The US House of Representatives on Friday passed significant gun-safety legislation for the first time in three decades, sending it to President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it into law.
The House voted 234-193 for the bill, the day after a Supreme Court ruling broadly expanded gun rights. No Democrats were opposed, while 14 Republicans backed the measure. It was supported by major law enforcement groups and its passage was a rare defeat for U.S. gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association.
House action followed a late Thursday Senate vote of 65-33 to pass the bill, with 15 Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in favor.
Gun control has long been a divisive issue in the United States with multiple attempts to place new controls on gun sales failing time after time until Friday.
Passage of what some Democrats characterized as a modest, first-step bill followed mass murders last month at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
“The legislation…includes several strong steps to save lives, not only from horrific mass shootings but also from the daily massacre of gun crime, suicide and tragic accidents,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during debate.
Noting that guns have become the leading “killer of children in America,” Pelosi said Congress must now go further and legislate more changes to gun-sale background checks and restrictions on “high-capacity armament.”
The bill does take some steps on background checks by allowing access, for the first time, to information on significant crimes committed by juveniles. It also cracks down on gun sales to purchasers convicted of domestic violence. And it provides new federal funding to states that administer “red flag” laws intended to remove guns from people deemed dangerous to themselves and others.
The Brady gun control group described the “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act” as “the strongest gun violence prevention law in the last 30 years,” and cited the “100 people killed with guns each day” in America. Many of those deaths are the result of suicide.
“Today they (Democrats) are coming after law-abiding American citizens’ Second Amendment liberties,” said Representative Jim Jordan, the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. He was referring to the constitutional right to “keep and bear arms” that conservatives argue should be broadly protected.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court, with its 6-3 conservative majority, struck down New York state’s limits on carrying concealed handguns outside the home. The court found that the law, enacted in 1913, was unconstitutional.
That ruling and the gun-safety legislation passed on Friday illustrate a deep divide over firearms in the United States, weeks after the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings that killed more than 30 people, including 19 young children at an elementary school.
The National Rifle Association, the nation’s most powerful gun lobby, declared the court ruling “a monumental win” for American gun owners.
On Friday it attacked the bill passed by Congress, calling it a “senseless” gun control measure that “will only infringe on the rights of the law-abiding.”
The legislation passed by Congress is seen as modest in scope for a country with the highest gun ownership per capita in the world and the highest number of mass shootings annually among wealthy nations.
In 2020, the rate of gun deaths in the United States surged 35% to the highest point since 1994, with especially deadly levels for young Black men, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report published May 10.