Connecticut’s U.S. senators hailed a procedural vote Tuesday to advance a bipartisan gun safety bill as a historic shift in decades of inaction on gun control policy in Congress.
The chamber voted 64 to 34 to advance a bill, which resulted from weeks of bipartisan negotiations among 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats in the Senate after recent mass shootings.
U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal were among the Democrats involved in the bipartisan talks. During a Wednesday press conference they told Connecticut reporters the progress of the bill represented a victory in their efforts to update the nation’s gun policies, a goal they have attempted to advance since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting almost a decade ago.
“We have finally reached the moment where we can pass serious, life-saving legislation in the Senate that will save lives,” Murphy said.
Senators involved in the negotiations released the details of the bill this week.
Among its provisions are new, more stringent background checks for gun buyers younger than 21 years old. The bill offers incentives for states to adopt “red flag” laws like Connecticut’s statute that allows courts to temporarily seize weapons from residents determined to be a threat to themselves or others. Another provision would prevent people convicted of domestic violence from owning guns and give them a narrow path to restore their gun rights after five years.
The bill also dedicates $11 billion to shore up mental health systems across the country, creates tougher penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchases of firearms (buying and then selling weapons to people barred from making such purchases), and broadens the definition of a firearms dealer to expand the number of gun sales that require a background check.
The negotiated package falls short of the policies sought by some gun control advocates who, among other things, lobbied lawmakers to include a safe storage requirement known as Ethan’s Law in Connecticut. The senators said they were limited to elements that could attract support from both political parties.
“There is work still to be done but we have a moment of opportunity here that we must seize. The political stars are aligned for us right now to give us this moment of opportunity. It will pass unless we seize it,” Blumenthal said.
The bill needs support from all 50 Democrats in the Senate and at least 10 Republicans in order to clear the chamber’s 60-vote filibuster threshold. It appears likely to surpass that requirement. On Tuesday, 14 Republicans voted in favor of advancing the bill.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled his support for the legislation in a statement Tuesday.
“For years, the far left falsely claimed that Congress could only address the terrible issue of mass murders by trampling on law-abiding Americans’ constitutional rights,” McConnell said. “This bill proves that false. Our colleagues have put together 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.”
Murphy said the bill still had to clear another 60-vote threshold to end debate as well as a vote on passage later this week. The House of Representatives could take up the legislation as soon as Friday, he said.
Murphy said the bill would save lives.
“In passing this bill this week with broad, bipartisan support, we’re sending a signal that Congress is now in the business of protecting kids’ lives and families’ lives,” Murphy said.