In a 65 to 33 vote, the Senate on June 23 passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a wide-ranging bill that addresses the so-called boyfriend loophole; clarifies which gun sellers need to seek a Federal Firearms License (which requires them to run background checks); and mandates an enhanced background check process for purchasers between the ages of 18 and 21. It is the first significant gun reform bill to make it out of the Senate in nearly three decades. The House quickly followed suit on June 24, and President Joe Biden signed the legislation a day later.
The bill would provide $750 million to states to enact and support red flag laws and other crisis intervention programs, $250 million in funding for community violence intervention efforts, at least $2.35 billion for schools, and more than $1 billion in funding for mental health programs. It would also stiffen penalties for and create a federal statute that specifically covers interstate gun trafficking and straw purchasing. Fifteen Republicans joined every Democrat in voting for the bill in the Senate, and in the House, 14 Republicans voted yes along with every Democrat.
The Senate vote came just hours after the Supreme Court announced that in a 6-3 ruling, the court had struck down New York State’s law requiring applicants to demonstrate a special need to obtain a concealed carry handgun permit. The ruling is the first time that the court has held that the Second Amendment confers a right for people to carry a gun in public. The court also established a new standard of review that could lead to a flood of new lawsuits challenging other gun regulations, potentially including the provisions of the bipartisan gun reform bill, according to legal experts who spoke to The Trace. “You name it, if those laws have been upheld under any methodology other than what the court said today, they are now exposed to a new round of litigation,” said Eric Ruben, an assistant professor of law at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.
“[Supreme Court Justice Clarence] Thomas says only gun regulations consistent with historical regulation of guns are permissible. Red flag laws, however, are a modern invention. So too bans on domestic abusers,” gun law expert Adam Winkler wrote on Twitter. We’re looking into this question for our weekly newsletter. (Subscribe here.)
The Senate legislation had been in the works for weeks. As The Trace’s Chip Brownlee reported in a series of dispatches and in our Weekly newsletter, there were at least two aspects to the framework that senators were clashing over: funding for states to enact and improve red flag laws, and an effort to keep guns out of the hands of abusive dating partners.
Where Senators landed on the latter is one of the bill’s most noteworthy provisions. Current federal law only prohibits domestic violence abusers from buying or possessing a gun if their victim is a current or former spouse, child, co-parent, or cohabiting partner. The legislation would extend that prohibition to include people who abused their current or recent dating partners. But it doesn’t fully close the loophole, which was one of the last sticking points in negotiations. Unlike a recently passed House bill, the Senate legislation does not include a permanent loss of gun rights for dating partners convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse, as is the case for the people banned under current law. Rather, dating partners would be subject to a five-year ban provided they don’t commit another violent offense.
The final legislation also includes:
- $750 million in funding for states to implement and improve Extreme Risk Protection Order laws, commonly known as red flag laws, or other efforts like mental health courts, drug courts, or veterans courts. Red flag laws give judges leeway to temporarily seize guns from people who may be a threat to themselves or others at the request of family members or law enforcement.
- $250 million for community-based violence intervention. The funding could be a boon for street outreach teams, hospital-based violence prevention initiatives, Cure Violence programs, and other efforts to mediate conflicts before they turn violent.
- A $1 billion investment in mental health, including for community behavioral health centers, telehealth services, suicide prevention, school-based trauma and mental health support, and provider training.
- Clarification on who needs to seek a Federal Firearms License before selling guns. Longstanding ambiguity has allowed many gun sellers — like those who sell at gun shows and their online analogues — to avoid licensing and thus avoid initiating background checks. The change could subject some more gun buyers to background checks.
- An enhanced background check process for gun buyers between ages 18 and 21, which would include calls to state and local law enforcement and a search of state mental health and juvenile records. The legislation gives federal law enforcement three to 10 days to finish the enhanced check before a dealer can hand over a gun.
- A federal statute prohibiting gun trafficking and straw purchases, which should give federal law enforcement and prosecutors more leeway to target the illicit trade of firearms across state lines. Currently, there isn’t a federal statute that explicitly prohibits gun trafficking or purchasing a firearm on behalf of someone else.
- More than $2 billion in funding for schools, including more than $500 million for school-based mental health services, $500 million for mental health staff and counselors, and $300 million for safety measures and violence prevention efforts.
Jennifer Mascia and Gracie McKenzie also contributed to this reporting.