WASHINGTON, D.C. (WGHP) – Here is North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis’ bottom line about the bipartisan gun rights bill that passed its first vote Tuesday in the United States Senate: “We want to get people help before something escalates to the level we had in Uvalde.”

Tillis was one of a small group of Senators – along with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) – who assembled about three weeks ago to negotiate what is billed as the first piece of significant gun legislation – called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act – in decades to receive approval in the Senate.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., center, speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Mass shootings at Virginia Tech, at Aurora, Colorado, at Newtown, Connecticut, at Parkland, Florida, at Fort Hood, Texas, at Orlando, at Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, and at Pittsburgh, just last month – or all the other mass shootings in the U.S. – didn’t do it.

But just a month after 21 were killed and 17 were wounded at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, while law enforcement waited in the hall, the Senate responded with legislation. This bill is not as broad as a bill passed by the House on June 8, but it’s forward motion that Tillis says he plans to see to conclusion.

In Uvalde the shooter was an 18-year-old armed with an AR-15 assault rifle. He had a history of difficulties. Tillis’ bill is focused on mental health and securing schools much more than it is on restricting access to weapons and banning any weapons.

This bill still must pass a final vote in the Senate – where 14 Republicans, including Richard Burr of North Carolina, joined with all 50 Democrats in an initial approval – and then must pass the House, where GOP leadership already is mounting opposition but Democrats control the majority.

Tillis, who speaks of his long record of supporting gun rights under the Second Amendment, is said to be the principal author of this 80-page bill, and during a Zoom press conference Wednesday, he walked through the elements he considered keys but declined to speak about any ideas that he liked that were excluded.

Reggie Daniels pays his respects at a memorial at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on June 9, 2022, honoring the two teachers and 19 students killed in the shooting at the school on May 24. For families fractured along red house-blue house lines, summer’s slate of reunions and weddings poses another round of tension. Pandemic restrictions have melted away but gun control, the fight for reproductive rights, the Jan. 6 insurrection hearings, who’s to blame for soaring inflation and a range of other issues continue to simmer. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

What’s in the bill?

“The first 25 pages are expanding mental health access based on a pilot program running in nine states … that has led to a reduction in emergency room admissions for emergency health.

“The second part is school safety. The bill has resources for state units to harden schools, increase training for law enforcement and school resource officers.

“The third area is trafficking in guns. If you are a business that makes, assembles or sells weapons, you have to do a background check. This is largely already covered in federal law.

“The fourth provision is background checks for people under the age of 21 … using mental health adjudication and criminal convictions as if they were adults. There is enhanced review for up to three days …. to determine that if there is something that requires review. … If something is found, there are seven more business days to determine if that was a disqualifying event.

“The fifth provision is crisis intervention orders … 19 states that have so-called ‘red flag laws.’ You have to have front-end and back-end due process …. to meet the constitutional process

“The boyfriend loophole: We couldn’t get consensus on this in the past. … Someone in a significant relationship that doesn’t fit [the definitions] in current law [such as a boyfriend or girlfriend] could be eligible for domestic violence charge and be disqualified.”

That was his colloquial explanation of the 80 pages of the bill, which he suggested that most who oppose it do so because they are misinformed about what’s included and what is not. He declined to say what else he might have wanted.

What’s not?

“There is no mandatory waiting period. There is nothing to restrict any current weapons that could be legally purchased,” he said. “My job is educating the people of North Carolina about what is in it and what is not in it. … There is a lot of misleading information out there.”

He said his constituents are calling, and there is a lot of concern. Many are supportive, he said, but there are calls from people opposed to it.

“When you dig down on what they opposed … it’s from groups that didn’t look at the bill,” he said. They mostly talk about elements “they would find objectionable in future regulation.

“This is going to take mental health to a level never been to. It’s most impactful. We are hardening schools and providing better training. I can’t imagine anyone being opposed to that.”

He said he hadn’t talked to his fellow Republicans from North Carolina because “details matter. … We just published text yesterday.”

Next steps

But he said he would spend the next few days and into the weekend doing so and encouraging support for the bill in the final vote. He has support from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Tillis, though, said he couldn’t predict how those in the House might respond, he said.

“It’s a different institution,” he said. “They are divided on this issue. I do know there are some Republicans looking at it positively. [The] 65 votes [including absent Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa,)] yesterday is a good indication of members of the Republican Party that may be open to it. But it has to go through the House’s process.”