The House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill to ban assault weapons on Wednesday, the first time in two decades a congressional panel has moved to prohibit the sale, transfer and possession of the popular firearms.
The committee approved the Assault Weapons Ban of 2021 in a 25-18 vote following an hours-long markup.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the committee, announced last week that the panel would move on the legislation. The move comes after a spate of mass shootings in the U.S., a number of which were perpetrated by young men reportedly wielding assault-style semi-automatic rifles.
A gunman opened fire at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in May, killing 19 students and two teachers. Earlier this month, seven people were fatally shot at a July Fourth parade in Highland Park, Ill.
In both incidents, the alleged shooter was young man with an AR-style semi-automatic weapon, which is the main firearm the legislation aims to restrict.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), specifically seeks to prohibit the sale, manufacture, transfer or import of all semi-automatic rifles that can accept a detachable magazine and have a pistol grip; a forward grip; a folding, telescoping or detachable stock; a grenade launcher; a barrel shroud; or a threaded barrel.
It also places restrictions on semi-automatic rifles with fixed magazines that can fit more than 10 rounds, bump-fire stocks, high-capacity feeding devices that can hold more than 10 rounds and semi-automatic shotguns with specific features.
The measure does not, however, apply to antique firearms, manually operated firearms and upward of 2,000 specific models of firearms used for hunting and sporting.
While the assault weapons ban passed through committee on Wednesday, it is unclear when — or if — it will be brought to the House floor for a vote. Nadler last week said he was looking forward to “moving this legislation through the Judiciary Committee next week and onto the House floor,” but House leadership has not yet announced a vote.
That is likely because it is unclear if the legislation has the votes to pass.
Two Democrats, Reps. Jared Golden (Maine) and Henry Cuellar (Texas), have said they will not support the bill, and a handful of others remain undecided.
On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Chris Jacobs (R-N.Y.) has said he would support an assault weapons ban if it came to the floor. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) has backed the concept of an assault weapons ban, but he has not yet said if he will support the specific bill under consideration.
During her weekly press conference last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said “there is great support in our caucus for an assault weapons ban.”
Asked if he plans to bring the bill to the floor before August recess, House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters on Tuesday, “I may do that.”
“Obviously, the committee’s going to be dealing with it tomorrow, and we’ll talk to the chairman about it. But I think it’s an important bill for us to consider,” he added.
Former President Clinton signed an assault weapons ban in 1994. It eventually expired in 2004.
In opening remarks at the markup on Wednesday, Nadler made the case for banning assault weapons.
“As we have learned all too well in recent years, assault weapons — especially when combined with high-capacity magazines — are the weapon of choice for mass shootings. These military-style weapons are designed to kill the most people in the shortest amount of time,” he said. “Quite simply, there is no place for them on our streets.”
The chairman said assault weapons are solely meant “to kill people efficiently,” adding “it is time to protect our communities and to ban them once more.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, argued in opening remarks that the bill would “strip Americans of their right” and asserted that “it would do nothing to make our communities safer.”
“Democrats know this legislation will not reduce violent crime or reduce the likelihood of mass shootings, but they are obsessed with attacking law-abiding Americans’ Second Amendment liberties,” he added.
The Ohio Republican also said the assault weapons ban would prevent law-abiding Americans from using weapons “to defend themselves against violent intruders in their home.”
“Prevented from defending themselves, their family, their property because of this legislation. This legislation is dangerous, it doesn’t square with the Constitution, with the Second Amendment in any way, and it has failed in the past,” he added.
Last month, Congress passed and President Biden signed a gun safety bill into law that bolstered background checks for firearm purchasers ages 18 to 21 and created a federal offense for people who acquired firearms through straw purchases or trafficking, among other measures.
Aside from that, the House previously passed bills to nationalize red flag laws and create an active shooter communications network, and it approved a sweeping firearm package that, among other provisions, called for raising the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21.
However, those bills, like the assault weapons ban, have little chance of advancing given GOP opposition in the evenly divided Senate.
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