In two bipartisan votes in as many days, the US Congress this week passed the first major gun-related legislation in more than two decades.
While the bill covers mental health, school safety, background checks, “red flag” laws, fake shopping and domestic violence, it does not include many of the Biden administration’s pet proposals. Most American hunters are unlikely to be affected by the new law, since it imposes no new bans on firearms, ammunition or hunting equipment.
However, there are certain parts of the bill that would affect younger hunters almost immediately, and the success of the legislation could signal a more bipartisan approach to gun policy in the United States.
What’s in the bill?
The bill, called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, was crafted by 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats in the Senate in response to two recent mass murders in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas. The provisions are apparently designed to prevent future tragedies.
One of the provisions, for example, creates a $750 million fund over the next five years to encourage states to approve and maintain “crisis intervention services.” These services intervene in the lives of people who are considered dangerous to themselves or others, and may include so-called “red flag” orders. Other provisions increase funding for mental health services in schools, school safety measures, and “community violence intervention.”
Another part of the bill prohibits the possession of firearms for those convicted of abusing “dating partners.” Current law prohibits anyone who has been convicted of domestic abuse of a spouse, ex-spouse, someone who has cohabited with the victim, or someone who shares a child with the victim from possessing a firearm. This new bill would expand that prohibition to domestic abusers who have had “an ongoing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature” with the victim.
Perhaps the most important part of the bill, and one that has received surprisingly little attention thus far, would improve background check requirements for 18- to 20-year-olds trying to buy a firearm from a federally licensed dealer. While red flag laws and domestic abuse laws affect a relatively small portion of gun owners, this provision would affect all potential gun owners under the age of 21, regardless of criminal history or type of gun. fire they wish to buy.
Current law requires all federally licensed gun dealers to conduct a background check on all gun buyers through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). This system is maintained by the FBI and is used to determine if a potential gun buyer is a “prohibited person.” The list of crimes that make a person prohibited is extensive and includes, among others, being a fugitive from justice, having been declared “mentally defective”, being an illegal user of a controlled substance and having committed a crime punishable by imprisonment. greater than one year.
The Safer Communities Act would require FBI agents to search a buyer’s juvenile criminal history and mental health adjudication records in the buyer’s state of residence if that person is under 21. Agents would also have to contact the local law enforcement agency in the jurisdiction in which the buyer resides to determine if he is a prohibited person.
The law gives FBI agents three business days to conduct an initial check. If they find a potentially disqualifying record, they have another seven business days to conduct further investigation. They can deny the purchase if they determine that the buyer has committed a crime that makes them a prohibited person. If they determine that the buyer is not a prohibited person or fail to make a determination within that time period, the gun seller may (but is not required to) transfer the firearm. This provision will expire in 2032.
For most buyers, a NICS check is instant. But because child records are often not in the NICS system, this new process would result in a in fact waiting period of up to 10 business days for anyone under the age of 21 who wants to buy a rifle or shotgun (federal law already prohibits that age group from buying handguns).
Some states have already imposed waiting periods and others prohibit firearm ownership by those under 21. But for residents of most states in this age group, this enhanced background check could be an unpleasant surprise on your next visit to the gun counter.
What are people saying about the bill?
Public interest in the bill stems not so much from the ways it changes federal gun law as from its bipartisan support in Congress. Congress hasn’t passed major gun-related legislation since 1994. Although state governments, the ATF and, more recently, the Supreme Court have fine-tuned who can access what types of firearms, the US Congress. it has been unable to overcome an entrenched partisan gridlock.
But after the massacre in Uvalde, Texas, Republican Senator John Cornyn and Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy began the discussions that resulted in the Secure Communities Act. Cornyn was joined by nine other Republicans, including conservative stalwarts Roy Blunt of Missouri and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. While other senators like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio expressed concern about the bill (and the time they were given to review it), 15 Senate Republicans and 14 House Republicans ultimately voted in favor of the legislation.
Gun rights groups have reflected that mixed support. The National Rifle Association characterized the bill as “dropping[ing] short on all levels,” and Gun Owners of America called the legislation an “anti-gun deal.” The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), however, recognized that some provisions are worthy of support.
“We went into this by working with the Senate and providing information in good faith,” Mark Oliva told MeatEater. Oliva is the NSSF’s managing director of public affairs and said he was “encouraged” by the “good faith negotiations” taking place in the Senate.
In its official statement on the bill’s text, the gun industry trade association said it was “appreciative” that the bill provides funding for mental health treatment and services. The organization also said it supports parts of the legislation that increase penalties for false purchase and trafficking of firearms, and reaffirmed its support for shoring up the NICS system.
However, Oliva said the NSSF does not support increasing funding for red flag laws because the bill does not require states that receive funding to incorporate strong due process protections. Additionally, NSSF does not support the new background check requirements for 18-20 year olds.
“Background check delays for adults under the age of 21 are problematic, to say the least,” Oliva said. “When your rights are delayed, your rights are denied. If you’re delaying a period of up to 10 days for adults to exercise their Second Amendment rights, that’s something we can’t support.”
Oliva said that NSSF has always encouraged states to include juvenile records in their submissions to the NICS system, but the legislation does not include an expedited process to ensure those submissions. Without that mechanism, which Oliva said was in the original framework of the bill, anyone under the age of 21 will have to wait for FBI agents to run those background checks by hand.
The bill provides funds for the FBI to hire more agents to meet the increased workload, but Oliva is skeptical that they will be able to carry out these new checks in a timely manner. At a minimum, checks will no longer be instant for adults under the age of 21.
Senator Mike Lee also noted during the floor debate that juvenile criminal proceedings are often different from adult proceedings. It is not clear from the legislation, for example, whether a juvenile “felony” conviction should be considered the same as an adult felony conviction.
Gun control groups, meanwhile, have hailed the legislation as an important first step in combating the rise in violent crime committed with guns.
Everytown for Gun Safety President John Feinblatt said the legislation will “save lives” and move the country “a big step closer to breaking the 26-year logjam that has blocked congressional action to protect Americans from gun safety.” armed violence”. Brady urged his supporters to back the legislation, and Giffords CEO Peter Ambler said he is “excited” to see legislation that “will help address the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our nation.”
President Joe Biden has indicated his plans to sign the legislation. The Biden Administration issued a statement stating that the bill “will make significant progress in combating gun violence” and calls for the “swift passage of this life-saving legislation.”
The bipartisan Safer Communities Act could be the first of many federal gun laws, or it could be a lightning bolt. Oliva noted that Republicans are expected to regain control of the House in November, and all three top House Republican leaders have voiced opposition to the legislation. The odds of them turning around and passing more gun bills in the near future are “very, very low,” Oliva said.
Still, this bill shows that some members of both parties are willing to work to find common ground, however small that ground may be.
“Everyone is interested in providing real solutions,” Oliva said. “Real solutions that protect people’s Second Amendment rights, but also find common ground that will provide the answers to stop some of these problems. If you can keep it within those railings, I think there’s work that could possibly be done.”