US House passes assault weapons ban after wave of gun violence
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed a ban on semi-automatic rifles — the weapons used in multiple mass shootings over the past three months — in a vote close to the party line.
With vote 217-213, the bill, HR 1808, will head to the equally divided Senate, but is unlikely to make progress there, as the ban would require all Democrats on board plus 10 Republicans to pass a filibuster. Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader, has not announced whether he plans to put the gun ban to a vote.
“Every year, more children die from gun violence than from any other cause,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the floor of the House. “Our nation has witnessed indescribable horror as assault weapons have been used in massacre after massacre.”
Representatives from Iowa voted along party lines, with Democratic Representative Cindy Axne supporting the bill and Republican Representatives Randy Feenstra, Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks voting no.
All but five Democrats backed the ban. Only two Republicans voted for: Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Chris Jacobs of New York.
The five Democrats who split from their party and opposed the ban were Representatives Jared Golden of Maine, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Ron Kind of Wisconsin, and Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas.
The push to ban semi-automatic rifles 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 blacks in a grocery store. A semi-automatic weapon was also used in a July 4 shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, where seven people were killed.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, said 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 Gun Violence Archive.
Police fundraising bills
The assault weapons ban was originally slated to pass alongside several bills that would provide funding to local police departments, but progressive Democrats have raised concerns and pushed for more accountability measures in the police legislation.
“I’ve heard from the civil rights community and I have serious concerns about two police bills that we may consider this week,” said Rep. Andy Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, wrote on Twitter. “We shouldn’t be pushing them forward unless they include strong accountability and oversight provisions consistent with those of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat from New Jersey, is the lead sponsor of a bill that would authorize a $50 million grant each year for a Justice Department program to help small local police departments. Another bill would reauthorize a grant program to hire and raise the pay of local police.
Representative Val Demings, a Florida Democrat and former Orlando police chief who is running for Republican Senator Marco Rubio’s Senate seat, has sponsored a bill to provide $100 million a year in grants to help police services to solve violent crimes.
The moves come as the Democratic leadership has tried to push back against being seen as a party that wants to “defund the police,” a slogan many members have disavowed, as well as Biden. Republicans have called Democrats insufficiently supportive of police ahead of the midterm elections.
At a weekly press conference on Friday, Pelosi, speaking out about progressives’ concerns, said the police bill was not “funding without accountability.” In the House, she said after the August recess, Democrats would pass the policing and public safety bill package.
The US House Judiciary Committee passed the weapons ban by its committee last week in a party vote.
The bill bans all semi-automatic rifles that may have a detachable magazine and have a military feature such as a pistol grip and detachable stock or grenade launcher, among other features. It also prohibits “all semi-automatic rifles with a fixed magazine capable of accepting more than 10 rounds”.
The bill, if enacted, would not ban current semi-automatic weapons that people own, meaning current gun owners would have their guns grandfathered.
House Republicans opposed to the bill argued that the bill would take semi-automatic weapons away from current owners, but Democrats said that was wrong because they would be covered by the grandfather clause .
During debate in the House, Representative Guy Reschenthaler, a Republican from Pennsylvania, declared the bill unconstitutional, calling it a “take on arms”.
“Law-abiding Americans use guns every day,” he said.
Representative Deborah Ross, a Democrat from North Carolina, denied that people would lose their guns, as many Republicans continued to say.
“It just prevents future assault rifle sales,” she said, adding that the guns “are not designed for recreation, they are designed for combat.”
Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, also accused Democrats of “coming for your guns.”
White House support
The White House released a statement in support of the bill on Friday.
“Forty thousand Americans die each year from gunshot wounds and firearms have become the number one killer of children in the United States,” the statement said. “As President Biden has asked repeatedly, we must do more to stop this gun violence and save lives.”
House Democrats have held numerous hearings on gun violence in the United States, most recently this week when House Oversight and Reform investigated the profits gunmakers have made from semi-automatic weapons. The CEOs of two gunmakers told the hearing that they had no role in the mass shootings that used their products.
The bill’s passage follows another gun bill that Biden signed into law in late June following mass shootings in Texas and New York. This bill, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, includes eight provisions.
This bill provides $750 million for states to enact “red flag laws,” which allow courts to temporarily remove a firearm from an individual who poses 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 wish to purchase a firearm to submit to a background check that considers, among other things, a review of mental and juvenile health records.
When Biden was a member of the Senate, he backed a 10-year ban on assault weapons that passed in 1994, but it expired a decade later and Congress never renewed it.
Research by a group of injury epidemiologists and trauma surgeons showed that “between 2004 and 2017 – the last year of our analysis – the average number of annual deaths attributed to mass shootings was 25, compared to 5, 3 during the ban’s 10-year tenure and 7.2 in the years before the assault weapons ban.