On June 24, Congress passed the most significant and wide-ranging piece of gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years. A bipartisan group of senators spearheaded the legislation, resulting in a bill supported by 15 Republican senators. It was an increasingly rare instance of efficient and substantial bipartisan legislation, on an issue that many have long thought was irreparably partisan. While the bill does not go far enough in tackling gun violence, it is more than many pundits expected, and one that will hopefully save many lives. It is to be celebrated, commended and built upon.
While the legislation was naturally cast aside by many as insubstantial, those behind the curtains have shown it is anything but. Most striking to me was that the bill closed the boyfriend loophole, which has been a key priority in the state of Michigan, especially for gun safety groups on campus, and will help to clarify a current law that prevents people convicted of domestic abuse from being able to own a gun. Until the passage of this bill, a long-time partner in a relationship who had been convicted of domestic abuse could still purchase a gun. That will be allowed no longer, as this bill expands beyond the current scope of spouses, live-in partners and those who have a child with the victim. That is a substantial win and one which the Republican Party has railed against for years.
Another key win is the $750 million that will go toward helping states implement red flag laws. These laws allow law enforcement to temporarily take the guns of individuals deemed dangerous to themselves or their community. These laws, too, have been a major gripe for Republicans in the past, with much of the party claiming them to be a gross encroachment on Second Amendment rights. Background checks for those who are 18-21, the age range which disproportionately commits mass shootings, are being substantially strengthened. The last gun control measure is new penalties for those who illegally buy guns for individuals who otherwise would not be able to obtain them as a result of failing background checks.
The other aspect of the bill, and the part that Republicans like to emphasize the most, are measures that seek to address mental health and increase funding for school safety. Republicans have erroneously tried for years to claim that mass shootings are almost, if not completely, a result of these two components in an attempt to prevent even the slightest gun control measures. Though off-base, many Democrats are off-base as well when they try to cast off these parts of the bill completely.
Increasing funding for mental health initiatives has benefits far beyond curbing mass shootings, and there have been cases where shooters had mental ailments. The money would also go toward school-based mental health centers, suicide hotline support and first aid programs. Moreover, fortifying schools and funding anti-violence programs, especially those in underserved communities that otherwise don’t have the resources, is an equitable positive. Though lax gun regulations, an insane abundance of guns and a cult-like institutional attachment to gun rights nationwide are far and away the main reasons the U.S. has such unique problems, it doesn’t mean legislators have to stop at fixing those.
Beyond the fact that this is the most substantial gun control bill in close to three decades, it is important to note the fierce opposition that Congress was able to overcome. The National Rifle Association, which has effectively had veto power over congressional Republicans on gun-related issues for decades, was decidedly against the bill. Republican after Republican, both at the grassroots and elected levels, rallied fiercely against the bill. From GOP state conventions to the most powerful man in the Republican Party, opposition to any sort of participation in this bill-writing process by Republicans was dominant. Yet, good won out. The NRA lost. The far-right lost.
In the wake of the Uvalde shooting, gun control advocates and legislators vowed this time would be different. They vowed, as they have fruitlessly done so many times before, that inaction was not a possibility. Those who have been dismayed at what has become so accepted as an inevitable normal in this country, myself included, did not expect these vows to come true. Yet they did, and for that, we should be grateful.
It is undeniable that this legislation doesn’t come close to serving as a comprehensive solution to gun violence. Popular gun control measures still face continued Republican opposition. However, there is nothing worse than doing nothing at all. We live in an incrementalist country with institutional barriers that make landmark legislation close to impossible. Accepting nothing because we don’t get everything is nothing but selfish and short-sighted. Democrats were able to take what they could get, move on and continue to fight for life-saving gun control measures. Republicans, though few, were finally able to muster the will to put the lives of our country’s kids ahead of the NRA and the gun lobby. And for that, we celebrate; for that, we can only hope this is just one of many positive steps in the right direction.
Devon Hesano is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.