US Senate announces first major gun control bill in decades

Although significant, legislation does not extend as far as President Biden had hoped

The US Capitol Dome in Washington. Senators voted to speed through a bipartisan package of measures to toughen federal gun laws. AFP
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The US Senate took its first step towards introducing the first major gun control legislation in decades on Tuesday.

Senators voted to speed through a bipartisan package of measures to toughen federal gun laws. The Senate is to vote on the 80-page bill this week.

Although it would be the most significant action to combat US gun violence in years, the legislation does not extend as far as Democrats, including President Joe Biden, had wanted.

It includes provisions that would help states keep guns out of the hands of anyone deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. It would also close the so-called boyfriend loophole by blocking gun sales to those convicted of abusing unmarried partners.

After mass shootings at a New York grocery store and a Texas elementary school that authorities said were committed by teenagers, the legislation would allow states to provide juvenile records to the national background check system for gun purchases.

But the bill would not raise the age limit from 18 to 21 on purchases of automatic assault weapons. The shooters in both Texas and New York were 18, and used assault rifles they bought themselves.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he expected the bill to pass this week, while Senator Chris Murphy, the lead Democrat in talks to craft a legislative deal with Republicans, called it "the most significant piece of anti-gun-violence legislation Congress will have passed in 30 years".

"This is a breakthrough," Mr Murphy said on the Senate floor ahead of the bill's release. "And, more importantly, it is a bipartisan breakthrough."

The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, called the legislation "a commonsense package" and pledged his support.

With the 100-seat Senate split evenly between the two parties, the legislation will need support from at least 10 Republicans to pass a procedural hurdle. Fourteen Republicans, including Mr McConnell, joined all 50 Democrats to move towards voting on the legislation.

The biggest gun lobby in the country, the National Rifle Association, said on Twitter it opposed the legislation because it could be abused to restrict lawful gun purchases. The politically powerful group's statement could affect how many Republicans vote on the measure.

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," Mr Cornyn said.

Updated: June 22, 2022, 4:40 PM