The US has taken a step towards its first major gun-control legislation in decades, galvanised by two mass shooting events in a nation that has long struggled to curb chronic firearm violence.
Senators on Tuesday evening local time voted to speed passage of a bipartisan package of measures to toughen federal gun laws.
The Senate is expected to vote on the 80-page bill this week before a two-week recess.
The bill unveiled on Tuesday does not go as far as Democrats, including President Joe Biden, had sought.
Still, if passed, it would be the most significant action to combat gun violence to emerge from Congress in years.
The legislation includes provisions that would help states keep firearms out of the hands of those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, and close the so-called ‘boyfriend loophole’ by blocking gun sales to those convicted of abusing intimate partners to whom they are not married.
After mass shootings at a New York grocery store and a Texas primary school authorities said were committed by teenagers, the legislation would allow states to provide juvenile records to the national background check system for gun purchases.
The bill stops short of raising the age limit from 18 to 21 on purchases of automatic assault weapons. The shooters in Texas and New York were 18-year-olds who used assault rifles they bought themselves.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he expected the bill to pass this week, while Senator Chris Murphy, the lead Democrat in talks with Republicans to craft a legislative deal, called it “the most significant piece of anti-gun-violence legislation Congress will have passed in 30 years”.
“This is a breakthrough,” Senator Murphy said on the Senate floor ahead of the bill’s release. “And more importantly, it is a bipartisan breakthrough.”
The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, called the legislation “a commonsense package” and pledged his support.
With the 100-seat Senate split evenly between the two parties, the legislation will need support from at least 10 Republicans to pass a procedural hurdle.
Fourteen Republicans, including Senator McConnell, joined all 50 Democrats to move towards voting on the legislation.
The biggest gun lobby in the country, the National Rifle Association, said on Twitter it opposed the legislation because it could be abused to restrict lawful gun purchases.
The politically powerful group’s statement could affect how many Republicans vote on the measure.
Senator John Cornyn, the lead Republican negotiator in the bipartisan talks, held out hope the legislation would succeed.
“We know there’s no such thing as a perfect piece of legislation. We are imperfect human beings,” Senator Cornyn said on the Senate floor.
“But we have to try, and I believe this bill is a step in the right direction.”
The bipartisan group has been working on a deal since a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at a primary school in Uvalde, Texas, less than two weeks after 10 people were killed in a racist shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
Lawmakers reached agreement on a provision to encourage states to adopt ‘red-flag’ laws, in which guns can be temporarily taken away from people who are deemed dangerous.
It also provides funding for states that use other forms of intervention to accomplish the same outcome.