Friday, Sept. 22, 2023|
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WASHINGTON — The House sent President Joe Biden the widest ranging gun violence bill Congress has passed in decades Friday, a measured compromise that at once illustrates progress on the long-intractable issue and the deep-seated partisan divide that persists.
The Democratic-led chamber approved the election-year legislation on a mostly party-line 234-193 vote, capping a spurt of action prompted by voters’ revulsion over last month’s mass shootings in New York and Texas. The Senate approved the measure late Thursday by a bipartisan 65-33 margin.
The White House said Biden would sign the bill and deliver remarks on it this morning.
Every House Democrat and 14 Republicans — six of whom won’t be in Congress next year — voted for the measure. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., underscored its significance to her party by taking the unusual step of presiding over the vote and announcing the result from the podium, to huzzahs from rank-and-file Democrats on the chamber’s floor.
Among Republicans backing the legislation was Rep. Liz Cheney of gun-friendly Wyoming, who has broken sharply with her party’s leaders and is helping lead the House investigation into last year’s Capitol insurrection by supporters of then-President Donald Trump. In a statement, she said that “as a mother and a constitutional conservative,” she believed the bill would curb violence and enhance safety, adding: “Nothing in the bill restricts the rights of responsible gun owners. Period.”
Impossible to ignore was the juxtaposition of the week’s gun votes with a pair of jarring Supreme Court decisions on two of the nation’s most incendiary culture war issues. The justices on Thursday struck down a New York law that has restricted peoples’ ability to carry concealed weapons, and Friday it overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating the protection for abortion that case had ensured for a half-century.
The bill, crafted by senators from both parties, would incrementally toughen requirements for young people to buy guns, deny firearms from more domestic abusers and help local authorities temporarily take weapons from people judged to be dangerous. Most of its $13 billion cost would go to bolster mental health programs and for schools, which have been targeted in Newtown, Connecticut, Parkland, Florida and many other infamous massacres.
It omits far tougher restrictions Democrats have long championed like a ban on assault-type weapons and background checks for all gun transactions, but is the most impactful firearms violence measure Congress has approved since enacting a now-expired assault weapons ban in 1993.
The legislation was a direct result of the slaying of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, exactly one month ago, and the killing of 10 Black shoppers days earlier in Buffalo, New York. Lawmakers returned from their districts after those shootings saying constituents were demanding congressional action, a vehemence many felt could not be ignored.
“This gives our community the sorely needed hope that we have been crying out for, for years and years and years,” Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., whose 17-year-old son was shot dead in 2012 by a man complaining his music was too loud, told supporters outside the Capitol. “Understand and know that this bill does not answer all of our prayers, but this is hope.”
Speaking haltingly, Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., said he was backing the bill for his father, shot to death 30 years ago to the day, the 58 people killed in a 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas “and so many other Americans who are victims and survivors of gun violence.”
For conservatives who dominate the House GOP, it came down to the Constitution’s Second Amendment right for people to have firearms, a protection key for many voters who own guns.
“Today they’re coming after our Second Amendment liberties, and who knows what it will be tomorrow,” Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the House Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, said of Democrats.
Pelosi said with Thursday’s gun ruling by the justices, “the Trump-McConnell court is implicitly endorsing the tragedy of mass shootings and daily gun deaths plaguing our nation.” That was a reference to the balance-tipping three conservative justices appointed by Trump and confirmed by a Senate that was run by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
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