Senate Passes Bipartisan Gun Bill

The most expansive firearms legislation in decades is likely to become law.

While my skepticism when a deal on a bipartisan gun control bill was announced was well-founded—bickering and recriminations followed almost immediately—it passed the Senate with a supermajority vote last night.

NPR (“Senate passes gun control bill and sends it to the House“):

The Senate passed a narrow, bipartisan bill that could become the first gun control measure to come out of Congress in nearly three decades, voting 65-33 late Thursday night.

The legislation resulted from negotiations among 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats that began after two mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, last month. Friday will mark one month since 19 children and two adults were killed at Robb Elementary in Uvalde.

“This bill is a compromise,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who led the negotiations, right before the vote began. “It doesn’t do everything I want. But what we are doing will save thousands of lives without violating anyone’s Second Amendment rights.”

The legislation would incentivize states to pass red flag laws and expand background checks for 18- to 21-year-olds, among other measures.

House leaders are expected to quickly begin consideration of the bill. In a statement shortly after the Senate vote, President Biden urged the House to act quickly on the bill. The House and Senate begin their two-week July 4 recess after Friday.

“Tonight, after 28 years of inaction, bipartisan members of Congress came together to heed the call of families across the country and passed legislation to address the scourge of gun violence in our communities. Families in Uvalde and Buffalo – and too many tragic shootings before – have demanded action. And tonight, we acted,” the president said in a statement.

“This bipartisan legislation will help protect Americans. Kids in schools and communities will be safer because of it. The House of Representatives should promptly vote on this bipartisan bill and send it to my desk,” Biden said.

NYT (“Senate Breaks Decades-Long Impasse on Gun Safety“) adds:

The Senate approved bipartisan legislation on Thursday aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous people, after a small group of Republicans joined Democrats to break through their party’s longstanding blockade of gun safety measures and shatter nearly three decades of congressional paralysis on toughening the nation’s gun laws.

Spurred to action by a mass shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, the Senate passed the measure 65 to 33, with 15 Republicans, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, breaking ranks to side with Democrats in support of the measure. Two Republican senators were absent.

In a separate report as part of their weird new live-blog format, they list the Republicans who voted for the measure. It’s noteworthy most are retiring or part of McConnell’s leadership team:

  • Roy Blunt of Missouri, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, is not as moderate as other Republican senators who voted yes, and previously was leaning no on the bill. Mr. Blunt has said that he would not seek re-election this year. He has an A rating from the National Rifle Association.
  • Richard Burr of North Carolina signed onto the bipartisan gun framework released in early June. He is retiring from Congress at the end of the year and has an A+ rating from the N.R.A.
  • Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia was one of the surprise Republicans voting yes who previously deflected when asked where she stood on a gun control bill. Her home-state Democratic colleague, Joe Manchin, was an early and vocal supporter of a narrower bill during deliberations. Capito has an A rating from the N.R.A.
  • Bill Cassidy of Louisiana worked on the bill’s mental health component. He isn’t up for election until 2026 and has an A rating from the N.R.A.
  • Susan Collins of Maine was active in the negotiations over provisions for firearm trafficking, having introduced the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act last year. “There are mixed views back home, but by and large, the reaction has been positive because people realize that we’re not hurting law-abiding gun owners,” she said during discussions. She has a B rating from the N.R.A.
  • John Cornyn of Texas is a senior member of the Judiciary Committee who attempted to negotiate for expanded background checks last year and was booed at his state’s party convention this past weekend. He was picked by McConnell as a leader for the deliberations over the bill framework as a Republican in a room of centrists who could make or break the bill. He has an A+ rating from the N.R.A.
  • Joni Ernst of Iowa serves on Mr. McConnell’s leadership team as vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference. Before Wednesday’s initial vote, Ms. Ernst’s phone was flooded with calls from constituents hoping to sway her to vote for the bill. She has an A rating from the N.R.A.
  • Lindsey Graham of South Carolina co-sponsored a restraining order bill in 2018 with Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, to take away firearms from people who might pose a risk. He has an A rating from the N.R.A.
  • Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is up for re-election in November as a moderate and has been rewarded by her constituency for her independent streak. “If what we’re doing is making things safer, without taking away people’s Second Amendment rights, I think maybe we’ve knit this just the way it needed to be,” she said. Ms. Murkowski has an A rating from the N.R.A.
  • Robert Portman of Ohio is one of the 10 Republican senators who endorsed the bill framework in early June. He will retire this year and has an A rating from the N.R.A.
  • Mitt Romney of Utah, along with Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski, is known as one of the Republican swing votes in the Senate. He signed the bill framework in June and has an A rating from the N.R.A.
  • Thom Tillis of North Carolina was a leader in the negotiations alongside Mr. Cornyn and Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut. Mr. Tillis has an A rating from the N.R.A.
  • Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania is one of two Republicans who supported expanded background check legislation in 2013. He is retiring from the Senate this year and has a C rating from the N.R.A.
  • Todd Young of Indiana was a more surprising Republican yes vote. On Wednesday, he suggested that he was still examining the details of the bill. “We didn’t have a whole lot of time to review the text and solicit, from various stakeholders and experts, thoughts on it. I remain open to supporting it. I also remain open to not supporting it,” he said. He has an A+ rating from the N.R.A.

While this is a modest set of reforms, indeed, it’s something. As the Rolling Stone headline puts it, “Senate Passes Landmark Bipartisan Gun Bill, the Most Expansive Firearms Legislation in Decades.” The House will almost surely pass it today.

In light of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision solidifying carrying firearms as a fundamental Constitutional right, it’s possible that even this bill is suspect. But these would seem to be “well-defined restrictions” that Thomas acknowledged had historical precedent and should therefore survive strict scrutiny.

UPDATE (2:26pm): The House has passed the bill in identical form and sent it to President Biden for his signature

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. MarkedMan says:

    It appears I was wrong on my hunch that the Republicans would find a reason to suddenly decide the “Democrat Party had inserted blah-dy blah-dy blah into the bill and now I very regretfully can’t support it any more.” Do I think these people suddenly developed a spine? No. They are modern Republicans. If they had courage they wouldn’t still be in office and they know it. (Interesting that not a few are retiring.) But I do think that for the ones that have to win another election it means they sense a shift in the winds. That’s a good thing.

  2. Mimai says:


    It appears I was wrong…

    Economy-plus upgrade for you.

    I also put my chips on this not passing (expressed IRL to my mates who are more than happy to remind me).

    A modest policy reform, perhaps. And a big(ish) event in the current political theatre.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    I too expected the GOPs to delay this past the midterms then kill it. Apparently Moloch McConnell was genuinely afraid that this time is different, that they needed to appear to do something to survive the midterms. If so, Murphy et al have handed them a lifeline. In any case Murphy can say we’ve broken the logjam and now maybe we can move forward with more ambitious proposals. Cornyn, Moloch, et al can say to the NRA* we did what we had to do to stay in power. we’ll make up for it later. One of those beliefs is wrong.

    * It looks to me like the NRA has largely destroyed itself. But by now the whole gun rights nonsense is baked into MAGAtry. So they’re pandering not to the NRA, but to the legacy of the NRA, including all the hardcore splinter groups that thought the NRA were squishes.

    In any case, “most expansive firearms legislation in decades” is damn faint praise. Where we go from here depends on whether voters continue to care about this.