US House passes assault weapons ban, faces little chance in Senate

Published on Jul 30, 2022 06:43 AM IST

Passage of the legislation 18 years after the expiration of an earlier assault weapons ban came on a party line 217-213 vote.

Gun control activists rally near the U.S. Capitol calling for a federal ban on assault weapons on July 13, 2022 in Washington, DC.(AFP)
Gun control activists rally near the U.S. Capitol calling for a federal ban on assault weapons on July 13, 2022 in Washington, DC.(AFP)
Bloomberg |

The US House voted on Friday evening to ban sales of semi-automatic rifles like those used in recent mass shootings, a largely symbolic move by the Democratic majority that has almost no chance of passing the Senate.

Passage of the legislation 18 years after the expiration of an earlier assault weapons ban came on a party line 217-213 vote. Democrats left out a public safety package that would include increased funding for police departments because they couldn’t agree on provisions dealing with law enforcement accountability for abuses.

The House acted on the assault weapons ban just over a month after Congress passed firearms legislation for the first time in three decades. The measure approved on Friday would end the sale of military-style semi-automatic rifles that can fire multiple rounds in a matter of seconds. The ban is a response to the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, Uvalde, Texas, and Highland Park, Illinois, where gunmen used AR-15-type rifles.

However, any action in the 50-50 Senate would require 60 votes to move forward and Republicans are strongly opposed to any additional restrictions on firearms.

“Today, House Democrats acted by unifying to pass an assault weapons ban to keep weapons of war off our streets, save lives in this country, and reduce crime in our communities,” President Joe Biden said in a statement on Friday night. “The majority of the American people agree with this common sense action. The should Senate move quickly to get this bill to my desk, and I will not stop fighting until it does.”

In a letter to Democrats before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said work would continue on the policing legislation and could be taken up when the House interrupts its August break to return to Washington for a vote on a tax and climate package awaiting approval in the Senate.

Senator John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who helped negotiate the bipartisan gun bill that passed in June, opposed an assault weapons ban in a hearing on mass shootings this month.

“One thing I’m unwilling to do is to erode the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” he said.

Five House Democrats voted against the legislation, Vicente Gonzalez and Henry Cuellar of Texas, Jared Golden of Maine, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Ron Kind of Wisconsin. Two Republicans, Chris Jacobs of New York and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voted in favor.

“I’m concerned that the present legislation fails to clearly define what constitutes an assault weapon and would crack down on common hunting rifles, shotguns, and other pistols used by law-abiding gun owners and sportsmen across the country,” Kind said in a statement.

Fitzpatrick is the co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House, along with Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat. Jacobs, whose district is near Buffalo, decided not to seek re-election after his stance on gun control touched off a firestorm among fellow Republicans.

Democrats will continue negotiating on the policing legislation. It still lacks backing from the Congressional Black Caucus and progressives, who argue that it might not go far enough in holding police departments accountable for misconduct. Several advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, came out against the bills as drafted and urged members not to vote for the legislation.

The police bills, pushed by moderate Democrats Gottheimer and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, would invest in community policing, increase funding for small departments, and invest in recruiting efforts. While the Assault Weapons Ban is a Democratic priority, Gottheimer and Spanberger’s bills have had bipartisan support, and could see the light of day in the Senate.

Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, a former chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said some members thought that the bills were being rushed.

“Just because you’re like, ‘I suddenly need this bill and I’m about to go home’ doesn’t mean you circumvent the committee process and all of Congress and hold your breath to get something done,” Pocan said.

Representative Stephanie Murphy of Florida, chair of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Caucus, said the policing bill was “critically important.”

Representative Joyce Beatty of Ohio, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the House will continue to work on the bills, and that not passing the public-safety package before the House begins its August break isn’t a loss.

“There was no failure here today,” she said.

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