Congress Passes Landmark Gun Control Bill, With Billions for Mental Health

Congress Passes Landmark Gun Control Bill, With Billions for Mental Health

Gary Cameron

On the heels of a 65-33 vote in the Senate Thursday night, the House voted 234-193 Friday to approve the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which supporters hail as the most substantial gun control legislation in decades. The bill now awaits President Joe Biden’s signature.

All Democratic lawmakers supported the bill. Fifteen Republicans in the Senate voted yes, but the majority were opposed, as were all but 15 Republicans in the House, where GOP leaders charged that the legislation is a threat to the Second Amendment. Former President Trump warned Republican lawmakers that a vote in favor of the bill would be a “career-ending move.”

Quickly written in the wake of recent mass shootings in New York and Texas, the gun control package provides about $15 billion in spending, with more than half of that going towards mental health programs. The bill is fully paid for, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and would reduce the deficit by $154 million over a decade. A congressional aide told The Hill that “the legislation is paid for by delaying the implementation for one year of a Trump-era rule relating to eliminating the anti-kickback statute safe harbor protection for prescription drug rebates.”

Here’s what the bill will do:

* Impose more extensive background checks lasting up to 10 days on gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 21. Those with juvenile court records or mental health problems will be denied and have their applications turned over to the FBI. The enhanced background check requirement will expire after 10 years.

* Provide $750 million for states to establish or enhance “red flag” laws that allow officials to take guns from those determined to be a threat. Alternatively, states can opt to use the funds for crisis intervention efforts.

* Close the “boyfriend loophole” by expanding the circle of people who are banned from buying guns due to previous domestic violence charges.

* Impose tougher penalties on those who buy guns for anyone who is banned from owning firearms.

* Provide billions of dollars to school and community mental health programs, as well as school safety efforts.

In comments Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) summed up the feelings of many supporters of the bill. “It’s not everything we want, we must keep working toward universal background checks…but this will save lives,” she said. “Maybe not so much a giant, but a small step forward.”