Passing an assault weapons ban is a significant achievement for any house of Congress. Multiple attempts to have the legislation even reviewed by committees have been abandoned. But the rise of mass shootings that have touched every corner of American life since the previous assault weapons ban expired in 2004 has catapulted the issue to a top priority for Democrats, who have long called for revisions to firearms laws.
And more recently, a mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas., an elementary school that killed 19 children and two teachers motivated many Democrats to push House leaders to impose the ban, according to several members and aides who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private deliberations. The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill for passage last week, giving the legislation the go-ahead for Friday’s historic vote.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) presided over the vote, excitedly reading the results to the chamber before Democrats burst into cheers.
“When guns are the number one killer of children in America, when more children die from guns than active duty police and active duty military combined, we must act. House Democrats took action,” President Biden said in a statement.
The Democrats’ narrow margin in the House allows only four defections. The bill would have failed had it not been for the two Republicans who recalibrated the margins after five Democrats voted against.
Rep. Chris Jacobs (RN.Y.) voted in favour, just months after he changed position on the assault weapons ban that was hit by a racially motivated shooting in his hometown of Buffalo and the shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) is running in a competitive district not far from liberal Philadelphia.
The five Democrats who voted against were Representatives Henry Cuellar (Tex.), Vicente Gonzalez (Tex.), Jared Golden (Maine), Ron Kind (Wis.) and Kurt Schrader (Oregon). Golden, Cuellar and Gonzalez find themselves in competitive races, while Kind and Schrader will not return to Congress.
Schrader said he voted against the legislation on Friday because “getting rid of semi-automatic weapons undermines the Second Amendment,” an argument echoed by Republicans. Gonzalez has previously noted that the assault weapons ban may not end mass shootings, citing that high-capacity magazines and reserve stocks — which are currently banned by executive order — can still kill people quickly.
While Democrats were largely united on the principle of supporting a party platform issue — more than 200 Democrats co-sponsored legislation led by Rep. David N. Cicilline (DR.I.) — competing interests among Democrats vulnerable representatives of the rotating districts and their more liberal counterparts risked his passage on several occasions on Friday afternoon.
The ban’s fate was initially tied to a package of public safety bills that included, among other measures, community funding to address violence and legislation dissolving a civil liability law protecting gunsmiths. But an initial bipartisan proposal to double funds for local law enforcement grants issued by the Department of Justice has won. skepticism members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus. The deadlock delayed consideration of the entire package.
But overnight Thursday, CBC members reached a deal with Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Josh Gottheimer (DN.J.) to add language to a public safety bill that includes additional accountability measures related to receipt of funds.
The CPC learned of the deal late Thursday night, infuriating members for not being involved in the process, according to several lawmakers and aides who spoke on condition of anonymity to detail the private conversations. Additionally, several members remained furious that they had to vote to defund the police in order to vote on an assault weapons ban. Many members of the Liberal caucus spent Friday morning lobbying to decouple the assault weapons ban from the public safety package and hold separate votes.
Numerous civil rights groups, including the ACLU, wrote letters to Democratic leaders Friday morning asking them not to consider Spanberger’s bipartisan bill, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Rice (RS.C .).
Separating the assault weapons ban from the rest of the public safety package was risky, however. Many Democrats have previously said they would vote against or lean in that direction because they disagreed with a full ban.
But frontline Democrats were infuriated when leaders decided to delay voting on public safety bills until mid-August, instead siding with the liberals in passing the gun ban. assault on Friday, according to several people familiar with the group’s discussions. Many vulnerable Democrats were livid, threatening to sink a procedural vote that was needed to pass the legislation.
Kind signaled he would vote against the ban early Friday out of frustration, noting that the increase in DOJ grant funding is something “my people need more back home.”
“Legislating at the last minute has never really been a good way to put together a package, especially a package as important as this,” he said, echoing several Democrats who have expressed concern. the speed with which certain bills are introduced by the leaders. ‘You would hope there would be a bit more time to consider and consider some of the issues with the legislation before rushing it to the ground.’
Vulnerable Democratic members have pressed leaders to consider courier bills that would fund police departments, hoping to prevent Republicans from attacking them as soft on crime. It is a campaign message that many members still feel cost them a significant number of seats in the 2020 election.
Democrats were hoping to leave Washington on a high after helping pass a bipartisan bill to bolster domestic manufacturing and technology and a Senate deal that includes tax, climate and health care reform priorities.
“We commend Speaker Pelosi and House leadership for moving the assault weapons ban forward for a standalone vote today,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who chairs the Progressive Caucus. “We are also pleased that this bill, which reflects the consensus of the Democratic caucus, is moving quickly as a separate public safety legislative package continues to be developed and reviewed.”