WASHINGTON — Responding to a series of mass shootings, a divided House passed an assault weapons ban on Friday, overriding nearly unanimous opposition from Republicans to reinstate a ban that expired nearly two decades ago.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the measure, which was increased from 217 to 213, as a “crucial step in our ongoing fight against the deadly epidemic of gun violence in our country.” Only two Republicans, Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Chris Jacobs of New York, joined Democrats in supporting the bill.
Five Democrats voted against the measure: Representatives Henry Cuellar of Texas, Jared Golden of Maine, Ron Kind of Wisconsin, Vicente Gonzalez of Texas and Kurt Schrader of Oregon.
The legislation would make it illegal to sell, manufacture, transfer, possess or import high-capacity assault weapons and ammunition feeders. It has no chance of passing in the equally divided Senate, where such a sweeping gun control measure wouldn’t be able to convince the 10 Republicans it would need to overcome a filibuster.
Still, the vote provided Democrats with a way to demonstrate to voters months before the midterm elections that they were trying to tackle the epidemic of gun violence in America. The action in the House came after a series of mass shootings, including one in Uvalde, Texaswhere a gunman wielding an AR-15 type weapon killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers.
Gun Violence and Gun Control in America
In a statement late Friday, President Biden applauded the House’s passage of the assault weapons ban.
“The majority of the American people agree with this common sense action,” he said, adding that “there can be no greater responsibility than to do all we can to ensure the safety our families, our children, our homes, our communities”. and our nation.
The vote also gave Democrats another opportunity to make a sharp distinction with Republicans. This month, the House passed legislation to guarantee access to contraception throughout the countryas well as major protections for Abortion and same sex marriage. While Democratic senators are hoping to pass same-sex marriage legislation, nearly all Republicans in Congress are united against the birth control and abortion bills.
Friday’s assault weapons debate came about a month after the enactment of bipartisan gun safety legislationa compromise measure to toughen background checks on potential buyers under the age of 21 that was intended to keep firearms away from dangerous people.
That measure omitted tougher gun controls that Democrats have long demanded and most Republicans have opposed as infringements of the right to bear arms.
“Guns of war are made for war,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat, said Friday, lamenting that such guns are “easier for a teenager to get than buying a beer.”
He called the recently enacted law a “weak and modest step”.
Republicans have argued that AR-15 type weapons are popular sporting rifles that law-abiding citizens use for self-defense and hunting. And they rejected the assault weapons bill as an attempt by the Liberals to trample on gun rights while doing nothing to address the root causes of crime.
“Let’s call it what it is: it’s a stand-in, plain and simple,” said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, Republican of Pennsylvania. “This bill is not about public safety. Rather, it is the toughest Second Amendment restriction since the passage of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban.”
While Friday’s vote united Democrats, the assault weapons ban generated intense internal debate that exposed divisions on the issue of law enforcement and crime, a theme Republicans reported will be a major part of their campaign attacks on Democrats ahead of the midterm elections. .
Democrats originally planned to tie the vote to ban assault weapons with legislation that would provide more funding to local police departments. Moderate Democrats in conservative-leaning districts have argued that passing police defunding would blunt Republican accusations that Democrats are soft on crime and determined to strip police defunding.
But the policing legislation has drawn criticism from progressives and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who have pushed for more police accountability measures to be included. With the August recess in the House set to begin this weekend, Democratic leaders decided to vote only on the assault weapons bill.
Ms Pelosi said Friday lawmakers would continue to work on police legislation after she returns to Washington later this summer.
When the house passed the Crimes Bill 1994who included the ban on assault weapons, 46 Republicans supported the legislation and 64 Democrats opposed it. The ban expired in 2004 and has never been renewed; the Republican Party is united against such a measure.
“The American people are tired of living in fear,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts. “They are tired of thoughts and prayers. They are tired of press releases offering sympathy but no solutions.
“It’s not a radical idea,” he added. “We are not in uncharted territory.”