Congress inched towards the enactment of a bipartisan gun law on Wednesday taking its first modest step in decades to curb the only-in-America epidemic of mass shootings that culminated with last month’s bloody shooting sprees at a Buffalo supermarket and a Texas elementary school.
Hailing the proposed bill as “common-sense” and “life-saving,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) vowed to push the bill through the evenly divided upper chamber with some Republican support by the end of the week.
“Congress is on the path to take meaningful action to address gun violence for the first time in nearly 30 years,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “The bill is real progress. It will save lives.”
Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) heralded the gun agreement saying that it takes significant steps to address “the two issues that I think it focuses on, school safety and mental health.”
“(The bill will) help make these horrifying incidents less likely while fully upholding the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” McConnell said.
The bill would spend $8.6 billion on mental health programs and over $2 billion on safety and other improvements at schools, according to a cost estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
The legislative language includes ensuring the juvenile records of gun buyers aged 18 to 20 are part of background checks required to buy firearms, bars guns for convicted domestic abusers not married to or living with their victims and strengthens penalties for gun trafficking.
But it falls far short of significant reforms like banning assault weapons or high-capacity magazines that gun violence opponents say could make a real difference in stopping mass killings.
The compromise won 14 GOP votes in a procedural Senate vote, enough to overcome a conservative filibuster and a sign it can win quick passage.
The measure is a done deal in the Democratic-led House even though progressives complain it is woefully inadequate, given the scale of America’s addiction to guns.
Schumer praised families of victims of gun massacres like those that wreaked havoc on schools in Columbine, Colorado and Sandy Hook, Connecticut, as well as a 2017 country music concert in Las Vegas.
“Rather than curse the darkness, they lit a candle,” Schumer said. “They have turned their grief into action.”
Even though it’s a watered-down compromise, the deal marks an unlikely election-year breakthrough on a flashpoint culture war battlefield that has defied any solution for decades, even as the death toll from mass killings soars daily.
The overwhelming majority of Americans favor stricter gun restrictions, especially as killers armed with weapons that can kill scores in a matter of seconds.
Gun control advocates like the Sandy Hook parents and a lobbying group led by ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), wounded by a constituent who opened fire at a meet and greet, called on Americans to back the bill as an incremental step towards a marginally safer nation.
Fred Guttenberg celebrated the deal by posting a photo of his daughter, Jaime, who was slain in the Parkland, Florida, school rampage.
“WE DID IT!!! With you standing on my shoulders, it was always only a matter of time,” Guttenberg tweeted.
But the powerful gun lobby has steadfastly blocked even the most basic of reforms, like barring weapons and ammunition that are virtually only used to kill as quickly and effectively as possible.
The National Rifle Association went ahead with its convention in Houston just days after the Uvalde bloodshed and former President Donald Trump drew criticism by dancing on stage at the nation’s largest gathering of gun owners.
True to form, the NRA opposed even the Senate compromise bill.
“This legislation can be abused to restrict lawful gun purchases (and) infringe upon the rights of law-abiding Americans,” the NRA said on its Twitter feed.