House passes bill to ban semi-automatic firearms
Revived push likely to stall in the Senate amid GOP resistance
WASHINGTON — The House passed legislation Friday to revive a ban on semi-automatic guns, the first vote of its kind in years and a direct response to the firearms often used in the crush of mass shootings ripping through communities nationwide.
Once banned in the U.S., the high-powered firearms are now widely blamed as the weapon of choice among young men responsible for many of the most devastating mass shootings. But Congress allowed the restrictions first put in place in 1994 on the manufacture and sales of the weapons to expire a decade later, unable to muster the political support to counter the powerful gun lobby and reinstate the weapons ban.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed the vote toward passage in the Democraticrun House, saying the earlier ban “saved lives.”
The House legislation is shunned by Republicans, who dismissed it as an election-year strategy by Democrats. Almost all Republicans voted against the bill, which passed 217-213. It will likely stall in the 50-50 Senate.
The bill comes at a time of intensifying concerns about gun violence and shootings — the supermarket shooting in Buffalo, New York; massacre of school children in Uvalde, Texas; and the July Fourth shootings of revelers in Highland Park, Illinois.
Voters seem to be taking such election-year votes seriously as Congress splits along party lines and lawmakers are forced to go on the record with their views. A recent vote to protect same-sex marriages from potential Supreme Court legal challenges won bipartisan support.
President Joe Biden, who was instrumental in helping secure the first semi-automatic weapons ban as a senator in 1994, encouraged passage, promising to sign the bill if it reached his desk.
The Biden administration said for 10 years while the ban was in place, mass shootings declined. “When the ban expired in 2004, mass shootings tripled,” the statement said.
Republicans stood against limits on ownership of the high-powered firearms during an at times emotional debate ahead of voting.
“It’s a gun grab, pure and simple,” Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., said.
Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., agreed. “An armed America is a safe and free America,” Clyde said.
Democrats argued that the ban on the weapons makes sense, portraying Republicans as extreme and out of step with Americans.
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said the weapons ban is not about taking away Americans’ Second Amendment rights but ensuring that children also have the right “to not get shot in school.”
Pelosi displayed a poster of a gun company’s advertisement for children’s weapons, smaller versions that resemble the popular AR-15 rifles and are marketed with cartoon-like characters. “Disgusting,” she said.
In one exchange, two Ohio lawmakers squared off.
“Your freedom stops where mine begins, and that of my constituents begins,” Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur told Republican Rep. Jim Jordan. “Schools, shopping malls, grocery stores, Independence Day parades shouldn’t be scenes of mass carnage and bloodshed.”
Jordan replied by inviting
her to his congressional district to debate him on the Second Amendment, saying he believed most of his constituents “probably agree with me and agree with the United States Constitution.”
The bill would make it unlawful to import, sell or manufacture a long list of semi-automatic weapons.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said it exempts those already in possession.
Reps. Chris Jacobs of New York and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania were the
only Republicans to vote for the measure. Democratic lawmakers voting no were Reps. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Jared Golden of Maine, Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas.
For nearly two decades, since the previous ban expired, Democrats had been reluctant to revisit the issue and confront the gun lobby. But voter opinions appear to be shifting and Democrats dared to act before the fall election. The outcome will provide information for voters on where the candidates
stand on the issue.
Pelosi said the House will revisit a broader package of public safety bills in August when lawmakers are expected to return briefly to Washington to handle other remaining legislation, including Biden’s priority inflation-fighting package of health care and climate change strategies making its way in the Senate.
Congress passed a modest gun violence prevention package last month in the aftermath of the shooting of 19 school children and two teachers in Uvalde.