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 Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - House to pass relief bill; Trump moves to get US back to work Democratic fears rise again as coronavirus pushes Biden to sidelines Sanders charges forward with 2020 bid despite long odds 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 Nicola CicillinePelosi rejects calls to shutter Capitol: 'We are the captains of this ship' Trump campaign presses Twitter to label Biden video as 'manipulated' Hillicon Valley: Harris presses Facebook over census misinformation | Austin cancels SXSW over coronavirus fears | Surveillance deal elusive as deadline nears | FTC sends warnings to Cardi B, other influencers 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 CastroLatinos projected to bear economic brunt of coronavirus Burr requests ethics investigation into stock sale, denies wrongdoing Castro forms PAC, boosts five House candidates MORE (D-Texas), the brother of Democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro, and Rep. Cindy AxneCindy AxneDemocrats blast consumer bureau over student loan oversight agreement with DeVos On The Trail: Anxious, excited Iowa Democrats face decision day Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for final vote on impeachment; 2020 Democrats make final push before Iowa causes MORE (D-Iowa), who unseated GOP Rep. David YoungDavid Edmund YoungFormer 'Apprentice' contestant ranks Trump next to Mother Teresa on women's issues Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress MORE last fall.

“Meaningful action doesn’t end with signing a bipartisan background checks bill, which is important,” Rep. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownDemocratic Congresswoman Val Demings endorses Biden ahead of Florida primary Buttigieg, Klobuchar face uphill battle in pivot to diverse states Rep. Andy Kim to endorse Buttigieg 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 McConnellOn The Money: Senate unanimously passes T coronavirus stimulus package | Unemployment claims surge to 3.3 million | In three-day surge, stocks recover 20 percent of losses Senate Democrats vow to keep pushing for more funds for mail-in voting Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after trillion bill MORE (R-Ky.), a staunch Second Amendment advocate, has no intention of bringing the legislation to the floor, and President TrumpDonald John TrumpDefense industrial base workers belong at home during this public health crisis Maduro pushes back on DOJ charges, calls Trump 'racist cowboy' House leaders hope to vote Friday on coronavirus stimulus 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 WilsonBiden rise calms Democratic jitters Democrats tear into Trump's speech: It was a 'MAGA rally' Clinton advises checking your voter registration during Trump's State of the Union 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 leaders hope to vote Friday on coronavirus stimulus The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - House to pass relief bill; Trump moves to get US back to work House leadership advises members to return to DC as Massie weighs roll call vote on stimulus package 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 SpanbergerJuan Williams: Biden's promises on women are a big deal Security contractor Erik Prince reportedly recruited ex-spies to help Project Veritas infiltrate liberal groups Hillicon Valley: Barr offers principles to prevent online child exploitation | Facebook removes misleading Trump census ads | House passes bill banning TSA use of TikTok MORE (Va.) and Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamBill banning menthol in cigarettes divides Democrats, with some seeing racial bias Overnight Energy: New Interior rule would limit scientific studies agency can consider | Panel battles over tree-planting bill | Trump to resume coal leases on public lands Tim Scott: Sanders would be toughest challenger for Trump 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 TurnerBipartisan Armed Services leaders tear into Pentagon over use of .8B for border wall GOP lawmakers introduce resolution denouncing UK's Huawei decision House Republicans introduce resolution condemning UK's decision to allow Huawei in 5G networks MORE (R-Ohio), the former Dayton mayor, says he now backs a ban on military-style weapons, and Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerLawmakers urge EU to sanction Putin associate for election interference Blagojevich calls himself a 'Trumpocrat,' praises Trump after release from prison Sanders slams Trump pardons as part of 'broken and racist criminal justice system' 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 RoseNavy hospital ship deploying to New York to help with coronavirus crisis Overnight Defense: Pentagon steps up response to coronavirus | HHS to receive masks, ventilators | Military to open labs to virus testing | Outbreak adds to rising US, Iran tensions New York lawmakers call for deployment of Navy hospital ship to NYC amid coronavirus outbreak MORE (N.Y.), Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightOvernight Energy: Coal industry seeks fee rollbacks amid coronavirus | Ex-lawyer for trophy hunting group joins Trump agency | EPA sued over reapproval of Roundup chemical Coal industry asks for financially beneficial rollbacks amid coronavirus House Democrats jam GOP with coronavirus bill MORE (Pa.), Angie Craig (Minn.), Susie LeeSuzanne (Susie) Kelley LeeMORE (Nev.), Antonio DelgadoAntonio Ramon DelgadoHispanic Caucus campaign arm unveils non-Hispanic endorsements M ad buy praises swing-district Democrats' environmental work Democrats plot new approach to win over rural voters MORE (N.Y.) and Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathBrady PAC endorses Biden, plans to spend million in 2020 Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins Warren endorsed by Black Lives Matter co-founder's Black to the Future Action Fund 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) GottheimerOn The Money: Pelosi announces deal over coronavirus package | Questions remain about Trump's support | Trump declares national emergency | Stocks rally to close out wild week Lawmakers call on IRS to push back tax filing deadline Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins MORE (N.J.) and Chris PappasChristopher (Chris) Charles PappasAmerica needs a transformative transportation bill: It will take walking and biking to get there New Hampshire Rep. Kuster endorses Buttigieg Making waves to protect America's waters 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 SherrillBiden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins Elbow bumps, Spock salutes: How Congress is dealing with coronavirus Overnight Health Care — Presented by Philip Morris International — Trump, Congress struggle for economic deal amid coronavirus threat | Pelosi rejects calls to shutter Capitol | Coronavirus emerges as 2020 flashpoint MORE (N.J.), a former Navy helicopter pilot, and Jason CrowJason CrowTrump set to confront his impeachment foes Democratic impeachment manager shares quote from "Harry Potter's" Dumbledore during trial Impeachment manager dismisses concerns Schiff alienated key Republican votes: 'This isn't about any one person' 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.