US Congress acts on gun violence after setback for activists

US Congress acts on gun violence after setback for activists

Firearms control groups have hailed action on gun control in the US Congress -- but voiced dismay at the Supreme Court
Firearms control groups have hailed action on gun control in the US Congress -- but voiced dismay at the Supreme Court

WASHINGTON - US lawmakers were expected to break a decades-long stalemate with the passage of a limited package on firearms safety Friday, in a watershed week for gun control after the Supreme Court bolstered the right to carry weapons in public.

The highest judicial body in the United States struck down a century-old New York law Thursday that required a person to prove they had a self-defense need for a permit to carry a concealed handgun outside the home.

Hours later, the Senate defied the odds to pass a bipartisan gun bill, with 15 Republicans crossing the aisle to join all 50 Democrats in the first significant piece of legislation to regulate firearms since 1994.

The legislation includes enhanced background checks for younger gun buyers and federal cash for states introducing "red flag" laws that allow courts to temporarily remove guns from those considered a threat.

Billions of dollars have been allocated to crack down on "straw purchasers" who buy firearms for people who are not allowed them and to curb gun trafficking.

Gun control is a touchstone issue for both conservatives and liberals that has consumed Washington amid daily mass shootings in recent years.

The issue was reignited by two massacres in May that saw 10 Black supermarket shoppers gunned down in upstate New York and 21 people, mostly young children, slain at a school in Texas.

A vote to rubber-stamp the 80-page package is expected around midday (1600 GMT) in the House, where Democrats have a 220-210 margin and could afford to lose just four votes if they face a united opposition.

In reality, a handful of Republicans are expected to defy their leader Kevin McCarthy to cross the aisle and approve the measure.

- 'Long-sought triumph' -

Democrats and some gun rights activists have voiced disappointment at the modest scope of the legislation, which doesn't include universal background checks and omits any ban on semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines.

The Supreme court voted along party lines, with the six Republican appointees in favor of bolstering the constitutional right to bear arms and the three Democratic appointees dissenting.

The ruling was hailed by campaigners for boosted gun rights, but took the shine off what was expected to be a day of celebration for weapons control activists.

"This decision won't stop our grassroots army from doing what we’ve done for a decade: fighting to keep our families safe," added Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action.

"Just as we're breaking the logjam in Congress, we're going to work day-in, day-out to mitigate the fallout in New York and any other states impacted by this decision and elect gun-sense lawmakers up and down the ballot."

Eric Tirschwell, chief litigation counsel at Everytown Law, said the Supreme Court had misapplied fundamental constitutional principles, and said the group was "ready to go to court" to defend restrictions

Top Republicans celebrated the court's decision.

"This is not just a long-sought triumph for lawful gun owners across America, it is a victory for all citizens and our constitutional order itself," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McCarthy hailed the ruling as a victory that "rightfully ensures the right of all law-abiding Americans to defend themselves without unnecessary government interference."

"The decision comes at an important time -- as the Senate considers legislation that undermines Second Amendment freedom," Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association's executive vice president, said in a statement.

"This decision unequivocally validates the position of the NRA and should put lawmakers on notice: no law should be passed that impinges this individual freedom."

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