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WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a bipartisan gun safety bill, with one Utah Republican senator voting in favor of Congress' most significant response to mass shootings in nearly three decades and the other voting against.
Sen. Mitt Romney was among 15 Republicans who joined all Senate Democrats in a 65-33 vote late Thursday. Sen. Mike Lee voted against the legislation, which was unveiled two days ago. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act now heads to the House, where it's expected to pass as soon as Friday.
Romney, who was among the senators who negotiated the deal, said in a statement that protecting human life and safeguarding Americans' constitutional rights are not mutually exclusive and that the bill accomplishes both.
"This legislation does not infringe upon Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans," he said. "I am proud to have supported this package of common sense and popular solutions that will both keep our schools safe and protect the rights of law-abiding citizens."
Lee disagreed about the bill's implications on gun rights.
He described the bill as the "legislative equivalent of running through a congested intersection with our eyes closed" during Senate debate on legislation Thursday.
Lee said that he could support some parts of the bill, but its key provisions are fraught with problems. He said the proposal places overly broad and undefined restrictions on Second Amendment rights, "pays lip service" to due process and isn't clear on how it deals with juvenile court records.
Lee lamented the lack of time to debate, offer amendments and refine the legislation before voting on it.
"Why are we in such a rush? Don't America's school children and America's school teachers and America's moms and dads deserve better consideration than this?" he said in a speech on the Senate floor.
The legislation provides $13 billion in federal funding to bolster public safety and innovative programs to help stop tragedies before they occur, including through substantial investments in mental health, school safety, and state-led crisis intervention programs, according to Romney.
The measure includes grants for states to create red flag laws, which allow immediate family members or police officers to petition a court to temporarily remove guns from those who appear to pose a serious threat to themselves or others.
It also closes what's known as the "boyfriend loophole" by barring people with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions against dating partners or former dating partners from buying a firearm for at least five years. It also includes a process to reinstate the right to buy a gun.
The bill also cracks down on illegal straw purchasers by making it a specific federal criminal offense to purchase, or conspire to purchase, a firearm for someone who is prohibited by law from buying a gun.
Lee said the legislation does little for schools safety.
"You'd think that a bill that purports to be able to keep kids safe in schools would at least have some funding for school security measures or for school resource officers. But if you thought that, you'd be wrong," he said.
If Congress provides billions of dollars in mental health funding for schools, it should allow states to use some of the money for security measures such as reinforced doors, resource officers and training for teachers who want to carry a concealed weapon, Lee said.
Lee called federal funding for red flag laws a "trick" and a "bribe" to get states to pass laws that Congress can't or won't pass so they can tell voters at home they did something to address gun violence.
"We delude ourselves and we harm our constituents when we pretend that it's OK to pull the functional equivalent, the legislative equivalent of running through a congested intersection with our eyes closed and think that that's not going to cause problems. That is exactly what we're doing here," he said.
Romney said the legislation includes funding for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which thanks to an idea born in Utah and championed by the late Sen. Orrin Hatch, is rolling out a new three-digit 988 number nationwide this summer.
"Utah has been a leader in proactively addressing mental health in our communities," Romney said. "This bill empowers states to stand up crisis intervention programs that fit their own needs. The SafeUT crisis chat and tip line is one example of a creative, state-run program that has proven results in stopping tragedy before it occurs."