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 BidenPossible GOP challenger says Trump doesn't doesn't deserve reelection, but would vote for him over Democrat Joe Biden faces an uncertain path The Memo: Trump pushes back amid signs of economic slowdown 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 CicillineHillicon Valley: O'Rourke proposal targets tech's legal shield | Dem wants public review of FCC agreement with T-Mobile, Sprint | Voters zero in on cybersecurity | Instagram to let users flag misinformation Democrat calls for public review of T-Mobile-Sprint merger agreement Pelosi: Israel's Omar-Tlaib decision 'a sign of weakness' 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 CastroTexas Democrats tap Joaquin Castro to deliver key address Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Congressional Hispanic Caucus calls for answers on Mississippi ICE raids MORE (D-Texas), the brother of Democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro, and Rep. Cindy AxneCindy AxneAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress GOP scores procedural win by securing more funding to enforce Iran sanctions Iowa Democrat calls foul on White House over Trump ethanol tour invite MORE (D-Iowa), who unseated GOP Rep. David YoungDavid Edmund YoungChurches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Iowa Democrat calls foul on White House over Trump ethanol tour invite MORE last fall.

“Meaningful action doesn’t end with signing a bipartisan background checks bill, which is important,” Rep. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment The Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question 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 McConnellAre Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report MORE (R-Ky.), a staunch Second Amendment advocate, has no intention of bringing the legislation to the floor, and President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated 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 WilsonAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Democratic rep reconsiders wearing trademark hats because of 'racists who taunt me' Overnight Defense: US shoots down Iranian drone | Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia | Trump mulls Turkey sanctions | Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract 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 HoyerLiberal Democrat eyes aid cuts to Israel after Omar, Tlaib denied entry Lawmakers blast Trump as Israel bars door to Tlaib and Omar Israel denies Omar and Tlaib entry after Trump tweet 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 SpanbergerAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Pelosi backers feel vindicated after tumultuous stretch Overnight Defense: House votes to block Trump arms sales to Saudis, setting up likely veto | US officially kicks Turkey out of F-35 program | Pentagon sending 2,100 more troops to border MORE (Va.) and Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Pelosi backers feel vindicated after tumultuous stretch The Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants 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 TurnerDayton Democrat launches challenge to longtime GOP rep Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Ohio GOP rep announces support of military-style weapon ban MORE (R-Ohio), the former Dayton mayor, says he now backs a ban on military-style weapons, and Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerHouse Democrats targeting six more Trump districts for 2020 Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress House Democrats target 2020 GOP incumbents in new ad 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 RoseAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress The 11 House Dems from Trump districts who support assault weapons ban Pelosi backers feel vindicated after tumultuous stretch MORE (N.Y.), Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress The 11 House Dems from Trump districts who support assault weapons ban House Dems up funding for science agencies, ignoring proposed Trump cuts MORE (Pa.), Angie Craig (Minn.), Susie LeeSuzanne (Susie) Kelley LeeMORE (Nev.), Antonio DelgadoAntonio Ramon DelgadoAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress The 11 House Dems from Trump districts who support assault weapons ban House Dems, Senate GOP build money edge to protect majorities MORE (N.Y.) and Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathGOP Georgia congressional candidate withdraws after calling himself a 'white nationalist' House Democrats request sit-down with McConnell to talk guns Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress 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) GottheimerAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress The 11 House Dems from Trump districts who support assault weapons ban Democrats call for Pelosi to cut recess short to address white nationalism MORE (N.J.) and Chris PappasChristopher (Chris) Charles PappasAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress The 11 House Dems from Trump districts who support assault weapons ban House Democrats inch toward majority support for impeachment 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 SherrillRepublicans plot comeback in New Jersey Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Democratic veteran lawmakers call for return of assault weapons ban MORE (N.J.), a former Navy helicopter pilot, and Jason CrowJason CrowHouse Democrats request sit-down with McConnell to talk guns Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Democratic veteran lawmakers call for return of assault weapons ban 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.