The Senate released the finalized text of its gun deal on Tuesday, adding new kinds of gun prohibitions to federal law.
The package extends current prohibitions on gun sales to those who have disqualifying juvenile records and those convicted of misdemeanor violent crimes against “dating partners.” The bill also includes a new background check process for those 18 to 20 years old, funding for “Red Flag” laws or other state crisis intervention programs, the reclassification of who must obtain federal gun dealing licenses, and several other proposals. A bipartisan group of senators praised the deal as an appropriate response to the recent elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
“Since the shooting, my office has received tens of thousands of calls, letters, and emails with a singular message: Do something,” Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas), a negotiator from the Republican side, said in a floor speech. “Not do nothing. But do something. I think we’ve found some areas where there is some space for compromise”
“Today, we finalized bipartisan, commonsense legislation to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country,” Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.), a key coalition member from the Democratic side, said in a statement. “Our legislation will save lives and will not infringe on any law-abiding American’s Second Amendment rights.”
The package represents the first expansion to the category of Americans who are prohibited from owning guns in decades, a longtime political priority of Democrats. However, it also represents an expansion in funding for mental health and school security initiatives which Republicans have long favored as solutions to school shootings. The deal is likely to have political consequences for both parties as they approach the midterm elections in November.
The bill would make it illegal for anyone to knowingly sell guns or ammunition to anyone who has a juvenile record that includes a felony conviction, domestic violence misdemeanor conviction, or an involuntary commitment after the age of 16. Until now those prohibitions had only applied to adult records. However, the law does not amend the prohibition on gun possession to include those with disqualifying juvenile records.
So, the proposal would make it illegal to knowingly sell a gun or ammo to somebody of any age who has a disqualifying juvenile record but not for them to attempt to buy or possess a gun.
In the same provision, the bill also creates a special background check process for 18-to-20-year-olds. Under the special process, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) would be required to contact the juvenile criminal record system in the buyer’s state, the state’s mental health record custodian, and “a local law enforcement agency” where the buyer lives to check for disqualifying juvenile records. NICS then has three days to tell the gun dealer whether it found cause to further investigate the buyer’s background. If so, NICS can then take up to ten days to do that investigation.
After that point, the gun can be sold even if NICS has not made a determination.
The process is similar to the current procedure for when NICS identifies a potential disqualifying record it doesn’t have immediate access to. In those situations, the FBI can delay a sale for up to three days in order to further investigate the potentially disqualifying records. The text says NICS must return a result on whether it found reason to believe the buyer has disqualifying juvenile records “as soon as possible” but the new process appears likely to result in sales to 18-to-20-year-olds being delayed more often.
The entire specialized background check process is set to expire after 10 years. However, disqualifying juvenile records will remain still in NICS after that point.
The bill also expands the definition of domestic violence to include “dating relationships.” It applies to anyone who is convicted of a misdemeanor violent attack they are, or recently were, in “a continuing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.” The text says whether the relationship falls under this definition will be determined by its length, nature, as well as the “frequency and type of interaction between” those involved. It specifically rejects any “casual acquaintanceship or ordinary fraternization in a business or social context” as part of the definition.
The updated definition would not be applied retroactively. Additionally, anybody barred under the new “dating relationship” provision would also be automatically eligible for their record to be expunged and removed from the background check system after five years if they don’t commit any further crimes during that time period. That clemency would not extend to the misdemeanor domestic violence offenses against spouses or children that are already prohibiting for life under federal law.
The expungement of “dating partner” records appear to be part of concessions made to Cornyn and other Republicans during the negotiations. His request to expand funding intended to encourage states to adopt Red Flag laws out to other kinds of state crisis intervention programs made it into the final deal as well.
States can request grant money for crisis intervention programs including “mental health courts,” “drug courts,” and “veterans courts” instead of Red Flag programs. Additionally, in order for a Red Flag law to qualify for funding it has to include “due process rights that prevent any violation or infringement of the Constitution,” have an evidentiary standard in line with similar federal court proceedings, and penalties for “abuse of the program.”
The bill also creates a new, and potentially redundant, crime for purchasing guns for others who can’t legally own them or for gun trafficking. Both of those offenses are already illegal under federal law, though critics often complain about low prosecution rates associated with the current prohibitions.
The deal also reworks the standard for when people legally selling firearms are required to obtain a federal license. The standard will be changed from those who sell guns “with the principal objective of livelihood and profit” to those who sell “predominantly” to “earn a profit.” The text further defines that as somebody who sells guns with the goal of “obtaining pecuniary gain” instead of somebody who has the goal of “improving or liquidating a personal firearms collection.”
Reaction from the gun groups was swift and divergent. Gun-control groups praised the bill.
“We were by Sen. Schumer and President Biden’s side 30 years ago when we passed the bipartisan Brady Bill,” Kris Brown, president of Brady United, said in a tweet. “We’ll be there again when this lifesaving legislation becomes law.”
Gun-rights groups trashed it.
“Once again, so-called ‘conservative’ Senators are making clear they believe that the rights of American citizens can be compromised away,” Erich Pratt, Gun Owners of America’s senior vice president, said in a statement. “Let me be clear, they have NO AUTHORITY to compromise with our rights, and we will not tolerate legislators who are willing to turn gun owners into second-class citizens.”
The National Rifle Association, which remains the largest gun group in the country despite recent turmoil, said it too opposed the bill. Though, it used less forceful language and noted it supported the school security and mental health funding aspects of the legislation.
“We will oppose this gun control legislation because it falls short at every level,” the NRA said. “It does little to truly address violent crime while opening the door to unnecessary burdens on the exercise of Second Amendment freedom by law-abiding gun owners. This bill leaves too much discretion in the hands of government officials and also contains undefined and overbroad provisions – inviting interference with our constitutional freedoms.”
Cornyn, who has long been a leading voice in the Republican caucus on gun policy, broke with the gun-rights groups in their assessment of the legislation he helped craft.
“I believe this bill is a step in the right direction,” he said during his floor speech.
The Senate voted 64 to 34 to proceed on the bill Tuesday night. While it will take at least a few days to get to a final vote, the procedural vote suggests the bill has a good chance of making it through the Senate before the Fourth of July recess which begins at the end of the week.