Gun safety bill clears initial hurdle; Tillis plays key role in negotiations

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Nearly one month since Uvalde and the years-long standstill over gun reform legislation appears to be over. The bill, The Safer Communities Act, is moving in Washington with bipartisan support, and North Carolina's own Senator Thom Tillis is in the thick of the negotiations.

Tillis has stayed tight-lipped about the weeks-long negotiations with senate Democrats on the nation's first gun safety law in decades. But, then came the vote Tuesday night. The bill cleared its first procedural hurdle in the senate. Hours later, Tillis took questions from reporters on Zoom, Wednesday, about what's in the bill and what's not.

The measure enhances background checks giving authorities 10 business days to review juvenile and mental health records. It closes the "boyfriend loophole," ensuring dating partners are included in a federal law that bars domestic abusers from buying guns. The legislation provides millions to the states to enact red flag laws and millions more to expand mental health resources. And, the bill toughens penalties for straw purchases -- buying then selling guns to people barred from purchasing them.

"Trying to put together what I consider to be a very well-balanced reasonable 80-page bill," Tillis told reporters at the virtual news conference.

What is not in the bill? No universal background checks and there's no mention of raising the age to buy an AR-15 from 18 to 21. It's the same assault-style rifle used in the Uvalde massacre and many other mass shootings. Tillis said it was a non-starter.

"When we first got together, the four of us who have been negotiating, we made it very clear that we didn't intend to raise the age," Tillis said. "What we intended to do was put safety valves in place, particularly for somebody who may be in a mental health crisis."

Despite what some gun reform advocates say is missing in the legislation, many are celebrating the bill's movement as a win.

"We're incredibly excited about the bill. It's really historic," said Becky Ceartas, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, one of the many groups pushing Washington to do something after an especially bloody Spring of deadly mass shootings.

"There can be more there. There can always be more," Ceartas said. "But this bill is definitely a great start and will save lives."

One of the final questions to Senator Tillis on Wednesday could the bill have prevented the horror in Uvalde.

"It's impossible to determine," Tillis said. "It won't stop every horrible event like we've seen at far too many schools; far too many public places. But I am convinced that it's gonna help keep communities safe."

A second key test vote in the senate is set for Thursday morning. Approval would set up a final vote on the bill by the end of this week, perhaps as early as Thursday afternoon.
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