Washington — A bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday released the legislative text of a plan to curb gun violence, which if passed by Congress would be the most significant update to the nation's firearms laws in nearly three decades.
Called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the measure is the Senate's response to a pair of mass shootings — one at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and the other at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas — that shocked the nation and spurred a group of senators to find consensus around a plan to reform gun laws.
Hours after the bill's text was released, the plan cleared a procedural hurdle in the Senate, with the backing of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Senate leaders are hoping it passes the upper chamber this week.
Fourteen Republican senators voted with Democrats to begin debate on the bill, ensuring there are enough votes to overcome a filibuster and advance to final passage. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged to "swiftly" bring the bill to the House floor for a vote once it passes the Senate.
The legislation is the culmination of weeks of negotiation between the bipartisan group of senators, and was unveiled 10 days after 20 Democratic and Republican senators announced a framework of the gun control plan.
While the bill does not go as far as what President Biden has called for, some of the provisions — such as enhanced background checks for prospective gun buyers under 21 — may have made a difference in preventing the massacres in New York and Texas, where both guns used, AR-15-style rifles, were purchased legally, according to law enforcement.
Here is what's in the 80-page Bipartisan Safer Communities Act:
Improves federal background check system's examination of juvenile records
The bill enhances background checks for firearms buyers under 21 years old by requiring the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to check juvenile and mental health records through local law enforcement or state databases to determine whether a prospective gun buyer under 21 has a possibly disqualifying juvenile record.
Under the plan, the system has up to three business days to conduct an initial search and up to 10 business days to complete additional investigation.
It also provides $200 million for grants to states to upgrade criminal and mental health records for NICS, including grants to help states in providing disqualifying juvenile records.
Clarifies the definition of a Federally Licensed Firearms Dealer
A person who buys and sells guns to "predominantly earn a profit" must register as a Federal Firearm Licensee.
Creates criminal penalties for straw purchases and gun trafficking
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives defines a straw purchase as when a person agrees to buy a gun for someone who is prohibited by law from purchasing a firearm. State laws involving straw purchases vary.
Closes the so-called "boyfriend loophole"
The plan adds those convicted of domestic violence against a person in a dating relationship — now defined as a "relationship between two individuals who have or have recently had a continuing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature" — to the federal background check system and bars them from having a gun.
But gun rights can be restored for those convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence five years after completing their sentence if they haven't been convicted of another offense.
Incentivizes states to implement state crisis intervention programs
The Senate's bill provides $750 million for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program for states to create crisis intervention programs.
Under the measure, state crisis intervention court proceedings and related programs include:
- Mental health courts;
- Drug courts;
- Veterans courts;
- Extreme risk protection order programs, which must include "pre-deprivation and post-deprivation due process rights that prevent any violation or infringement" of the Constitution and the right to be represented by counsel
Improves mental health services for children and families
The legislation requires the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to give guidance to states on improving access to telehealth for services covered under Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). It also strengthens oversight of state implementation of requirements for early and periodic screening, diagnostic and treatment services under Medicaid.
Additionally, the bill boosts access to health care services in schools through guidance to state Medicaid agencies, local educational agencies and school-based entities to support the delivery of medical assistance to Medicaid and CHIP beneficiaries in school-based settings, in part through the creation of a technical assistance center.
The measure also establishes a Federal Clearinghouse on School Safety Evidence-based Practices, which serves as a federal resource to identify and publish online evidence-based practices and recommendations to improve safety.
It provides $15 billion in federal funding to bolster mental health services and trainings, including:
- $60 million for primary care training and enhancement to provide mental and behavioral health care training for pediatricians and other primary care physicians working with young populations
- $80 million for pediatric mental health care access
- $250 million for enhancing comprehensive community health services
- $240 million for programs that boost awareness of mental health issues among school-aged children and provide training for adults
- $250 million for a community violence intervention and prevention initiative
- $500 million for School Based Mental Health Services Grants
- $1 billion for Safe Schools and Citizenship Education
- $300 million for safety measures in and around schools and to provide training to students and school staff