The most significant federal gun legislation in decades was signed into law on June 25 by President Joe Biden after passage last week by the House and the Senate. By a vote of 234-193, the House approved the measure on June 24, with 14 Republicans joining Democrats to vote in favor. The vote followed on the heels of a 65-33 Senate vote the previous day, with 15 Republicans joining Democrats in support of the bill.
In a letter to House leaders sent within hours after Senate passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (“Act”) (S. 2938), ABA President Reginald M. Turner urged swift action on the bill. “While the bill is not perfect, it is a huge, urgently needed step forward,” Turner wrote in his letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “The legislation employs evidence-informed actions to dramatically reduce gun violence and its devastating impacts across the United States, as demonstrated most recently by the massacres in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.”
The ABA has longstanding, nonpartisan policies promoting gun violence prevention strategies that respect the Second Amendment to help address the public health crisis created by the ever-increasing number and magnitude of incidents in recent years. Strategies ultimately agreed to on a bipartisan basis in both chambers of Congress and now enacted include:
- Providing states with incentives to implement crisis intervention programs, including “extreme risk protection orders” authorizing courts to temporarily remove guns from persons found to be dangerous to themselves or others.
- Closing the “boyfriend loophole,” to prevent adjudicated abusers from accessing firearms, no matter their marital status with the victim, and expanding protections to victims of intimate partner violence who currently have or recently had “a continuing serious relationship of romantic or intimate nature.”
- Implementing enhanced background checks for young gun buyers that include an investigative period to examine juvenile and mental health records before buyers under 21 can purchase a firearm.
- Establishing new penalties concerning illegal gun trafficking or straw purchases, which provide a stream of firearms that disproportionately impacts urban communities.
- Clarifying the definition of a federally licensed firearms dealer to include any individuals who “predominately [earns] a profit” through the sale of firearms, thereby preventing individuals who currently are not licensed to sell, manufacture, or import firearms from being able to evade federal law.
In recent months, the ABA has spoken up repeatedly as the debate over reducing gun violence has roiled Washington, D.C., and the country.
As a bipartisan group of Senate negotiators were hammering out a deal earlier this month for the bill signed by President Biden, ABA President Turner wrote to the effort’s leaders, urging “swift, evidence-informed action to dramatically reduce the threat and devastating impacts of gun violence across the United States.”
In Turner’s June 1, 2022, letter to Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) – lead negotiators on the Bipartisan Working Group on Gun Violence -- he appealed to Congress to consider ABA policy recommendations of proven solutions that respect the Second Amendment.
In other ABA action in Washington, D.C., involving gun issues, Turner issued a statement responding to the June 23 Supreme Court decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, which ruled that Americans have a broad right to arm themselves in public. The decision struck down a New York law that placed strict limits on carrying guns outside the home.
“The American Bar Association is deeply disturbed by the toll gun violence has exacted upon our country as more than 40,000 Americans die every year from guns through homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings,” Turner said in his statement on the same day that the Supreme Court decision was handed down. “The ABA has studied firearm regulation for more than 50 years and believes gun violence can be reduced by evidence-based policies that are fully consistent with the Constitution.”
The ABA also filed an amicus brief in the case, in September 2021, that was cited multiple times by the dissenting justices in Bruen. The amicus argued that, pursuant to association policy, the right of state and local governments to tailor firearms regulations should be based on local considerations and is a critical component of a state’s police powers.
The ABA recognizes there is no simple solution to responding to the national crisis created by the surge in gun violence across the country, and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is just one step forward in the quest to reduce the threat and make people safer. Our advocacy for additional proven solutions that comply with the Second Amendment must continue.
To learn more a about the ABA’s actions during the current debates, visit our Reducing Gun Violence resource page that details ABA policy and latest advocacy, as well as providing information on other government efforts to reduce gun violence. Additionally, the ABA Governmental Affairs Office has posted a comprehensive overview of state laws and federal actions surrounding gun legislation developed by the National Journal.
To learn more about governmental efforts to reduce gun violence as significant developments occur, follow us @ABAGrassroots on Twitter.