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 BidenPerry delegation talking points stressed pushing Ukraine to deal with 'corruption' GOP senator airs anti-Biden ad in Iowa amid impeachment trial Biden photobombs live national news broadcast at one of his rallies 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 CicillineHouse lawmakers urge adoption of UN report's recommendations on battling anti-Semitism Hillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief 'fully expects' Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech 'monopoly power' Smaller companies testify against Big Tech's 'monopoly power' 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 CastroThe Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power Warren campaign hires two top Castro staffers Democrats press Trump administration to stop DNA collection from detained migrants MORE (D-Texas), the brother of Democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro, and Rep. Cindy AxneCindy AxneBiden lines up high-profile surrogates to campaign in Iowa Biden announces statewide bus tour ahead of Iowa caucuses Democrats plot new approach to win over rural voters 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 BrownBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Overnight Defense: Dems raise pressure on Esper to block border wall funds | Trump impeachment trial begins in Senate | Day one dominated by fight over rules House Dems express 'deepening concern' over plans to take .2B from Pentagon for border wall 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 McConnellTrump allies throw jabs at Bolton over book's claims GOP confident of win on witnesses Collins Senate bid threatens to spark GOP rift in Georgia MORE (R-Ky.), a staunch Second Amendment advocate, has no intention of bringing the legislation to the floor, and President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Don Lemon explains handling of segment after Trump criticism NPR reporter after Pompeo clash: Journalists don't interview government officials to score 'political points' Lawyer says Parnas can't attend Senate trial due to ankle bracelet 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 leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Sanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden Biden endorsed by four more members of Congressional Black Caucus 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 push back on Trump's efforts to take credit for the economy This week: Senate barrels toward showdown on impeachment witnesses The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules 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 SpanbergerHouse Democrats launch effort to register minority voters in key districts House passes bills to gain upper hand in race to 5G The biggest political upsets of the decade MORE (Va.) and Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamHouse Democrats launch effort to register minority voters in key districts The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi plans to send impeachment articles next week The lawmakers who bucked their parties on the war powers resolution 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 TurnerCNN analyst says GOP lawmaker 'mansplained' to her on-air Meadows says Republican colleagues 'wrong' for suggesting Trump's phone call was inappropriate Republicans preview impeachment defense strategy MORE (R-Ohio), the former Dayton mayor, says he now backs a ban on military-style weapons, and Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerPentagon exodus extends 'concerning,' 'baffling' trend of acting officials in key roles Republican group asks 'what is Trump hiding' in Times Square billboard Koch campaign touts bipartisan group behind ag labor immigration bill 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 RoseSan Francisco mayor endorses Bloomberg Mixed feelings on war power limits: Lawmakers and vet candidates Rep. Bobby Rush endorses Bloomberg's White House bid MORE (N.Y.), Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightDemocratic senators tweet photos of pile of House-passed bills 'dead on Mitch McConnell's desk' How the 31 Democrats in Trump districts voted on impeachment The Hill's Morning Report - Vulnerable Dems are backing Trump impeachment MORE (Pa.), Angie Craig (Minn.), Susie LeeSuzanne (Susie) Kelley LeeMORE (Nev.), Antonio DelgadoAntonio Ramon Delgado Democrats plot new approach to win over rural voters The most expensive congressional races of the last decade How the 31 Democrats in Trump districts voted on impeachment MORE (N.Y.) and Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathThe most expensive congressional races of the last decade How the 31 Democrats in Trump districts voted on impeachment Vulnerable Democrats signal support for impeachment articles this week 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) GottheimerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi plans to send impeachment articles next week The lawmakers who bucked their parties on the war powers resolution House passes measure seeking to limit Trump on Iran MORE (N.J.) and Chris PappasChristopher (Chris) Charles PappasNew Hampshire Rep. Kuster endorses Buttigieg Making waves to protect America's waters Norovirus sickened 18 at New Hampshire campaign stop 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 SherrillOvernight Defense: Dems raise pressure on Esper to block border wall funds | Trump impeachment trial begins in Senate | Day one dominated by fight over rules House Dems express 'deepening concern' over plans to take .2B from Pentagon for border wall How the 31 Democrats in Trump districts voted on impeachment MORE (N.J.), a former Navy helicopter pilot, and Jason CrowJason CrowImpeachment manager dismisses concerns Schiff alienated key Republican votes: 'This isn't about any one person' Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Female impeachment managers say American public know a 'rigged' trial when they see one 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.