Alaska U.S. Sen. Murkowski votes to advance bipartisan gun safety act

a person purchasing guns and a dog inside a glass counter at a gun store
Samantha Barr, owner of Granny’s Guns in Anchorage, rings up first time customer Mike Maddox on Oct. 15, 2021. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was one of 15 Republicans who voted to pass a bipartisan gun safety bill on Thursday. She said the American public has called for action.

“After every mass shooting, we cannot come together, so we say our prayers are with the families but this is too complex and this is too hard, so we do nothing,” she said. “That’s not responsible leadership.”

Murkowski spoke at a news conference called by her office Thursday to explain how the legislation, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, would impact Alaskans and to “debunk misinformation about the bill.” If passed, the bill would be the first gun control measure approved by Congress in decades.

Murkowski called the bill responsible and said she doesn’t think it infringes on Second Amendment rights.

The bill seeks to toughen background checks for younger people, protect victims of domestic violence, fund mental health resources and improve school safety. A bipartisan group of senators began drafting the legislation after the recent mass shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

“It is responsive, I think it is responsible, and I think it is very targeted,” Murkowski said.

Among what would the bill would do is expand the background check process for people under 21 looking to buy firearms by including juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It could add additional days to the process.

The bill also would also require people who sell guns as primary sources of income to register as Federally Licensed Firearm Dealers. Federally licensed dealers are required to conduct background checks through the NICS before selling a gun.

It also seeks to close what’s known as the “boyfriend loophole.” Currently, perpetrators of domestic violence are banned from buying guns if they’re married to the victim. Under this bill, that policy would also apply to long-term dating relationships. Those convicted of domestic violence could regain their right to own a gun five years later, as long as they don’t reoffend.

The bill also includes funding for community and school-based mental health services, including additional mental health training for school staff and pediatric primary care providers. And the bill provides $750 million to help states run crisis intervention programs. That could include “red flag” laws in some states, but Murkowski said states would not be required to establish red flag laws if they don’t want to.

“It gives states flexibility for different types of programs,” she said. “In Alaska, we have the mental health courts, we have drug courts, we have veteran courts. We can use these crisis intervention funds to help the state of Alaska fund these exact types of programs or other assisted outpatient treatment programs.”

Murkowski said she’s hopeful Alaskans will support the bill. She noted that it does not establish a red flag law for Alaska or raise the minimum age to purchase a gun. Instead, she said, the focus is on mental health resources, school safety and closing major loopholes.

“That has all come about without new restrictions or bans or waiting periods or mandates for law-abiding gun owners,” she said. “When you look critically at what we have put in place, the ones that need to be worried about this measure passing are violent criminals or those who are adjudicated as mentally ill.”

Murkowski is currently running for re-election but said that did not impact her decision to support the bill. 

“The timing is what it is,” she said. “I can’t look at a matter like this, as significant as this is, and say, ‘Well, I’ve got to test the winds here to see what is right because I am up for election.’ This needs to be a vote that I will stand by regardless of whether I am at the end of a six-year term or beginning of a six-year term.”

In a statement, her challenger, Republican Kelly Tshibaka, wrote that Murkowski’s support of the bill “[proves] that she doesn’t respect” the Second Amendment.

“Time after time, Lisa Murkowski demonstrates why people on both sides of important issues just don’t trust her,” Tshibaka wrote. “When she visits Alaska, she pretends to be a friend of the 2nd Amendment, but when she’s in Washington, D.C., she sides with the elites and the insiders and votes against the interests of law-abiding Alaskans.”

But Murkowski argued she’s a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and that the bill doesn’t infringe on Second Amendment rights. She noted the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s support of the bill’s efforts to stop straw purchasing and include juvenile records in background checks.

Sen. Dan Sullivan did not vote to move the bill forward. In a statement, Sullivan wrote that the bill was a “good start” in addressing the mental health crisis at the heart of the recent mass shootings.

“However, the right to keep and bear arms is fundamental and guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and I have repeatedly committed to Alaskans that I will not support any legislation that infringes on that right,” he wrote. “I have serious concerns about the broad discretion this legislation leaves up to federal courts and Biden administration officials as it relates to the implementation and interpretation of the bill’s vaguely defined firearms restrictions and due process provisions.”

The House is expected to vote on the bill on Friday. If passed, it would go to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

RELATED: Supreme Court strikes down N.Y. law that restricts concealed carrying of guns

This story has been updated to reflect the Senate’s passage of the bill.

Previous articleAlaska News Nightly: Thursday, June 23, 2022
Next articlePollutants from far distances found in Bering Sea animals hunted by Indigenous people