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Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress

An assault weapons ban is picking up steam in the House and on the 2020 campaign trail as Democrats search for a way to respond to two recent mass shootings while putting greater political pressure on recalcitrant Republican leaders.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe West needs a more collaborative approach to Taiwan Abbott's medical advisers were not all consulted before he lifted Texas mask mandate House approves George Floyd Justice in Policing Act MORE, the front-runner in the Democratic presidential primary race, this week vowed to reinstate and strengthen the 1994 ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines if he’s elected president, declaring in a New York Times op-ed: “We have to get these weapons of war off our streets.”

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And nearly 200 House Democrats have now signed on to legislation — authored by Rep. David CicillineDavid CicillineHouse passes sweeping protections for LGBTQ people The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - J&J A-OK, Tanden in Trouble Six ways to visualize a divided America MORE (D-R.I.), the head of Democrats’ messaging operation — banning semi-automatic firearms and large-capacity magazines. With 198 co-sponsors, the bill is just 20 votes shy of the number needed to push it through the lower chamber.

Five Democrats added their names to Cicilline’s Assault Weapons Ban of 2019 in the immediate aftermath of the back-to-back massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left a combined 32 dead and dozens more injured. Two more got on board on Tuesday: Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroState Department establishes chief officer in charge of diversity Texas governor faces criticism over handling of winter storm fallout DC bureau chief for The Intercept: Impeachment managers became 'like the dog who caught the car' when permitted to call witnesses MORE (D-Texas), the brother of Democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro, and Rep. Cindy AxneCindy AxnePolice disarm pipe bomb at Iowa polling site Democrats call for relief package to waive taxes on unemployment benefits Iowa Democrat quarantining after staffer tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Iowa), who unseated GOP Rep. David YoungDavid Edmund YoungFirst-term Democrat presses for coronavirus relief agreement this year Axne wins reelection in Iowa Democrats lead in 3 of 4 Iowa House races: poll MORE last fall.

“Meaningful action doesn’t end with signing a bipartisan background checks bill, which is important,” Rep. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownCongressional Black Caucus unveils '100 Day Plan' Lawmakers move to oust extremists from military Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack MORE (D-Md.), a co-sponsor of the Cicilline bill, told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday. “We have to ban high-capacity magazines that allowed the Dayton shooter and so many others to fire off tens of rounds in merely seconds. We have to ban assault weapons to get these weapons of war off our streets.”

A ban on military-style weapons won’t become law anytime soon even if the Democratic-held House passes legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks DOJ declined to take up Chao ethics probe Trump was unhinged and unchanged at CPAC MORE (R-Ky.), a staunch Second Amendment advocate, has no intention of bringing the legislation to the floor, and President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse passes voting rights and elections reform bill DEA places agent seen outside Capitol during riot on leave Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee MORE has said there’s “no political appetite” for such a ban; both men are allies of the National Rifle Association, which is vehemently opposed to any ban or moratorium.

Democrats are under no illusion of what they’re up against. But by pushing for an assault weapons ban, they are fulfilling several goals: showing their liberal base they are listening and aggressively fighting for tougher gun reforms, and ramping up political pressure on Trump and McConnell by demonstrating what Democrats would do if voters handed them control of the White House and Senate in the 2020 elections.

“Assault weapons were designed for one purpose: to kill people in war. Ordinary citizens should not own or have access to assault weapons,” Rep. Frederica WilsonFrederica Patricia WilsonAn attack on America that's divided Congress — and a nation Capitol Police report warned that Congress could be targeted three days before riot Democrats point fingers on whether Capitol rioters had inside help MORE (D-Fla.), another co-sponsor, told The Hill. Her state suffered two horrific mass shootings at an Orlando nightclub and Parkland high school in recent years. 

“We will have to pressure and shame McConnell and the Senate,” she said, “and pressure the American people to do the same.”

Despite the fresh momentum, it’s not certain that the assault weapons ban will get a vote on the House floor. Democratic leaders of the House Judiciary Committee are weighing whether to haul the panel back to Washington during the long August recess for the purpose of taking up gun reforms beyond the popular background check legislation, which already passed out of the chamber in February. 

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Democrats introduce bill providing citizenship to Dreamers On The Money: Democrats deals to bolster support for relief bill | Biden tries to keep Democrats together | Retailers fear a return of the mask wars Here's who Biden is now considering for budget chief MORE (D-Md.) said Tuesday that gun reform would be the panel's first order of business, whenever they return. 

But it remains unclear what measures Nadler will consider specifically, and Hoyer said Democrats are eyeing a host of potential possibilities. He rattled off several: an assault weapons ban, new restrictions on high-capacity magazines, banning those on the FBI's terrorist watch list from buying guns and “red flag” legislation, which empowers local law enforcers to seize guns from those found by the courts to pose a danger to themselves or others. 

“Certainly we're going to consider any bills eligible for the floor that the Judiciary Committee has considered and passed,” Hoyer said, suggesting quick action when Congress returns.

As Senate Judiciary Committee chairman in 1994, Biden shepherded through the upper chamber the landmark crime bill that included the federal assault weapons ban. President Clinton signed it into law that year, but the 10-year ban expired in 2004 with little action since then.

