WASHINGTON — Responding to a series of mass shootings, a divided House passed an assault weapons ban on Friday, overriding nearly unanimous opposition from Republicans to reinstate a ban that expired nearly two decades ago.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the measure, which was increased from 217 to 213, as a “crucial step in our ongoing fight against the deadly epidemic of gun violence in our country.” Only two Republicans, Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Chris Jacobs of New York, joined Democrats in supporting the bill.
Five Democrats voted against the measure: Representatives Henry Cuellar of Texas, Jared Golden of Maine, Ron Kind of Wisconsin, Vicente Gonzalez of Texas and Kurt Schrader of Oregon.
The legislation – which would make it illegal to sell, manufacture, transfer, possess or import assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition feeders – has no chance of passing the Senate. equally divided, where such a sweeping gun control measure could not win all 10 Republicans, it would have to overcome a filibuster.
Still, the vote provided Democrats with a way to demonstrate to voters months before the midterm elections that they were trying to tackle the epidemic of gun violence in America. The action in the House came following a series of mass shootings, including one in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman wielding an AR-15 weapon killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers. The vote also gave Democrats another opportunity to make a sharp distinction with Republicans.
Gun Violence and Gun Control in America
Earlier this month, the House passed legislation guaranteeing access to contraception nationwide, as well as major protections for abortion and same-sex marriage. While Democratic senators hope to pass same-sex marriage legislation, nearly all Republicans in Congress are united in their opposition to the birth control and abortion bills.
Friday’s assault weapons debate came about a month after the enactment of bipartisan gun safety legislation, a compromise move aimed at toughening background checks on potential buyers under the age of 21. which aimed to keep weapons out of reach of dangerous people.
The measure omitted tougher gun control measures that Democrats have long called for and that most Republicans have opposed as violations of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
“Guns of war are made for war,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat, said Friday, lamenting that such guns are “easier for a teenager to get than buying a beer.”
He called the recently enacted law a “weak and modest step”.
Republicans have argued that AR-15 type weapons are popular sporting rifles that law-abiding citizens use for self-defense and hunting. And they rejected the assault weapons bill as an attempt by the Liberals to trample on gun rights while doing nothing to address the root causes of crime.
“Let’s call it what it is: it’s a gun seizure, plain and simple,” said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, Republican of Pennsylvania. “This bill is not about public safety. Rather, it is the toughest Second Amendment restriction since the passage of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban.”
While Friday’s vote united Democrats, the assault weapons ban generated intense internal debate that exposed party divisions on the issue of law enforcement and crime, an issue that Republicans have signaled will be a major part of their campaign attacks on Democrats ahead of the midterm elections.
Democrats originally planned to tie the vote to ban assault weapons with legislation that would provide more funding to local police departments. Moderate Democrats in conservative-leaning districts have argued that passing police defunding would blunt Republican accusations that Democrats are soft on crime and determined to strip police defunding.
But the policing legislation has drawn criticism from progressives and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who have pushed for more police accountability measures to be included. With the August recess in the House set to begin this weekend, Democratic leaders decided to vote only on the assault weapons bill.
Ms Pelosi said Friday lawmakers would continue to work on police legislation after she returns to Washington later this summer.
“The American people are tired of living in fear,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts. “They are tired of thoughts and prayers. They are tired of press releases offering sympathy but no solutions.
“It’s not a radical idea,” he added. “We are not in uncharted territory.”