Fourteen Senate Republicans bucked the National Rifle Association and other Second Amendment advocates on Tuesday to advance bipartisan gun control and school safety legislation.
In a 64-34 vote, the Senate voted to begin debate on an ambitious rewrite of the nation’s firearm laws. Although only a simple majority was needed to take the measure up, 14 Republicans led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted in favor.
“Our colleagues have put together a common-sense package of popular steps that will help make [mass shooting] incidents less likely, while fully upholding the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” said Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
Joining Mr. McConnell in voting for the bill were GOP leadership allies, including Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, Joni Ernst of Iowa, and Todd Young of Indiana. Also supporting the bill were swing-state Republicans, like Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
Moderate Republicans provided a substantial share of the vote, including Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Rounding out the group was retiring Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Richard Burr of North Carolina.
The number of supporters likely would have been higher if Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, had not been absent.
Apart from Ms. Murkowski and Mr. Young, none of the lawmakers who backed the bill are seeking reelection this year.
“The tragedies that have impacted far too many of our communities deserve all of our attention,” said Mrs. Capito. “That’s why I have encouraged bipartisan discussions … My vote this evening is a vote to continue this critically important debate because it’s a debate worth having.”
Gun-rights groups do not see the issue in the same light. Ahead of the vote, the NRA and other members of the gun lobby urged GOP lawmakers to oppose the legislation.
“This legislation can be abused to restrict lawful gun purchases, infringe upon the rights of law-abiding Americans, and use federal dollars to fund gun control measures being adopted by state and local politicians,” the NRA said in a statement.
“This bill leaves too much discretion in the hands of government officials and also contains undefined and overbroad provisions – inviting interference with our constitutional freedoms,” the gun-rights group said.
A majority of the Senate GOP conference appeared to agree.
Overall, 34 Republican senators opposed the bill, arguing that it infringed upon the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Many also noted that they were not given adequate time to read the bill, let alone vote on it.
“Here we are voting to move on a bill negotiated entirely behind closed doors, released only an hour ago, that no one has had time to fully read, that ignores the national crime wave and chips away at the fundamental rights of law-abiding citizens,” said Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican.
The bill, which was negotiated along bipartisan lines, boosts funding for school security and mental health treatment. It also tightens the background check system for gun purchases by including domestic violence and juvenile records.
The proposal further creates a new block grant program to subsidize states that adopt red flag laws, which allow courts to confiscate firearms from individuals deemed a threat, or set up other crisis intervention programs.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, is pushing for a final vote on the measure before Congress leaves for a two-week recess starting Friday.
“Tonight the Senate took the first steps to move life-saving gun safety legislation in the Senate and we will move toward final passage as soon as possible,” he said. “We’re moving quickly to pass the bill in the Senate by the week’s end.”
The timeline is uncertain, though.
Republican opponents are expected to use an arsenal of legislative procedures to slow down consideration of the bill.
In the Senate, unanimous consent is needed to expedite consideration of a bill, meaning that all 100 senators must agree on moving forward, even one lawmaker can derail the process.
Generally, Senate leaders negotiate the number of amendments and time allotted for debate before unanimous consent is offered. If even one lawmaker objects, the process is sidelined and normal order must be followed.
Since an objection is all but assured, the earliest that the Senate could pass the bill likely would be sometime this weekend.
The bill would then have to be reconciled with a House-passed bill that clamps down much harder on gun rights, though that chamber’s Democratic leaders know their bill would have no chance in the Senate.
As a result, the likeliest outcome is that the House will accept the Senate bill outright.