Some Democrats have pointed to the ban as the reason the House flipped to Republican control in the 1994 midterm elections, and there is concern among some in the party now that voting on the ban would put Democrats from Trump districts, like freshman Reps. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerDemocrats hesitant to raise taxes amid pandemic What I learned in 19 weeks of working with progressive Democrats The Memo: Ohio Dem says many in party 'can't understand' working-class concerns MORE (Va.) and Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamLobbying world We lost in November — we're proud we didn't take corporate PAC money Chamber of Commerce slams GOP effort to challenge Biden's win MORE (S.C.), in an extremely tough spot. Cunningham said last week he has concerns about local police being on the "receiving end" of an AR-15 but has not added his name to the bill. 

But there is also evidence that support for an assault weapons ban may not be the political albatross it once was for swing-district Democrats. According to a Politico–Morning Consult poll conducted after the pair of shootings, seven in 10 Americans support legislation banning assault-style weapons; 55 percent of GOP voters said they back such a ban.

Cicilline has not attracted any GOP co-sponsors yet, but Rep. Mike TurnerMichael Ray TurnerSunday shows preview: CDC school reopening guidance stirs debate; Texas battles winter freeze Former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel jumps into Senate race Democrats will expand their Senate majority in 2022 MORE (R-Ohio), the former Dayton mayor, says he now backs a ban on military-style weapons, and Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerRepublicans, please save your party House GOP campaign chief: Not helpful for Trump to meddle in primaries Democrats snipe on policy, GOP brawls over Trump MORE (R-Ill.), who is training with the Air National Guard this week, said he supports "banning certain high capacity magazines, like the 100-round drum the Dayton shooter used." 

dozen Democrats from districts that Trump won in 2016 are now co-sponsoring the Cicilline bill, according to an analysis by The Hill.

They include freshman Reps. Max RoseMax RoseOvernight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Austin sworn in as nation's first Black Pentagon chief We lost in November — we're proud we didn't take corporate PAC money MORE (N.Y.), Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightSix ways to visualize a divided America Will Biden continue NASA's Artemis program to return to the moon? House Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress MORE (Pa.), Angie Craig (Minn.), Susie LeeSuzanne (Susie) Kelley LeeMORE (Nev.), Antonio DelgadoAntonio Ramon DelgadoCuomo job approval drops 6 points amid nursing home controversy: poll Cuomo takes heat from all sides on nursing home scandal We lost in November — we're proud we didn't take corporate PAC money MORE (N.Y.) and Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathSix ways to visualize a divided America Lawmakers commemorate one-year anniversary of Arbery's killing House Judiciary Democrats ask Pence to invoke 25th Amendment to remove Trump MORE (Ga.), who became a gun control activist after her 17-year-old son was shot and killed during a dispute at a gas station about loud music. 

Reps. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerBipartisan lawmakers call for immediate vote on COVID-19 vaccine distribution package Lawmakers say they are 'targets,' ask to boost security New Jersey lawmakers press for SALT cap repeal in next relief package MORE (N.J.) and Chris PappasChristopher (Chris) Charles PappasPappas fends off challenge from ex-Trump official in NH Centrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote Trump-backed candidate wins NH GOP primary to take on Pappas MORE (N.H.), two other Democrats representing Trump districts, joined the effort in the days following El Paso and Dayton. 

“Congress should immediately return to Washington for a special session to take practical steps to curb the epidemic of gun violence in our country, including many measures even the President and Republicans have supported: implementing red flag laws, banning military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and instituting background checks for all purchases, including at gun shows,” Gottheimer, co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, wrote in an op-ed in The Star-Ledger this week.

Two Democrats who know how dangerous and deadly these assault weapons can be are Reps. Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillTim Ryan: Prosecutors reviewing video of Capitol tours given by lawmakers before riot Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack Belfast's Troubles echo in today's Washington MORE (N.J.), a former Navy helicopter pilot, and Jason CrowJason CrowManagers seek to make GOP think twice about Trump acquittal The GOP is in a fix: Gordian knot or existential crisis? Thousands of troops dig in for inauguration MORE (Colo.), a former Army Ranger in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The parents of young children, both freshman lawmakers have signed on to Cicilline’s assault weapons ban 

“We’ve never fought for anyone’s right to turn a high school hallway, synagogue, concert, church or Walmart into a battlefield. There’s a lot we hope our children learn at school, but active shooter drills shouldn’t be in the curriculum,” Sherrill and Crow wrote in a joint op-ed in USA Today as thousands of children returned to school this week. 

“Addressing the crisis of gun violence will take leadership and courage. If the Senate refuses to act, then we must vote them out. Let’s show Americans what leadership really looks like. Our children are watching, and learning to see what we do next.”

The children are also on the mind of Wilson, but the Florida congresswoman is done trying to gloss over the horror of these mass executions. 

“We have to remind the American people that the children that were gunned down with assault weapons at Sandy Hook Elementary, their bodies had to be removed with shovels; they were smashed to pieces,” Wilson said. “The same happened in Parkland. These weapons are meant to rip your body apart.”

Mike Lillis contributed.