Gentlemen’s Agreement // The bipartisan-forged gun law is laudable, if imperfect

There was much jubilation earlier this month when a bipartisan group of senators—including enough Republicans to give the proposal sufficient support to overcome the Senate filibuster—unveiled an agreement in principle to forge new federal gun safety legislation.

Late last week, the Senate, in a 65-33 vote that included 15 Republicans in the majority, passed the bill, “The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act,” which emerged from that agreement. Then, the bill passed the House by a vote of 234-193 and was signed into law by President Biden.

It was forged and fast-tracked mere weeks after mass shootings at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

While any legislation aimed at keeping guns out of irresponsible hands is worthy, unfortunately some common-sense restrictions on gun ownership are absent from the law.

On the positive side, the law offers federal assistance to states’ enforcement and implementation of “red flag” laws, aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves or others. It provides substantial funding to help states without such laws create them, and the 19 states (and Washington, DC) that already have them, improve their enforcement.

It will also provide hundreds of millions of dollars to train medical workers and school personnel to respond to mental-health crises and for school safety programs and resource officers.

And it will close a dangerous loophole, too. Currently, only a person who has been married to, lived with or had a child with someone he or she has been convicted of abusing are prohibited from buying a gun.

The new law expands that prohibition, which was opposed by the National Rifle Association, to include people who were violent toward anyone with whom they have had a “continuing serious relationship.”

Also included in the law is a more thorough review process for people between ages 18 and 21 who wish to buy an AR-15-style “assault” rifle. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System will have to contact state and local law enforcement to search for any disqualifying mental health or juvenile records.

The definition, moreover, of a Federally Licensed Firearm Dealer—which requires background checks for purchasers of firearms—is now expanded to include more gun distributors and sellers.

All gun buyers under 21 will have to undergo a more thorough background check, including contacting the local police department to see if the buyer is in crisis. “This enhanced check can take from three to ten days,” Senator Chris Murphy, one of the chief negotiators of the agreement, tweeted, “providing for a critical ‘cooling off’ period for young people in crisis.”

Absent from the law, though, is any change to the age for purchasing firearms like AR-15-style rifles, much less a blanket ban on such weapons, which have been used to tragic effect in mass shootings like the recent ones in New York and Texas.

Some 74 percent of Americans support raising the minimum legal age to buy any gun to 21 years old nationwide, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll.

Nor does the law close the loophole that permits private sellers to sell weapons without any background check at all, a change favored by more than 80 percent of Americans. And it stops short of creating a federal red flag law.

Problematic, too, is that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, on which all background checks depend, at the insistence of the gun lobby, will still allow gun dealers to give purchasers their weapons if an investigation is not completed within three business days.

Unfortunately, no law can do much to address an underlying problem: the culture, even celebration, of violence in the US, not only among urban gangs and racist militias but also in much of what passes among the masses for “entertainment” these days.

The bipartisan agreement was unveiled on June 13. On the 20th, Eric Greitens, a former governor of Missouri who was impeached and resigned, released an ad touting his candidacy for a US Senate seat.

The ad depicts him smiling and holding a shotgun, flanked by camouflaged, armed men, breaking into a home and setting off explosives—going, he explains, “RINO-hunting”—a pun on “Republicans in Name Only,” those deemed insufficiently reactionary.

It was a timely reminder that gun control laws can only do so much. l


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