US Senate reaches bipartisan deal on gun control

First major legislation on gun control in US for decades could be put to a vote by the end of the week.

People march in a protest for gun control in the US carrying banners saying "actually guns do kill people' and 'i got to school to be educated, not shot'
The bill was watered down by some Republicans but could be passed by the end of the week [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the United States have reached an agreement on major gun control legislation for the first time in nearly 30 years, paving the way for a vote in the Senate by the end of the week.

The 80-page bill was released on Tuesday and includes measures to tighten background checks on young people buying weapons, more background checks, and the temporary removal of weapons from those considered a danger to others or themselves.

It cleared an initial procedural hurdle by 64-34, with 14 Republicans joining all 48 Democrats and two allied independents to back the bill.

“I believe that this week, we will pass legislation that will become the most significant piece of anti-gun-violence legislation Congress will have passed in 30 years. This is a breakthrough,” Senator Chris Murphy, the lead Democrat in the talks, said on the Senate floor. “And more importantly, it is a bipartisan breakthrough.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pledged to move forward as soon as possible, with an expected motion to proceed.

“This bipartisan gun-safety legislation is progress and will save lives. While it is not everything we want, this legislation is urgently needed,” Schumer said in a statement.

The agreement, albeit watered down, marks a breakthrough in the divisive debate over gun control legislation which has continued despite years of mass shootings, most recently at a primary school in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old gunman shot dead 19 children and two teachers.

“It’s significant in the sense that this is the first time in decades that there has been bilateral agreement on gun control legislation,” said Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, who is in Washington, DC.

Under the bill, there will also be tougher penalties on gun traffickers while states and communities will be given financial support to improve school safety and mental health initiatives.

But Republicans blocked the more potent proposals supported by President Joe Biden and that Democrats have pushed unsuccessfully for years. These include banning assault-type weapons or raising the minimum age for buying them, prohibiting high-capacity magazines, and requiring background checks for virtually all gun sales.

The murders in Uvalde, which came just a week after an 18-year-old gunman killed 10 Black shoppers in a racist attack at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, appear to have convinced Democrats and some Republicans that some action was necessary.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voiced his support for the measures, calling the bill “a commonsense package of popular steps that will help make these horrifying incidents less likely while fully upholding the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens”.

The National Rifle Association, which has spent decades pushing back against gun control, expressed its opposition.

“It falls short at every level,” the lobby group claimed. “It does little to truly address violent crime while opening the door to unnecessary burdens on the exercise of Second Amendment freedom by law-abiding gun owners.”

The bill will need support from at least 10 Republicans to reach the 60-vote threshold major bills require in the 50-50 Senate.

Senator John Cornyn, the lead Republican negotiator in the bipartisan talks, held out hope the legislation would succeed.

“We know there’s no such thing as a perfect piece of legislation. We are imperfect human beings. But we have to try, and I believe this bill is a step in the right direction,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor.

Congress prohibited the sale of assault-type firearms in 1993 in a ban that expired after a decade – the last substantial legislation addressing gun violence.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies