U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was among 15 Republican senators who joined all 50 Senate Democrats Thursday to pass a gun safety bill that aims to stem mass shootings and school violence.
The legislation will send more than $15 billion to communities to improve school safety and mental health services for young people. It also strengthens background checks for adult gun buyers under the age of 21.
“This is to assure that schools are safe and kids are protected,” Murkowski said. “This bill will not place restrictions on law-abiding gun owners. Providing greater safeguards is what we are attempting here.”
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act passed the Senate on a vote of 65-33 and now heads to the House for a vote that could come as early as Friday.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, voted against the bill, saying that the legislation was “a good start,” but that he was concerned about how it would be implemented.
“I have serious concerns about the broad discretion this legislation leaves up to federal courts and Biden administration officials,” Sullivan said prior to the vote.
More school health and safety resources
Overall the bill brings an unprecedented focus on increasing health and safety resources to schools and communities through federal grant programs.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will implement background checks for gun buyers who are 18 to 20 years old to determine if they have a juvenile record that may disqualify a purchase under federal law.
The bill also requires that anyone who repeatedly buys and sells guns for profit register as a licensee. “We have not done anything prohibitive to impact gun shows, but if you are in the business of buying and selling guns regularly and for profit, then you need to have a license,” Murkowski said.
The legislation makes so-called straw purchases a crime. Straw purchases of firearms are made on behalf of someone who cannot legally buy a firearm. “What we are doing here is closing a loophole,” Murkowski said.
Saying that Americans need to see Congress respond to gun violence, Murkowski discussed her support for the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act before the Senate vote.
“It is important to respond to the public’s demand for some common sense approaches on guns and safety,” Murkowski told Alaska reporters at a press conference. “None of this infringes on Second Amendment rights or Alaska’s respect for the Second Amendment and firearm rights.”
Murkowski emphasized that she felt it was important to explain what the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act addresses and what it does not do.
The bill does not establish so-called red flag laws. It does not require universal background checks, nor does it create de facto waiting periods for gun buyers under the age of 21, she said.
Murkowski noted that the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act has the support of Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican with an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association, who led the bill. The legislation was in response to the recent school shooting in his home state that killed 19 children and two teachers.
The National Rifle Association came out against the bill. But Murkowski said at the press conference Thursday that the NRA released a statement that it will support legislation that improves school security and helps reduce violent crime.
“This is what this bill does,” Murkowski said. “We as lawmakers have been demonstrating time and time again what we cannot do. We say ‘Our prayers are with you, but this is complex and too hard,’ and then we do nothing,” Murkowski said. “That is not responsible leadership.
“As I look at what we have put in place for mental health and safer schools, it is incredibly important that this comes about — and without new restrictions or bans that abridge the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”
When asked by a reporter if she was worried that her support for the gun safety bill will hurt her chances for re-election, Murkowski responded that she “cannot look at a matter like this and say ‘I have to test the winds here to see what is right because I am up for election.’”
“This needs to be a vote that I will stand by whether I am at the end of a six-year term or at the beginning of a six-year term,” she said.
She continued: “I hope Alaskans look at this for what it is — a thoughtful and targeted approach to making our communities safer from mass shootings and gun violence.”