The United States House of Representatives has passed legislation to revive a ban on certain semi-automatic guns, the first vote of its kind in years and a direct response to the firearms often used in the crush of mass shootings ripping through communities nationwide.
- Before he became US President, Joe Biden was instrumental in helping secure the first semi-automatic weapons ban in 1994
- The restrictions expired a decade later
- Almost all Republicans voted against reinstating the ban
Semi-automatic firearms automatically reload after each shot and are capable of firing as rapidly as the trigger can be pulled.
Many were once banned in the US and are now widely blamed as the weapon of choice among young men responsible for many of the most devastating mass shootings.
However, Congress allowed the restrictions first put in place in 1994 on the manufacture and sales of the weapons to expire a decade later, unable to muster the political support to counter the powerful gun lobby and reinstate the weapons ban.
Now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pushed the vote toward passage in the Democratic-run House, saying the earlier ban “saved lives”.
President Joe Biden hailed the House vote, saying: ”The majority of the American people agree with this common-sense action.”
He urged the Senate to “move quickly to get this bill to my desk”.
However, it is likely to stall in the 50-50 Senate. The House legislation was shunned by Republicans, who dismissed it as an election-year strategy by Democrats
Almost all Republicans voted against the House bill, which passed 217-213.
The bill comes at a time of intensifying concerns about gun violence and shootings — the supermarket shooting in Buffalo, NY; massacre of school children in Uvalde, Texas; and the July Fourth shootings of revellers in Highland Park, Illinois.
Mr Biden was instrumental in helping secure the first semi-automatic weapons ban as a senator in 1994.
The Biden administration said that, for 10 years, while the ban was in place, mass shootings declined.
“When the ban expired in 2004, mass shootings tripled,” the statement said.
The bill would make it unlawful to import, sell or manufacture a long list of semi-automatic weapons.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said the bill exempts those already in possession.
Emotional debate precedes vote
Republicans stood firmly against limits on ownership of the high-powered firearms during an emotional debate ahead of the vote in the lower house.
“It’s a gun grab, pure and simple,” Republican congressman Guy Reschenthaler said.
Another Republican congressman, Andrew Clyde, said: ”An armed America is a safe and free America.”
Meanwhile, Democrats argued that the ban on the weapons makes sense, portraying Republicans as extreme and out of step with Americans.
Democratic congressman Jim McGovern said the weapons ban was not about taking away Americans’ Second Amendment rights but about ensuring that children also have the right “to not get shot in school”.
Ms Pelosi displayed a poster of a gun company’s advertisement for children’s weapons, smaller versions that resemble the popular AR-15 rifles and are marketed with cartoon-like characters.
“Disgusting,” she said.
In one exchange, two Ohio lawmakers squared off.
“Your freedom stops where mine begins, and that of my constituents begins,” Democrat Marcy Kaptur told Republican Jim Jordan.
“Schools, shopping malls, grocery stores, Independence Day parades shouldn’t be scenes of mass carnage and bloodshed.”
Mr Jordan replied by inviting her to his congressional district to debate him on the Second Amendment, saying he believed most of his constituents “probably agree with me and agree with the United States Constitution”.
‘Assault on freedoms and civil liberties’
NRA Institute for Legislative Action executive director Jason Quimet said in a statement after the vote that “barely a month after” the Supreme Court expanded gun rights “gun control advocates in Congress are spearheading an assault upon the freedoms and civil liberties of law-abiding Americans”.
He said the bill potentially bans millions of firearms “in blatant opposition to the Supreme Court’s rulings” that have established gun ownership as an individual right and expanded on it.
Among the semi-automatic weapons banned would be some 200-plus types of semi-automatic rifles, including AR-15s and pistols.
Congress passed a modest gun violence prevention package just last month in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of 19 school children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas.
That bipartisan bill was the first of its kind after years of failed efforts to confront the gun lobby.
This law provides for expanded background checks on young adults buying firearms, allowing authorities to access certain juvenile records.
It also closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by denying gun purchases for those convicted of domestic abuse outside of marriage.
The new law also frees up federal funding to the states, including for “red flag” laws that enable authorities to remove guns from those who would harm themselves or others.