A bipartisan package of modest gun safety measures passed the U.S. Senate late on Thursday even as the Supreme Court broadly expanded gun rights by ruling Americans have a constitutional right to carry handguns in public for self-defence.
The landmark court ruling and Senate action on gun safety illustrate the deep divide over firearms in the United States, weeks after mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, killed more than 30 people, including 19 children.
The Senate bill, approved in a 65-33 vote, is the first significant gun control legislation to pass in three decades, in a country with the highest gun ownership per capita in the world and the highest number of mass shootings annually among wealthy nations.
"This is not a cure-all for the ways gun violence affects our nation, but it is a long overdue step in the right direction," Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the floor ahead of the vote.
The bill, which supporters say will save lives, is modest - its most important restraint on gun ownership would tighten background checks for would-be gun purchasers convicted of domestic violence or significant crimes as juveniles.
Republicans refused to compromise on more sweeping gun control measures favored by Democrats including President Joe Biden, such as a ban on assault-style rifles or high-capacity magazines.
It also followed a Supreme Court ruling earlier on Thursday, pushed through by its conservative majority, which struck down New York state's limits on carrying concealed handguns outside the home. The court found that the law, enacted in 1913, violated a person's right to "keep and bear arms" under the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment.
In the Senate vote late on Thursday, 15 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in voting for the bill.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauded the bill's passage and said in a statement it would advance in the House on Friday, with a vote coming as soon as possible.
House Republicans have instructed their members to vote against the bill, although since the chamber is controlled by Democrats their support is not needed for the bill's passage.
After House passage, Biden will sign the bill into law.
The Senate action came weeks after an impassioned speech by Biden, in which he declared "enough" of gun violence and urged lawmakers to act.
Polls show that a majority of Americans support some new limits on firearms, demands that typically rise following mass shootings like those that occurred in Texas and New York.