Fifteen Republicans in the Senate and 14 in the House joined with congressional Democrats this week to break more than 25 years of inaction on gun safety. That these Republicans, many of whom had ratings of A or A-plus from the National Rifle Association, defied the gun lobby with their support of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act suggests they saw the political peril in doing nothing about the gun violence gripping the country. Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who voted for the bill, admitted as much when he said he hoped GOP support for the measure “will be viewed favorably by voters” as the party seeks to regain the majority next year.
The public sentiment for gun safety that has steadily built with each mass shooting, finally forcing Republicans to drop their ironclad opposition, offers hope that the legislation, signed into law by President Biden on Saturday, will be the first and not last step in bringing some rationality to the nation’s gun laws.
The 80-page bill, produced by a small group of Republican and Democratic senators in the aftermath of back-to-back mass shootings at a Buffalo grocery store and a Texas school, falls far short of the tough but common-sense measures long sought by gun-control advocates. There are no universal background checks, no ban of large-capacity magazines, no requirements for safe storage of weapons and no action—not even raising the minimum age of purchase—on assault weapons. That, though, does not detract from the significance of what was achieved.