Congress has taken to reduce gun violence in decades” in a statement released on Thursday.
Under the new law, individuals 16 years or older attempting to purchase a gun must undergo a review of their juvenile mental health records. It also closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” barring anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor as part of a dating relationship from purchasing or owning a firearm for at least five years.
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The legislation also provides funding for “extreme risk protection order programs” and other crisis intervention measures, supplying $250 million in community violence intervention and prevention initiatives and $100 million to beef up the National Criminal Instant Background Check System. This includes so-called “red flag” laws permitting authorities to confiscate guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
The law also requires individuals who “repeatedly buy and sell firearms” to register for a federal firearms license and perform background checks on their clients. The criminal penalties for “straw” purchases, in which one individual buys a gun on behalf of someone who does not want their name associated with the transaction – whether because they are legally barred from owning a gun or for privacy reasons – are also increased under the new legislation.
Additionally, the bill expands community behavioral health clinics and telehealth services, in particular mental health services in schools, supplying $250 million for Community Mental Health Services block grants. The grants help train primary care providers and school and childcare professionals in mental health care as well as providing treatment for individuals who have experienced trauma. A $1 billion grant is aimed at funding “after-school, before-school and summer programs,” with $300 million going toward training students and teachers in “how to prevent and respond to violence against themselves and others.”
Democratic lawmakers have clamored for stricter gun control laws in recent weeks following a string of widely-publicized shootings, including the slaying of 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
In the House, the bill was passed unanimously by Democrats, with 14 Republicans also joining to support it in a 234-to-193 vote. The Senate saw it pass 65-to-33, with 15 Republicans joining all of the Democrats.
Senators teased the legislation with a “framework” released earlier this month before releasing the text of the bill on Tuesday. While the bill does not go as far as Democratic congressional leaders have called for with regard to strengthening background checks and doing away with high-capacity magazines, the party’s razor-thin Senate majority and the need to overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold to push legislation through restrained some of their more radical impulses.
Nevertheless, the National Rifle Organization slammed the bill earlier this week as unacceptable, arguing the measures therein could be “abused to restrict lawful gun purchases, infringe upon the rights of law-abiding Americans, and use federal dollars to fund gun control measures being adopted by state and local politicians.”
The lobbying group’s influence is frequently blamed for the lack of legislative action in the aftermath of mass shootings.