Senators Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Rand Paul were among the majority of Republicans who voted against the first piece of gun legislation to pass the Senate in more than two decades, despite the fact that 15 Republicans–including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell–voted to pass it.
In total, 33 Republicans voted against the legislation despite the fact that Republican Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina negotiated on the legislation with Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota did not vote.
The legislation comes a month after a white supremacist allegedly opened fire and killed 10 people and less than a month after a gunman opened fire and killed 19 children and two adults in Robb Elementary School. In the days after the shooting, Mr McConnell charged Mr Cornyn of Texas with negotiating the legislation, with Mr Tillis joining afterward.
“I said all along that the really the measure of whether we succeeded or not is whether this bill will save lives. And I have every confidence competence that it will”, Mr Cornyn told The Independent off the Senate floor. “I mean, this is a tough issue. And you know, people come from different states and different orientations and they have to make their own political calculation but for me, the best politics is a good policy.”
Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama was among the Senators who opposed the legislation.
“Well, I’m a second amendment guy. I wish that if we just dealt with mental health and privacy stuff and put it a sunset, maybe a five year plan, but that’s not what happened”, he told The Independent.
Despite the fact his fellow Texan Mr Cornyn was one of the chief negotiators of the legislation, Mr Cruz delivered a long speech expressing his opposition to the legislation.
“When you disarm law-abiding citizens, what happens is the people who follow the law disarm”, he said. “That’s almost by definition if they’re law-abiding citizens. But the criminals don’t follow the law.”
Along with Mr McConnell and the negotiators, Republican Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Todd Young of Indiana all voted for it.
“Happy with the result”, Mr Romney said as he entered the Senate elevator.
Mr Toomey–who together with Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia had attempted to pass the last major gun control legislation after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 that failed–said he was pleased that this would be part of his legacy as he retires at the end of the year.
“You know, my goal was always to require background checks on commercial sales”, he said. “This doesn’t do exactly what Joe Manchin and I set out to do some time ago, but it does expand background checks to some categories of commercial sales. And I think that’s constructive. It has other elements that I think are constructive and most importantly.”
Ahead of the vote, the National Rifle Association announced its opposition to the legislation.
“This is a gun control bill. That’s why NRA opposes it. End of story”, it tweeted.
The legislation creates an enhanced reviewing process for people younger than 21 who seek to buy a firearm to undergo an enhanced review of their juvenile and mental health records. It also sets up a programme for states to adopt extreme risk protection order laws–also called “red flag laws”–which prevent people who might pose a risk to themselves or others from obtaining a weapon.
Senator Mike Braun of Indiana opposed the legislation and said that Indiana has already passed a red flag law and measures to make schools safer.
“ So I think most of this could have been done by the States probably”, he said. “And we in Indiana, especially had a Red Flag Law for probably 17 or 18 years.”
In addition, people who commit “straw purchases”–where someone who can pass a background check buys a weapon for someone who could not–could either be fined, face up to 15 years in prison or both. That could be raised to 25 years if the weapon is used in an act of terrorism or drug trafficking.
The bill also closes the “boyfriend loophole”–which allowed people who commited domestic abuse against a romantic partner but did not live with, marry or have a child with their partner to obtain a firearm.
Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who was part of the bipartisan group of 20 Senators who worked on the legislation, said that while the legislation is a compromise, which makes it bittersweet. But he also said the tide has changed since he entered the Senate in 2010.
“I think the American people are rising up. Plus the faces of those Uvalde victims combined with the memories of all the other children,” he said. “The the unspeakable fear of American people in sending their kids to school every day, one of the worst parents, a parent told me in Connecticut that her child told her, there’s never been a day in the past year and she didn’t wonder going to school, if that would be the day that her school would be attacked.”
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection, said the legislation was incredibly important since 1 October 2017, when a gunman opened fire on a country music concert, was one of the deadliest days in the history of Las Vegas.
“And so yes, we are a state that we are responsible gun owners or secondary safety”, she said. “We also pass universal background checks, we pass a red flag. This is another step forward, not hopefully it not only the last step, another step forward in addressing gun violence.”
President Joe Biden, who helped author the last piece of gun legislation that passed the Senate when he passed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 when he was a Senator, praised the passage.
“This bipartisan legislation will help protect Americans. Kids in schools and communities will be safer because of it. The House of Representatives should promptly vote on this bipartisan bill and send it to my desk.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already indicated there would move swiftly to pass the legislation.