Handful of House GOP lawmakers open to assault rifle ban

A trickle of House GOP lawmakers have expressed support for or openness to banning assault-style rifles in recent years and in the wake of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, last week. 

As a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate discuss potential legislative action on gun violence in wake of the massacre, the House GOP members’ positions show a small yet notable contingent of Republicans in favor of some type of gun restrictions despite the party being largely averse to gun control measures.

Two Republicans, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Rep. Chris Jacobs (N.Y.), expressed openness to such restrictions in the aftermath of the Uvalde massacre, which left 19 elementary school children and two teachers dead.

​​“I have opposed a ban fairly recently. I think I’m open to a ban now,” Kinzinger said on CNN Sunday when he was asked why private citizens need “weapons of war.” 

“It’s going to depend on what it looks like because there’s a lot of nuances on what constitutes certain things, but I’m getting to the point where I have to wonder,” Kinzinger said. “Maybe somebody to own one, maybe you need an extra license. Maybe you need extra training.”

Jacobs said in a press conference and during a Buffalo News interview last week that he would support such a ban, but not confiscation of such weapons.

“If an assault weapons ban bill came to the floor that would ban something like an AR-15, I would vote for it,” Jacobs said.

The bipartisan Senate group that formed last week focused on two main proposals outside an assault weapons ban: expanding background checks and “red flag” legislation to bar those deemed a danger to themselves and others from possessing firearms.

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 expired in 2004, and reinstating an updated version of that has been a longtime priority for Democrats. Republicans have overwhelmingly resisted such measures — with a handful of exceptions.

A few other House Republicans have previously expressed support for banning military or assault-style weapons, usually after a mass shooting with a weapon of that type hit their own states. They have not been particularly vocal about their positions in the aftermath of the Uvalde massacre.

In the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting in 2018 that killed 17 people and injured 17 others, Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) announced support for banning assault weapons.

“The exact definition of assault weapon will need to be determined. But we should all be able to agree that the civilian version of the very deadly weapon that the Army issued to me should certainly qualify,” Mast wrote in a February 2018 New York Times op-ed.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) did the same after the Dayton, Ohio, shooting in 2019 in which a gunman killed nine people and wounded 17.

“I strongly support the Second Amendment, but we must prevent mentally unstable people from terrorizing our communities with military style weapons. I will support legislation that prevents the sale of military style weapons to civilians, a magazine limit, and red flag legislation,” Turner said in an August 2019 statement the day after the Dayton shooting. “The carnage these military style weapons are able to produce when available to the wrong people is intolerable.”

And Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) signaled an openness to banning such weapons in a statement soon after the Parkland shooting in 2018.

“All options must be on the table, including comprehensive background checks, a bump stock ban, prohibiting the sale of military assault weapons and full funding for gun violence research in a comprehensive manner that could have prevented tragedies like this,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement.

Polling from last year suggested that Republican voters are not expressing the same openness to an assault weapons ban. The Pew Research Center found that support for banning assault-style weapons among Republican and Republican-leaning adults fell from 54 percent in 2017 to 37 percent in 2021, as support slightly increased among all voters from 80 percent to 83 percent.

However, attitudes may have shifted in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting. A Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted last week found 49 percent of Republican registered voters strongly or somewhat support banning assault-style weapons, with 41 percent somewhat or strongly opposing such a ban.

Gun rights advocates often argue that the terms “assault weapon” or “assault rifle” are materially meaningless and purely political terms. 

The National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm website defines “assault weapon” as “Any weapon used in an assault (see WEAPON).”

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group for the firearms industry that is also involved in lobbying against gun control legislation, asserts that the term assault rifle only applies to fully-automatic machine guns, which have long been outlawed.

“If someone calls an AR-15-style rifle an ‘assault weapon,’ then they’ve been duped by an agenda,” the NSSF website says. “​​The only real way to define what is an ‘assault weapon’ is politically, as in how any given law chooses to define the term — this is why the states that have banned this category of semiautomatic firearms have done so with very different definitions.”

But in various state laws, “assault” weapons are defined by features, such as detachable magazines along with a pistol grip, or by specific model of weapon such as the AR-15.

The Assault Weapons Ban of 2021, which has not received a vote in the current Congress, would ban 205 weapons by name; weapons that can utilize a magazine that is not fixed ammunition and also have any “military characteristics” like a pistol grip, telescoping stock, or threaded barrel; and magazines and ammunition feeding devices that can hold more than 10 rounds.

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 similarly banned certain models of AR-15s and semiautomatic rifles with features like a pistol grip and bayonet mount.

Tags Adam Kinzinger Adam Kinzinger assault rifle ban Brian Mast brian mast Chris Jacobs Chris Jacobs Gun control Texas school shooting
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