US President Joe Biden has signed the first major federal gun reform in three decades, a bipartisan compromise that comes in light of a recent series of mass shootings, including the massacre of 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school.
The law, deemed the first significant federal bill on gun safety in decades, falls short of what is really needed, Biden acknowledged on Saturday, but it will “save lives”, he said.
“While this bill doesn’t do everything I want, it does include actions I’ve long called for that are going to save lives,” Biden said at the White House before leaving for two major diplomatic summits in Europe.
The bill includes provisions to 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 the bill’s $13bn estimated cost will be directed towards bolstering mental health programmes and aid schools, which have been targeted in Newtown, Connecticut, and Parkland, Florida, and elsewhere in mass shootings.
Billions of dollars have also been allocated to crack down on “straw purchasers” – people who buy firearms for people not allowed to own them – and to curb gun trafficking.
However, much tougher measures wanted by Biden and other Democrats did not make it into the bill, including a ban on military-style rifles often used by the lone gunmen who typically carry out mass shootings. Also absent is a longtime push for mandatory background checks on all gun purchases.
Citing the families of shooting victims, the president said: “Their message to us was to do something. Well today, we did.”
Referring to political gridlock in a near evenly divided Congress, Biden said the new law, which had rare strong support from Republicans and Democrats, was “monumental”.
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.
The murders in Uvalde, which came just a week after an 18-year-old gunman killed 10 Black shoppers in a racist attack at a supermarket in Buffalo, appear to have convinced Democrats and some Republicans that some action on gun reform was necessary.
As he signed the document, Biden was joined by his wife, Jill, a teacher, and reiterated: “God willing, this is going to save a lot of lives.”
The legislation is the most impactful firearms violence measure produced by Congress since the enactment of a long-expired assault weapons ban in 1993.
The measure comes two days after the Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday, striking down a New York law that restricted people’s ability to carry concealed weapons.