President Joe Biden on Saturday signed the most sweeping gun violence bill in decades, a bipartisan compromise that seemed unimaginable until a recent series of mass shootings, including the massacre of 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school.
“Lives will be saved,” he said at the White House. Citing the families of shooting victims, the president said, “Their message to us was to do something. Well today, we did.”
The House gave final approval Friday, following Senate passage Thursday, and Biden acted just before leaving Washington for two summits in Europe.
The legislation will toughen background checks for the youngest gun buyers, keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders and help states put in place red flag laws that make it easier for authorities to take weapons from people adjudged to be dangerous.
Most of its $13 billion cost will help bolster mental health programs and aid schools, which have been targeted in Newtown, Connecticut, and Parkland, Florida, and elsewhere in mass shootings.
Biden said the compromise hammered out by a bipartisan group of senators “doesn’t do everything I want” but “it does include actions I’ve long called for that are going to save lives.”
“I know there’s much more work to do, and I’m never going to give up, but this is a monumental day,” said the president, who was joined by his wife, Jill, a teacher, for the signing.
He said they will host an event on July 11 for lawmakers and families affected by gun violence.
Biden signed the measure two days after the Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday striking down a New York law that restricted peoples’ ability to carry concealed weapons.
While the new law does not include tougher restrictions long championed by Democrats, such as a ban on assault-style weapons and background checks for all gun transactions, it is the most impactful firearms violence measure produced by Congress since enactment a long-expired assault weapons ban in 1993.
Enough congressional Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the steps after recent rampages in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas. It took weeks of closed-door talks but senators emerged with a compromise.
Biden signed the bill just before he departed Washington for a summit of the Group of Seven leading economic powers _ the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan _ in Germany. He will travel later to Spain for a NATO meeting.
Highlights of the bipartisan gun violence bill that President Joe Biden signed on Saturday
Expanded background checks
State and local juvenile and mental health records of gun purchasers will be part of federal background checks for buyers age 18 to 20. Three-day maximum for gathering records will be lengthened to up to 10 days to search juvenile data. If 10 days lapse without a resolution, the sale will go through.
Convicted domestic violence offenders will be denied guns if they have a current or past “continuing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature” with victim. Abusers’ right to buy firearms will be restored after five years if no additional violent crimes are committed. Firearms are currently denied to domestic abusers if they are married, live with or had a child with victim.
Red flag laws
Federal aid will be given to the 19 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have laws helping authorities get court orders to temporarily remove guns from people deemed dangerous. Those states will need strong processes for challenging the taking of firearms. Other states could use money for crisis intervention programs.
The bill will expand community behavioral health clinics, help states bolster mental health programs in schools and provide more mental health consultations remotely.
The bill will increase spending on school mental health, crisis intervention, violence prevention programs, mental health worker training and school safety.
Federally licensed gun dealers
Current law requires that people “engaged in the business” of selling guns be licensed, which means they must conduct background checks. The bill defines that as selling firearms “to predominantly earn a profit,” in an effort to prosecute people who evade the requirement.
The bill will create federal crimes for gun traffickers and “straw purchasers” who buy guns for people who would not pass background checks. The penalties are up to 25 years in prison. Such offenders are now primarily prosecuted for paperwork violations.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of the bill at $13 billion, mostly for mental health and schools. That is more than paid for by further delaying a 2020 regulation that’s never taken effect requiring drug manufacturers to give rebates to Medicare recipients. That regulation would increase federal Medicare costs.