The US House of Representatives has passed significant gun-safety legislation for the first time in three decades in the United States, sending it to President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it into law.
The House voted 234-193 in favour of the bill on Friday, a day after a Supreme Court ruling broadly expanded gun rights. No Democrats were opposed, while 14 Republicans backed the measure.
“The legislation … includes several strong steps to save lives, not only from horrific mass shootings but also from the daily massacre of gun crime, suicide and tragic accidents,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during debate.
Noting that guns have become the leading “killer of children in America”, Pelosi said Congress must now go further and legislate more changes to gun-sale background checks and restrictions on “high-capacity armament”.
The law was supported by major law enforcement groups and its passage was a rare defeat for US gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association (NRA) gun lobby group.
The House’s passage of the legislation followed a 65-33 vote in the US Senate late on Thursday to pass the bill, with 15 Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, voting in favour.
Gun control has long been a divisive issue in the US with multiple attempts to place new controls on gun sales failing time after time.
The legislation was a direct result of the killing of 19 children and two teachers at a primary 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.
The bill takes some steps on background checks by allowing access, for the first time, to information on significant crimes committed by juveniles.
It also cracks down on gun sales to purchasers convicted of domestic violence, and it provides new federal funding to states that administer “red flag” laws intended to remove guns from people deemed dangerous to themselves and others.
“No legislation can make their families or communities whole,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, said of those victims. “But we can act to keep others from facing the same trauma.”
The Brady gun control group described the “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act” as “the strongest gun violence prevention law in the last 30 years”, and cited the “100 people killed with guns each day” in the United States. Many of those are deaths by suicide.
For the conservatives who dominate Republicans in the House, it all came down to the Constitution’s Second Amendment right for people to have firearms, a protection that is key for many voters who own guns.
“Today they’re coming after our Second Amendment liberties, and who knows what it will be tomorrow,” said Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the Judiciary panel’s top Republican.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court, with its 6-3 conservative majority, struck down New York state’s limits on carrying concealed handguns outside the home. The court found that the law, enacted in 1913, was unconstitutional.
The NRA, the nation’s most powerful gun lobby, declared the court ruling “a monumental win” for American gun owners.
On Friday, it attacked the bill passed by Congress, calling it a “senseless” gun control measure that “will only infringe on the rights of the law-abiding”.
The legislation has been viewed as modest in scope for a country with the highest gun ownership per capita in the world and the highest number of mass shootings annually among wealthy nations.
In 2020, the rate of gun deaths in the US surged 35 percent to the highest point since 1994, with especially deadly levels for young Black men, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report published May 10.