Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who has led the Democrats in bipartisan Senate talks to rein in gun violence, talks to reporters, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 22, 2022. Senate bargainers reached agreement on a bipartisan gun violence bill yesterday, with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer predicting Senate approval later this week. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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A month after a teenage gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, the U.S. Senate is moving toward final passage of a bipartisan bill that aims to reduce gun violence.

Earlier in the week, the Senate voted 64 to 34 to proceed with the legislation, a bellwether vote showing bipartisan support for the measure. The bill overcame a filibuster on Thursday by a vote of 65 to 34.

As we’ve written before, the bill is far from perfect. But, it is the first significant legislation to address gun safety that stands a chance of passage in three decades. That is a commendable achievement and lays the groundwork for further bipartisan work on gun violence and other critical issues facing Americans.

The bill would boost funding for school safety along with mental health and suicide prevention programs. It will also provide federal funding to states to implement and manage red flag laws that create a process to remove weapons from those who are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. Maine has a yellow flag law that has been slow to be implemented.

The compromise bill also expands background checks to more gun sellers and strengthens background checks for gun buyers who are under 21. It toughens penalties for those who illegally purchase and traffic guns and it expands restrictions on gun ownership after convictions in domestic violence cases.

Although the bill has yet to pass – it should – much of the credit for this work goes to two senators, Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican John Cornyn of Texas.

Immediately after the May 24 murders at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Murphy took to the Senate floor and beseeched his colleagues to take action to stop such massacres, something lawmakers failed to do after a gunman killed 20 first graders and six educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012.

He quickly corralled together a group of senators, including Cornyn, to draft legislation to address concerns about both gun violence and mental health. Sen. Susan Collins was part of the initial group of senators who began negotiating the legislation. The group later grew to 20 senators, 10 from each caucus, including Sen. Angus King. Having 10 Republicans was essential to overcoming a potential filibuster in the Senate.

Murphy withstood initial criticism from groups that have long pushed for stronger gun control laws that the compromise bill was too weak.

Cornyn was booed at the recent Texas GOP convention for his role in the negotiations and the NRA, which had given the Texas senator an A-plus rating, opposes the bill.

On Tuesday, 14 Republicans – including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – voted to move forward with the bill. Most of these senators had A or A-plus ratings from the NRA.

“Yesterday, the Senate took a big step toward an important bipartisan bill to prevent mass murders, make schools safer, and protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “A bipartisan group led by Senator Cornyn has put together a package of commonsense and popular solutions to make these horrific incidents less likely. And it does not so much as touch the rights of the overwhelming supermajority of American gun owners who are law-abiding citizens of sound mind.”

“The American people know that we don’t have to choose between safer schools and our constitutional rights. Our country can and should have both,” McConnell added.

He repeatedly noted that the legislation includes “no new restrictions, bans, waiting periods, or mandates for law-abiding citizens of any age.”

For many, these are shortcomings in the legislation. We understand concerns that this bill is too weak. But, we also understand political reality. The bill that senators are scheduled to consider on Friday shouldn’t be the final, or only, solution to America’s growing gun violence problem. But, it is an important start.

Passing legislation to improve gun safety and access to mental health services would be a significant achievement in a closely divided Senate at a time of heightened political polarization. And, it would show that progress is possible on other critical issues when lawmakers are willing to work together to seek commonsense middle-ground solutions.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...