WASHINGTON – The House narrowly passed a ban on assault weapons Friday, following a series of mass shootings this summer that have claimed scores of victims and shaken the nation.
This is the first assault weapons ban to pass the House in nearly 30 years, whenCongress enacted one as part of a sweeping crime bill in 1994. The ban expired in 2004.
The bill passed 217-213 overwhelmingly along party lines with almost every Democrat in favor and almost every Republican against. It marked a stark contrast to the gun reform package that passed through both chambers in June with bipartisan support.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., represents Gilroy, California, where a gunman opened fire on the annual Garlic Festival, killing three and injuring 17 in July 2019.
“The killer that killed my constituents couldn’t buy the assault weapon in California, so he just went over to Nevada and bought it there,” she said on the floor Friday. ”Americans deserve to be safe and be free from fear that when kids go to school they’ll be obliterated.”
The ban is expected to fail in the Senate where it would take at least 10 Republicans to join each of the 50 Democrats to overcome an expected filibuster. Even then, it’s not clear West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin would support it.
There is no vote yet scheduled in the Senate, which plans to break for a month-long recess on Aug. 8. And with recent COVID-19 exposures keeping senators from the floor, along with the recovery of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., from hip surgery, it is unlikely the Senate will vote on the ban next week.
GOP: ban impedes Second Amendment rights
Republicans criticized the bill for infringing on gun rights while doing little to preventing gun violence deaths.
Many pointed to the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision (District of Columbia v. Heller), which established that firearms in ”common use” used for lawful purposes such as self-defense are protected under the Second Amendment. Because of the popularity of weapons such as the AR-15 and established use for self-defense, they said the House bill is unconstitutional.
“Democrats are once again considering legislation that will do nothing more than penalize law-abiding citizens while doing nothing to prevent gun violence,” Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., said on the House floor before the vote. “This is just the latest in House Democrats’ never-ending attack on Americans’ Second Amendment rights.”
Friday’s House vote comes only weeks after Congress passed a bipartisan gun reform bill last month that beefs up background checks on young buyers, provides more money for school security and mental health services, incentivizes “red flag” laws, and clamps down on domestic assaults by closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole.”
The bill the House passed Friday makes it illegal for anyone to import, sell, manufacture, transfer or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon. This doesn’t apply to any possession or sale of semiautomatic weapons prior to the bill’s passage.
The bill also makes exceptions for any manually operated shotguns, guns that have been rendered permanently inoperable and antique firearms.
During the negotiations on bipartisan gun reform and after the bill’s passage, Democrats have continued to push for further action to prevent mass shootings, pointing that Americans died of gun-related injuries in 2020 than in any other year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Gun violence is now the leading cause of death among children.
Uvalde, Buffalo, Parkland shootings involved AR-15 style rifles
Republicans have criticized assault bans as ineffective in combating gun violence, as assault weapons accounted for 3% of homicides in 2020. Mass shootings in Uvalde,Texas (2022), Buffalo (2022), Parkland, Florida (2018), Las Vegas (2017), and Newtown, Connecticut (2012) have all involved AR-15 style rifles.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., criticized Democrats for rushing the bill to the floor on Friday, and said the ban would target “millions of gun owners who use these types of firearms every week.” He pointed out that from 1994 to 2004 – when the assault weapons ban was in place – 2 million assault-style weapons came into circulation.
House Democrats intended to include the assault weapons ban as part of a package of law enforcement measures that would increase funding for police and create a grant program to hire additional local officers. House progressives have criticized these measures, and on Friday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told colleagues they would continue to work on this reform package but put the assault weapons ban vote to the floor immediately.
The vote comes on the heels of a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing this week where major gun manufacturers testified before Congress for the first time in nearly 30 years. These manufactures include Daniel Defense, which sold the assault weapon used in the Uvalde elementary school shooting, and Ruger Firearms, the largest weapon manufacture in the U.S.
The committee’s ongoing investigation into gun makers has shown that five major gun manufactures have collected more than $1 billion from the sale of assault rifles over the past decade.
Committee Chair Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.C., said in the hearing that gun manufactures use “dangerous selling tactics to sell assault weapons to the public,” including “marketing to children, preying on young men’s insecurities and even appealing to violent white supremacists.”
Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., represents Highland Park and was at the Independence Day parade when a shooter killed seven people. He said on Wednesday that he’d been pushing his colleagues to support the assault weapon ban.
“The shooter was able to fire off his bullets so fast that they couldn’t even identify where they were coming from. Without an assault weapon, the shooter in Highland Park would have likely not have afflicted the extreme carnage we experienced,” Schneider said. “These weapons were designed to massacre.”