What is the status of gun control legislation? This year has been marred by a number of high-profile mass shooting events in Uvalde, and Buffalo, and Sacramento. Although the definition of a mass shooting varies, the Gun Violence Archive has documented over 531 events from January of this year through the middle of October. The child victims of the Uvalde shooting, in particular, has raised the specter of reform among Democrats and Republicans alike. This movement resulted in the passage of the first major gun legislation since the 1994 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. What is this law and how does it affect ordinary citizens?
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was passed by the Senate on June 24, 2022, by a margin of 65 to 33. It is notable that while all Senate Democrats voted for the bill, so did 14 Republicans. The act then went on to the House, where it passed the next day with a vote of 234-194. This time, the split was much larger, with only 14 Republicans voting for the bill along with all 220 Democrats. President Biden signed the bill into law on June 25, 2022.
As with most legislation, there are various funding provisions included within the different parts of the law, but the ones that are worth discussing included expanded background checks, the powers granted to law enforcement, and the so-called “boyfriend loophole.” As a number of the perpetrators in mass shootings are young, the law expands the background check process for those purchasing firearms under the age of 21. These background checks will now include access to any crimes the applicant committed while a minor and requires that mental health records of minors be included in the database. This part of the legislation also provides access to the NCIC database for all federal licensed firearms dealers. It also seeks to nail down the definition of a gun dealer and requires those who routinely sell firearms to become FFLs.
Gun trafficking laws were expanded in this bill, making it a federal crime to illegally import guns into the United States and allowing these activities to be criminalized if they occur outside the country as well. Law enforcement was granted wider powers to investigate trafficking, including wiretapping, forfeiture, and pursuing racketeering charges against perpetrators. The law specifically targeted “straw purchases,” in which a person purchases a firearm for another individual who is prohibited from purchases one on their own, making it a crime punishable up to 15 years, or 25 years if the weapon is then used in drug trafficking or terrorism.
Probably the most applicable provision of the law to the everyday person is the closure of the “boyfriend loophole.” Previously, if an individual was convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence against a spouse or domestic romantic partner, they would be prohibited from purchasing firearms. This law includes any misdemeanor convictions of domestic violence against any romantic partner, regardless of legal status or co-habitation. This restriction expires after 5 years, assuming there has been no further violent criminal convictions.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act represents a significant shift in the political arena for firearm legislation. It has been very rare in the last decade for both houses of Congress to complete the passage of a gun control bill into law. The next law on the horizon is H.R. 1808, which is a rebirth of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban. This bill, in its current form, has already passed the House with a vote of 217-213, but has yet to come to a vote in the Senate. With the frequency of mass shootings continuing to increase unabated, political will for gun reform may be prove more powerful in the coming years than the United States has seen in decades.