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For the first time in more than two decades, lawmakers have passed significant legislation to address gun violence. After a late-night vote in the Senate yesterday, and following House passage today, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (S. 2938) now heads to President Biden’s desk, where he’s expected swiftly sign it into law.

This bill is not everything, and there is far more work to be done—but it is a noteworthy act of bipartisanship in a polarized political climate. And more importantly, after the tragedies in Uvalde, Buffalo, Tulsa, and so many other communities, it’s an impactful piece of legislation that will prevent bloodshed.

What’s in the Bill?

The bill includes four key FCNL gun violence prevention priorities.

First, it incentivises state-level extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs)—a crucial policy tool that allows a firearm to be removed from someone who is a threat to themselves or others. We have been calling on Congress to promote ERPOs for a number of years, and this was a major focus of the 2019-2020 Advocacy Corps.

The bill includes four key FCNL gun violence prevention priorities.

Second, the bill closes the “boyfriend loophole” by expanding protections for victims of domestic violence to include dating partners. Under current law, individuals with domestic violence charges are prohibited from owning a firearm if they are married to, living with, or have a child with the victim. In closing this loophole, lawmakers are recognizing that domestic violence is not limited to people who are married or have children. The legislation recognizes that anyone who has attempted or threatens violence in a relationship is a real and present danger to their partner and should be prohibited from owning a weapon.

Third, the bill invests $1 billion in mental health, including funding for community behavioral health centers, telehealth services, suicide prevention, school-based trauma, and mental health support.

Finally, the legislation allocates $250 million for community-based violence intervention programs. This funding is especially noteworthy, as violence interrupters are proven to be an effective form of community-based violence intervention.

The Work Ahead

This bill is a crucial step forward, but it is far from perfect. It increases funding for “school hardening” and bolstering police departments. As the bill is implemented and as regulations emerge from this legislation, it will be important to ensure that these funds don’t further militarize schools or lead to disproportionately harmful consequences for children of color.

We cannot forget about the epidemic of gun violence that happens every day in communities.

Moreover, while mass shootings often attract the headlines, we cannot forget about the epidemic of gun violence that happens every day in communities. These communities often do not get the same media attention, largely because many of the victims are Black and brown.

Rather than responding to community-level violence by increasing the presence of a militarized police force, Congress should increase funding for effective community-led solutions, with a particular focus on violence interrupters.

Again, this is a vital first step made possible by years of persistent grassroots advocacy. We applaud lawmakers for passing this long-awaited legislation, and look forward to working with them on further solutions to address the scourge of gun violence.

Imani Bryant

Imani Bryant

Program Assistant, Justice Reform & Election Integrity (2021-2022)

Imani K. Bryant was FCNL’s 2021-2022 program assistant for justice reform and election integrity.