Pelosi says House will move on assault weapons ban
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that House Democrats will soon consider legislation banning military-style “assault” weapons, marking the most aggressive response from Congress to date following last week’s shooting massacre at a Texas elementary school.
House Democratic leaders have already scheduled a vote next week on so-called “red flag” legislation, designed to keep weapons from potentially violent people. And the House Judiciary Committee is meeting in an emergency session on Thursday to mark up a slate of eight additional anti-gun violence bills, including proposals to ban high-capacity magazines and raise the age for purchasing certain semi-automatic rifles.
Speaking at an anti-gun violence event in her home town of San Francisco, Pelosi added to that list on Wednesday, saying House Democrats will also be considering legislation designed to better warn the public of active shooter situations.
“And then, as we get through those, we will be having a hearing and marking up the assault weapon ban,” she added. “So we just are trying to hit it every possible way.”
It’s unclear what specific piece of legislation Pelosi was referring to. One prominent proposal, sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), would prohibit the sale, transfer, import and manufacture of 205 models of semi-automatic rifle, which are named in the bill. It would not ban those gun owners who already possess those firearms from using them.
It’s also not certain that the assault weapons ban would get a vote of the full House, after Pelosi’s promised markup at the committee level. There are centrist Democrats who oppose such a ban, and only a few Republicans who are open to it. With Democrats controlling only a slim majority in the lower chamber, party leaders will be crunching the numbers to see if they have the votes to pass it on the floor.
“We are looking at many legislative options to make our country safer and assessing where we have the votes,” a senior Democratic aide said Wednesday evening after Pelosi’s announcement.
While Democratic leaders had never ruled out the assault weapons ban as part of their response to the school shooting in Uvalde, it still comes as something of a surprise. The bill has no chance of passing through the 50-50 Senate, where Republican opposition to virtually any new limits on firearms all but ensures it would never reach President Biden’s desk.
Additionally, Democrats are facing an extremely difficult midterm environment, one in which a number of incumbents Democrats are vulnerable to defeat in purple districts where support for aggressive gun reforms could damage their chances. The ban on assault weapons, which are wildly popular in parts of the country, is one of those aggressive reforms, and Democratic leaders had excluded it from their initial list of reform proposals, announced in the days since the May 24 shooting in Texas.
Yet the gunman in Uvalde had used an AR-style semi-automatic rifle, killing 19 fourth-graders and two teachers. And that tragedy came just 10 days after another lone gunman killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, allegedly with a similar weapon.
The back-to-back shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo have renewed the interest in tackling gun violence in both chambers. A bipartisan group of senators has been in discussions seeking some compromise proposal that can win enough GOP support to elude a filibuster — talks that appear to be focusing in on background checks, red flag laws and gun storage precautions.
But Pelosi and the House Democrats aren’t waiting around for those discussions to bear fruit. Last year, House Democrats had passed a pair of bills designed to expand background checks, both of which went nowhere in the Senate. Now, spurred by tragedy, they’re reaching further into their menu of reforms.
“Of course we want the Senate to pass the background check legislation, which will save more lives than any of the initiates we have,” Pelosi said.
The Speaker acknowledged that no one reform proposal will end gun violence in America. But she made the case that the combination of proposals, nipping away at the scourge from various angles, would save countless lives.
“I tell you all of these [bills] because each one of them is a place where we can save lives,” Pelosi said.
“In the House, I’m very proud; we passed our bills,” she continued. “I say to the senators: … the political survival of not one of you is more important than the personal survival of America’s children and their families.”
Updated: 6:45 p.m.
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