The Senate on Thursday passed the first major federal gun control bill in decades, breaking the longtime Republican blockade against further restrictions on firearms and sending the legislation to almost certain final approval by the Democratic-run House.
The bill, which would expand background checks to include juvenile records and incentivize state adoption of “red flag” laws to confiscate guns from people deemed dangerous by a judge, passed the Senate comfortably just after 10 p.m.
The vote was 65-33, with 15 Republicans joining all the chambers’ Democrats to approve it.
It passed the key test vote earlier by 65-34, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and 14 other Republicans joining the chamber’s Democrats to advance the legislation.
“The American people do not have to choose between safer schools and the Constitution, and neither does the United States Senate,” said Mr. McConnell, whose support for bipartisan negotiations on new gun laws made the breakthrough possible.
He went on to say that “the American people want their constitutional rights protected and their kids to be safe in school. They want both those things at once. And that is just what the bill before the Senate will help accomplish.”
Before the vote, Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, led a last-ditch failed effort to table an amendment brought forth by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
Mr. Schumer’s amendment blocked Mr. Cruz’s ability to offer alternative gun legislation he proposed with Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, North Dakota Republican, did not participate in either vote because he’s at home with a hand injury. Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, voted against advancing the bill but did not participate in the latter vote.
The action in Congress was spurred by a series of mass shootings that horrified the nation, including a racially motivated attack that killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and a rampage at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers.
“Americans have waited long enough. Let us finish our job today,” Mr. Schumer said on the floor. “As we take the final steps in this process, few could have anticipated we’d reach this point just a few weeks ago the morning after the tragedy in Uvalde.”
“This is not a cure-all for all the ways gun violence affects our nation, but it is a long-overdue step. … It’s significant, it’s going to save lives, and it’s my intention to get it done as soon as we can,” he said.
The legislation now goes to the House for a final vote, where it is expected to pass before Congress leaves Friday for a two-week recess. It will deliver a big win for President Biden, who has championed stricter gun control laws throughout his long political career.
Mr. Biden cheered the breakthrough in the Senate and lamented that it took so many years to get to this point.
“Our country has endured too many tragedies since then, most recently with the horrific shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde,” he said. “Our kids in schools and our communities will be safer because of this legislation. I call on Congress to finish the job and get this bill to my desk.”
Sen. Christopher Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who led the negotiations with Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, heralded the legislation as a bipartisan triumph.
“Congress has decided to put its politics ahead of the safety of this country year after year. Despite the fact that the changes necessary to make this country safer really aren’t controversial at all,” he said.
Besides Mr. McConnell, the 14 Senate Republicans who voted to advance and then pass the bill were Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, John Cornyn of Texas, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Todd Young of Indiana.
Despite getting enough support from Senate Republicans to clear the 60-vote hurdle that killed previous gun bills, the legislation remains unpopular with most Republicans and with gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association.
Former President Donald Trump criticized Mr. McConnell for his role in helping get the bill to Mr. Biden’s desk.
Mr. Trump wrote Thursday on Truth Social: “Mitch McConnell’s push for Republican Senators to vote for Gun Control will be the final straw. Just like he gave away the Debt Ceiling and got NOTHING in return, or handed the Dems a great sound bite and victory with the Infrastructure Bill, which is actually all about the Green New Deal, he is now forcing approval of the FIRST STEP IN TAKING AWAY YOUR GUNS! Republican Senators SHOULD NOT VOTE FOR THIS CAREER ENDING BILL!!!”
The bill contains a slew of expanded gun control laws and funding for school security and mental health treatment, including:
• Incentives for states to adopt red flag laws or other crisis intervention programs.
• An expansion of the definition of domestic violence to close the “boyfriend loophole” by including dating relationships. It blocks people with such convictions from gun ownership.
• Eligibility for gun ownership for individuals with domestic violence charges after five years provided they keep a clean criminal record.
• A felony designation for individuals who purchase guns for those who cannot legally buy or own them.
• An expansion of federal background checks to include state juvenile records and to make it illegal to sell guns or ammunition to people with felony juvenile records.
• A requirement for individuals who repeatedly buy and sell firearms to license as gun dealers.
• An additional $100 million in taxpayer funds for the federal background check system.
• A $2 billion allocation to the Education Department for mental health and school safety.
• $1 billion in grants for mental health programs to be administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Second Amendment advocacy organizations, including the NRA and Gun Owners of America, oppose the bill. The National Shooting and Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearm industry, also opposes the legislation.
The NRA said the legislation falls short of the goal of improving safety and security while threatening Second Amendment rights.
“This legislation can 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. This bill leaves too much discretion in the hands of government officials and also contains undefined and overbroad provisions — inviting interference with our constitutional freedoms,” the NRA said in a statement.
In the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana are whipping against the legislation, but some Republican defections are expected and House Democrats should be able to pass the bill without Republican support.
“Obviously, Nancy Pelosi is the speaker, so she has the majority,” Mr. Scalise said. “But we’re pushing for reforms in the mental health system [and] we shouldn’t be taking away or infringing upon the rights of law-abiding citizens to own a gun.”
House Republicans expected to back the bill include Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas, whose district includes Uvalde.
“I am a survivor of domestic abuse, my stepfather would come home drunk and beat on me and my mother,” he wrote on social media.
“School was my sanctuary from the chaos at home. … As a congressman it’s my duty to pass laws that never infringe on the Constitution while protecting the lives of the innocent.”