The Senate voted Tuesday night to open debate on a bipartisan effort to combat gun violence, a sign of progress in what could be the most substantial gun policy passed by Congress in more than three decades.
The procedural vote passed 64 to 34, with 14 Republicans joining all Democrats in advancing the bill and two Republicans not voting.
By passing the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome any filibuster, the measure appears assured of final passage, assuming no last-minute vote changes.
The bill would increase background checks for potential gun buyers ages 18 to 21 by giving law enforcement more time to run the checks and incentivizing states to provide juvenile records for analysis.
It would close the “boyfriend” loophole by prohibiting anyone convicted of spousal or partner abuse from buying a gun.
The plan would crack down on gun trafficking and bogus purchases, as well as fund $750 million to incentivize states to create “red flag” laws that would allow guns to be temporarily taken away from people who show a risk of violence against themselves or others.
There is also about $15 billion for mental health and school safety programs.
Bipartisan negotiators finalized the text of the bill just hours before the vote, after nearly a month of negotiation. Final conversations focused on closing the “boyfriend” loophole and defining a romantic relationship. The final text says that the relationship must be romantic or intimate in nature, not business or casual acquaintances.
Lawmakers hope to pass a series of votes on the bill by the end of the week and the start of a two-week recess.
The legislation falls far short of what President Biden and many Democrats hoped to see in a gun bill, such as a ban on assault rifles.
But Sen. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.), who led the negotiation for Democrats, praised it because it “will save countless lives and finally break a 30-year political logjam” on a contentious political issue.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who led the debate for Republicans, said they “have found some areas where there is room for compromise.”
But in a sign of the political tension surrounding any Republican who supports a gun measure, Cornyn was booed at his state’s Republican convention over the weekend for his work on the bill.
The National Rifle Association. he also spoke out against the legislation, saying it “does little to really address violent crime and opens the door for unnecessary burdens on the exercise of Second Amendment freedom by law-abiding gun owners.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pushed back on that idea, saying the legislation is “a common-sense package of grassroots steps that will help make these horrific incidents less likely while fully upholding the Second Amendment law rights. faithful citizens.
Cornyn and Murphy worked primarily with Sens. Thom Tillis (RN.C.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), though their group expanded to 20 members: 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats.
Back-to-back mass shootings last month in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, created a rare opening for bipartisan negotiations.
Unlike other mass shootings, when Democrats immediately called for ambitious gun policies that Republicans opposed, like banning assault weapons, lawmakers agreed to open the door for smaller-scale reforms.
Republicans, shaken by the deaths of 19 fourth graders and two teachers in Texas and the racist motives behind the Buffalo shooting, had signaled they would come to the table.