A bipartisan group of US senators has proposed new rules on guns that would break a decades-long legislative stalemate on the issue. Backed by President Joe Biden, the package of initiatives was inspired most recently by massacres at a Texas elementary school and a Buffalo, New York, grocery store. Here are the initiatives in the deal under consideration in Congress, plus a status report on other gun-related issues gaining momentum:
Encourage ‘Red Flag’ Laws
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already have these laws, which empower family members or police officers to ask a court to temporarily block people exhibiting violent behavior from owning firearms. The Senate legislation wouldn’t mandate these laws, but it would create a grant program that would be used to encourage more states to adopt them.
Expand Background Checks …
Licensed firearm dealers are required to run criminal background checks of buyers through the Federal Bureau of Investigation before finalizing a sale; if that check isn’t done within three days, the sale can proceed anyway. Private sellers — those who only occasionally sell firearms, including at gun shows — don’t need licenses and therefore aren’t required to conduct a background check, a distinction often shorthanded as the gun-show loophole. The Senate bill would narrow the loophole by expanding which firearms sellers must conduct background checks. In the case of gun buyers younger than 21, the bill would give officials an extra 10 business days to review and approve a sale if an initial check turns up a questionable juvenile record. (Under federal law, people as young as 18 can legally purchase shotguns or rifles like the popular AR-15, though not handguns.)
… and Close the ‘Boyfriend Loophole’
Federal law bars firearms purchases by people who have been convicted of domestic violence against a spouse, a co-parent or a live-in partner. The Senate deal would add dating partners to the list, limiting the so-called boyfriend loophole. Roughly 40% of female homicide victims in the US are killed by a current or former male intimate partner, according to Justice Department statistics last updated in 2011. (Michael Bloomberg, owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, founded and helps fund Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for universal background checks and other gun violence prevention measures.)
Fund Local Violence-Prevention Efforts
The Senate deal includes $250 million for violence-prevention programs in underserved urban neighborhoods, aiming to identify and redirect would-be violent criminals. In May, Biden nominated criminal justice attorney Amy Solomon to lead the Justice Department office that funds such programs. The Senate has yet to consider her nomination. In 2021, Biden broadened the federal funding available for such programs and asked Congress for an extra $5 billion over eight years to fund them, but that request is stalled along with much of Biden’s proposed spending on social programs.
Issue Active-Shooter Alerts
The House is taking up a bill that would create a national active-shooter alert system, modeled after how law enforcement and broadcasters notify the public about missing children. The Justice Department would coordinate the alerts, which mobile phone users could choose to receive on their devices. The measure had the support of more than a dozen House Republicans as of June 16.
Confirm Top Firearm Regulator
The Senate is nearing a vote to confirm former prosecutor Steve Dettelbach to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. Democrats so far unanimously support Dettelbach, as do Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Rob Portman of Ohio. The agency hasn’t had a permanent director since 2015. Biden withdrew his initial choice to lead the bureau in the fall of 2021, after he failed to win a majority of the Senate’s support.
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