US President Joe Biden on Saturday signed into law his country’s first gun-control bill in decades that seeks to prevent people with criminal records and mental problems from acquiring firearms.
The bill — now known as the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act 2022 — passed the House of Representatives on Friday evening by 234 to 193 votes.
The US Senate passed the bill late Thursday by a 65-33-vote and sent it to the House. As promised by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House acted swiftly and sent it to the president on Friday evening for signing it into law. President Biden also acted promptly and put his signature on the bill early Saturday morning before leaving on a week-long trip to Europe.
“God willing, it’s going to save a lot of lives,” said the president after signing the bill. He recalled that the last time Congress passed meaningful gun safety laws was almost 30 years ago and he attended that event as well. He mentioned major school and public shootings that killed hundreds of Americans, mostly children.
For those “and for the shootings that happen every day in the streets … their message to us was: ‘Do something. How many times have we heard that? Just do something.’ For God’s sake, just do something,” he said.
The US media described the new law as “the most significant firearms legislation” in more than 30 years. It followed mass shootings last month at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and a primary school in Uvalde, Texas, that left 31 people dead.
The law requires tougher background checks for buyers younger than 21. It would provide $15bn in federal funding for mental health programmes and school security upgrades. The law provides funds to encourage states to implement “red flag” laws to remove firearms from people considered a threat. It also seeks to close the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by blocking gun sales to those convicted of abusing unmarried partners.
Conservative Republicans oppose the new law and have vowed to undo it if they capture Congress in the midterm elections.