House to move toward vote on assault weapons ban

House Democrats will soon vote to move an assault weapons ban to the floor, marking the first time in decades that Congress has put lawmakers on record barring the popular firearms.

The announcement came Friday morning from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who said the panel will stage its markup of the bill on Wednesday. 

The move comes in response to a series of recent, high-profile mass shootings around the country, including a massacre in May at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed, and another at a July Fourth parade in Highland Park, Ill., which left seven people dead. 

In both cases, the alleged shooter was a young man using an AR-style semi-automatic rifle, which is a chief target of the Democrats’ legislation.   

“It is beyond frightening and disturbing that a weapon that was designed as a tool of war has found its way into the hands of 18 year olds and onto our streets,” Nadler said in a statement. “Any weapon that allows for the quick and efficient slaughter of children in our schools has no place in our communities.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), would prohibit the sale, transfer, import and manufacture of hundreds of models of semi-automatic weapons that boast certain specific features, including those that combine pistol grips with detachable magazines. The ban would not apply to people who already own such weapons.

Those firearms rank among the most popular in the country, and opponents of the ban — including all but a handful of Republicans — say it would trample on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners. 

Supporters counter that the Constitution, written in an age of single-shot muzzle loaders, was not intended to apply to much more powerful and efficient weapons, especially since they’ve been the popular choice of perpetrators in countless mass shootings over the past decade.  

“How many more kids need to die in their schools before we finally crack down on these dangerous firearms which were designed for war?” said Cicilline.

It’s unclear when, or if, the bill would come to the floor after it passes through the Judiciary Committee, as expected. The ban is wildly popular among House Democrats — Cicilline’s bill has 211 Democratic co-sponsors — but several moderates facing tough reelection contests are not on board. 

“I don’t believe in bans on weapons,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said recently.

Still, liberal Democrats have been clamoring for a vote, if only to get Republicans on record opposing a concept that has widespread popular support. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday promoted the ban as an effective public safety measure, while suggesting the Democrats have the votes to pass it on the floor. 

“There is great support in our caucus for an assault weapon ban,” she said. “It’s about our children. More children die from gun violence in each year than cancer, car accidents or anything.”

The decision to move the legislation, even at the committee level, reflects the seismic shift in public attitudes when it comes to gun reform, which was considered a third rail on Capitol Hill two decades ago, particularly for Democrats whose support for the 1994 assault weapons ban was considered a factor in securing George W. Bush’s White House victory in 2000. That ban expired in 2004. 

Since then, the country has has seen a long string of prominent mass shootings, including violence targeting a congresswoman in Tucson, Ariz., elementary school students in Newtown, Conn., nightclubbers in Orlando, Fla., churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., country music fans in Las Vegas, high schoolers in Parkland, Fla., and Jews praying at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. 

The carnage has altered the public’s perception of federal firearm policies in drastic ways, and Congress last month enacted a bipartisan package of reforms designed to promote public safety. It did not include the Democrats’ favored reforms, including a broad expansion of background checks and the assault weapons ban.

Tags assault weapons ban David Cicilline Gun control Gun rights Highland Park shooting Jerrold Nadler Jerrold Nadler Jerry Nadler Uvalde shooting
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