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The Senate might have set up passage for significant gun legislation

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Senate reached a historic milestone today on gun safety. Sixty-five senators, including 15 Republicans, voted to move ahead with a bipartisan bill that includes expanded background checks for gun buyers under 21. The bill also has restrictions for people convicted of domestic abuse and significant investments in schools and mental health. The bill appears on track to becoming law. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has more on this significant, but possibly fleeting, moment of bipartisanship.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Nearly one month after 19 children and two teachers were killed in their classroom in Uvalde, Texas, Congress responded.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: On this vote, the yeas are 65. The nays are 34. The motion is agreed to.

SNELL: It's one of the first major gun bills to overcome a Senate filibuster in decades. But the bill doesn't ban firearms or ammunition and doesn't change the minimum age to buy a weapon.

Texas Senator John Cornyn was the lead Republican negotiator on the bill. He says senators succeeded by focusing on areas where Republicans and Democrats could agree. For Republicans, that meant a basic starting point.

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JOHN CORNYN: Law-abiding citizens exercising their Second Amendment rights are not a threat to public safety, but there are problems when people who are - have mental challenges or who are criminals get access to them.

SNELL: The talks had all of the hallmarks of a typical congressional negotiation - late-night dinners, weekend calls and threats that things might fall apart. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said the difference was the collective grief and anger and public demand for change.

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RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: It worked because the American people so desperately and overwhelmingly wanted it and were telling everyone on both sides of the aisle, do something.

SNELL: For Chris Murphy, the lead Democrat in the negotiations, the bill is the result of work that began after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, the state he and Blumenthal both represent.

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CHRIS MURPHY: We've been building a movement around ending gun violence for 10 years.

SNELL: But Congress has been deeply divided on guns for decades. They found limited agreement under former President Donald Trump on minor changes to the background check system. But beyond that, it has been nearly 30 years since Congress passed a major gun bill. For many Democrats, the celebration on this bill is muted. They see a lot of work left undone.

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DICK DURBIN: I still am disgusted and shocked to think that an 18-year-old can buy two AR-15s and thousands of dollars worth of ammunition and turn it loose in a grade school classroom.

SNELL: That's Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin. He says this bill will take steps to get guns out of the hands of criminals and people who might harm themselves or others. But polls show a majority of voters want more, and Durbin worries that Congress has done little to stop the gun violence that happens without making headlines.

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DURBIN: But the day-to-day, life-and-death struggle with guns in America is on the streets.

SNELL: And many Democrats worry about another gun development today. The Supreme Court struck down a New York law on who can get a concealed carry permit. Here's Chris Murphy again.

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MURPHY: I certainly worry that this Supreme Court has decided it wants to be the policymaking body in Washington, and they are going to continue to enact a political agenda that overrides us when they - when we pass laws they don't like.

SNELL: The Senate is expected to pass the bill in the coming days, and the House has pledged to move swiftly to take a final vote to send the bill to President Biden for his signature.

Kelsey Snell, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.