The Congressional push to ban semi-automatic weapons follows mass shootings across the country from Uvalde, Texas, where 19 elementary school children and two teachers were killed, to Atlanta, where six women of Asian descent were shot and killed across several spas. Alex Wong/Getty Images
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed a ban on semi-automatic firearms — the weapons used in multiple mass shootings during the last three months — on a near party-line vote.
With the 217-213 vote, the bill, H.R. 1808, will head to the evenly divided Senate, but it’s unlikely to advance there, as the ban would need all Democrats on board plus 10 Republicans to get past a filibuster. Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, has not announced if he plans to bring the weapons ban to the floor for a vote.
“Each year, more children die from gun violence than any other cause,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the House floor. “Our nation has watched unspeakable horror as assault weapons have been used in massacre after massacre.”
All but five Democrats backed the ban. Only two Republicans voted in favor: Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Chris Jacobs of New York.
The five Democrats that split with their party and opposed the ban were Reps. Jared Golden of Maine, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas.
The push for banning semi-automatic firearms came after they were used in mass shootings in Uvalde Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were murdered, and in Buffalo, New York, where a white supremacist murdered 10 Black people at a grocery store. A semi-automatic weapon also was used in a July Fourth shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, where seven people were killed.
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, said that movie theaters, places of worship, schools, hospitals and grocery stores have become “bloody battlefield scenes.”
“These weapons have no place in our communities,” he said. “There are more mass shootings than days in the year. This is a uniquely American problem.”
This year alone, there have been 372 mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Police funding bills
The assault weapons ban was originally set to be passed alongside several bills that would provide funding for local police departments, but progressive Democrats raised concerns and pushed for more accountability measures in the police legislation.
“I have heard from the civil rights community, and I have strong concerns with two policing bills we may consider this week,” Rep. Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat, wrote on Twitter. “We should not advance them unless they include robust accountability & oversight provisions in line with those in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat, is the lead sponsor of a bill that would authorize a $50 million grant each year for a Justice Department program to assist small local police departments. Another bill would reauthorize a grant program to hire and increase the pay of local police.
Rep. Val Demings, a Florida Democrat and former Orlando police chief who is running for Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s Senate seat, sponsored a bill to provide $100 million per year in grants to help police agencies solve violent crimes.
The initiatives come as Democratic leadership has tried to push back on being seen as a party that wants to “defund the police,” a slogan many members have disavowed, as well as Biden. Republicans have been branding Democrats as not supportive enough of police in advance of the midterm elections.
During a weekly press conference Friday, Pelosi, speaking to the concerns of progressives, said the police bill was not “funding without accountability.” On the House floor, she said that after the August recess, Democrats will pass the police and public safety set of bills.
The U.S. House Judiciary Committee passed the weapons ban out of its committee last week on a party-line vote.
The bill bans all semi-automatic rifles that can have a detachable magazine and have a military feature such as a pistol grip, and a detachable stock or grenade launcher, among other features. It also bans “all semi-automatic rifles that have a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.”
The bill, if enacted into law, would not ban current semi-automatic weapons that people own, meaning current firearm owners would have their weapons grandfathered in.
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House Republicans opposing the bill argued that the bill would take away semi-automatic weapons from current owners, but Democrats said that is not correct because they would be covered under the grandfather clause.
During debate on the House floor, Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, a Pennsylvania Republican, said the bill was unconstitutional, calling it a “gun grab.”
“Law abiding Americans use firearms every day,” he said.
Rep. Deborah Ross, a North Carolina Democrat, denied that people would lose their guns, as many Republicans continued to say.
“It simply prevents future sales of assault rifles,” she said, adding that the weapons are “not designed for recreation, they’re designed for combat.”
Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, also accused Democrats of “coming for your guns.”
White House support
The White House issued a statement on Friday in support of the bill.
“40,000 Americans die from gunshot wounds every year and guns have become the top killer of children in the United States,” according to the statement. “As President Biden has repeatedly called for, we must do more to stop this gun violence and save lives.”
House Democrats have held numerous hearings about gun violence in America, most recently this week when House Oversight and Reform investigated the profits that gun manufacturers made off semiautomatic weapons. CEOs from two gun manufacturers stated at the hearing that they played no role in mass shootings that used their products.
The passage of the bill follows another gun-related bill that Biden signed into law in late June following the mass shootings in Texas and New York. That bill, the “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act,” consists of eight provisions.
That bill provides $750 million for states to enact “red flag laws,” which allow the courts to temporarily remove a firearm from an individual who is a threat to themselves or others, among other provisions; provides a historic $11 billion in mental health services for schools and families; and requires those under 21 who want to purchase a firearm to undergo a background check that takes into account a review of juvenile and mental health records, among other things.
When Biden was a member of the Senate, he backed a 10-year ban on assault weapons that was passed in 1994, but it lapsed a decade later and Congress never renewed it.
Research from a group of injury epidemiologists and trauma surgeons has shown that “between 2004 and 2017 — the last year of our analysis –— the average number of yearly deaths attributed to mass shootings was 25, compared with 5.3 during the 10-year tenure of the ban and 7.2 in the years leading up to the prohibition on assault weapons.”
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