Congress sends landmark gun violence legislation to Biden

Members of Congress stand on Capitol steps, some holding photos of victims of recent mass shootings
Members of Congress, some holding photos of victims of recent mass shootings, demonstrate on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Friday.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

The House on Friday sent President Biden the most wide-ranging gun violence bill Congress has passed in decades, a measured compromise that at once illustrates progress on the long-intractable issue and the deep-seated partisan divide that persists.

The Democratic-led chamber approved the election-year legislation on a mostly party-line, 234-193 vote, capping a spurt of action prompted by voters’ revulsion over last month’s mass shootings in New York and Texas. The Senate approved the measure late Thursday by a bipartisan 65-33 vote.

Every House Democrat and 14 Republicans — six of whom won’t be in Congress next year — voted for the measure. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) underscored its significance to her party by taking the unusual step of presiding over the vote and announcing the result from the podium, to huzzahs from rank-and-file Democrats on the chamber’s floor.


Among Republicans backing the legislation was Rep. Liz Cheney of gun-friendly Wyoming, who has broken sharply with her party’s leaders and is helping lead the House investigation into last year’s Capitol insurrection by supporters of then-President Trump. In a statement, she said that “as a mother and a constitutional conservative,” she believed the bill would curb violence and enhance safety, adding: “Nothing in the bill restricts the rights of responsible gun owners. Period.”

Impossible to ignore was the juxtaposition of the week’s gun votes with a pair of jarring Supreme Court decisions on two of the nation’s most incendiary culture war issues. The justices on Thursday struck down a New York law that has restricted people’s ability to carry concealed weapons, and Friday it overturned Roe vs. Wade, eliminating the protection for abortion that had endured for a half-century.

The bill, crafted by senators from both parties, would incrementally toughen requirements for young people to buy guns, deny firearms from more domestic abusers and help local authorities temporarily take weapons from people judged to be dangerous. Most of its $13-billion cost would go to mental health programs and schools, which have been targeted in Newtown, Conn., Parkland, Fla., and elsewhere.

And while it omits far tougher restrictions Democrats have long championed such as a ban on assault-type weapons and background checks for all gun transactions, it stands as the most significant gun violence measure that Congress has approved since it enacted a now-expired assault weapons ban nearly 30 years ago.

The sister of a 9-year-old girl killed in the Uvalde school shooting rampage tearfully pleaded with Texas lawmakers to pass gun safety legislation and questioned why so many security measures failed.

June 23, 2022

The legislation was a direct result of the slaying of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, exactly one month previously, and the killing of 10 Black shoppers days earlier in Buffalo, N.Y. Lawmakers returned from their districts after those shootings saying constituents were demanding congressional action, a vehemence many believed could not be ignored.


“This gives our community the sorely needed hope that we have been crying out for, for years and years and years,” Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), whose 17-year-old son was shot dead in 2012 by a man complaining his music was too loud, told supporters outside the Capitol. “Understand and know that this bill does not answer all of our prayers, but this is hope.”

Speaking haltingly, Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) said he was backing the bill for his father, shot to death 30 years ago to the day; the 58 people killed in a 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas “and so many other Americans who are victims and survivors of gun violence.”

For the conservatives who dominate Republicans in the House, it all came down to the Constitution’s 2nd Amendment right for people to have firearms, a protection that is key for many voters who own guns.

“Today they’re coming after our 2nd Amendment liberties, and who knows what it will be tomorrow,” Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, said of Democrats.

High court strikes down gun laws in California, New York and six other states that restrict permits to carry a concealed weapon.

June 23, 2022

Pelosi said that with Thursday’s gun ruling by the justices, “the Trump-McConnell court is implicitly endorsing the tragedy of mass shootings and daily gun deaths plaguing our nation.” That was a reference to the balance-tipping three conservative justices appointed by Trump and confirmed by a Senate that was run by then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

House Republicans used the gun debate to praise both court decisions. “What a great day for the babies, and as the speaker described it, the Trump-McConnell Supreme Court,” said Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Wis.).

Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) said the firearms decision has “electrified the country and left radicals seething — the Constitution means what it says.”

In the Senate, every Democrat and 15 Republicans backed the compromise. Just two of those GOP senators face reelection next year.

In a historic reversal, the Supreme Court strikes down a half-century of nationwide abortion rights in the U.S.

June 24, 2022

But overall, fewer than one-third of GOP senators and just 1 in 15 House Republicans supported the measure. That means the fate of future congressional action on guns seems dubious, especially as the GOP is expected to win House and possibly Senate control in the November elections.

McConnell kept careful tabs on the negotiations that produced the bill and voted for it, partly in hopes it would attract moderate suburban voters whose support the GOP will need in its November bid for Senate control. In contrast, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) and other GOP leaders in the House opposed it.

The legislation was opposed by firearms groups such as the National Rifle Assn. But groups advocating gun safety laws, such as Brady and Everytown for Gun Safety, weren’t the only ones backing it. Support also came from the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police.

The talks that produced the bill were led by Sens. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

Under the compromise, background checks for gun buyers age 18 to 20 will now include an examination of their local juvenile records. The gunman in Uvalde and the shooting suspect in Buffalo were both 18.

People convicted of domestic abuse who are current or former romantic partners of the victim — not simply spouses or people who lived or had children with the person they abused — will be prohibited from acquiring firearms. That closes the “boyfriend loophole.”

There will be money to help states enforce “red flag” laws that help authorities temporarily take guns from people considered threatening and for other states’ violence prevention programs. More people who sell weapons would have to become federally licensed gun dealers and need to conduct background checks.

Penalties for gun trafficking are strengthened, billions of dollars are provided for behavioral health clinics and school mental health programs, and there’s money for school safety initiatives, though not for personnel to use a “dangerous weapon.”