WASHINGTON (AP) — The House passed legislation Friday to renew a ban on certain semiautomatic handguns, the first vote …
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House of Representatives on Friday passed legislation to renew a ban on certain semiautomatic handguns, the first such vote in years and a direct response to the firearms often used in a spate of mass shootings across the country.
Once banned in the US, high-powered firearms are now considered the weapon of choice among young people responsible for many of the most devastating mass shootings. But Congress allowed the 1994 ban on gun production and sales to expire after a decade, failing to muster the political support to stand up to the powerful gun lobby and reinstate the gun ban.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed the vote to pass in the Democratic-led House of Representatives, saying the earlier ban “saved lives.”
President Joe Biden welcomed the House vote, saying, “Most Americans agree with these common sense actions.” He called on the Senate to “move quickly to get this bill on my desk.”
However, it is likely to stop in the Senate 50-50. Republicans are shying away from the legislation in the House of Representatives, who rejected it as an election-year strategy for Democrats. Almost all Republicans voted against the House bill, which passed 217-213.
The bill comes at a time of heightened concern about gun violence and shootings — a shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York; the massacre of schoolchildren in Uwald, Texas; and the July 4 shooting of a reveler in Highland Park, Illinois.
Voters seem to take voting seriously in an election year, as Congress splits along party lines and lawmakers are forced to formally express their views. A recent vote to protect same-sex marriage from potential Supreme Court challenges received unexpected bipartisan support.
Biden was instrumental in securing the first ban on semi-automatic weapons as a senator in 1994. The Biden administration has said that mass shootings have declined in the 10 years the ban has been in place. “When the ban expired in 2004, the number of mass shootings tripled,” the statement said.
Republicans strongly opposed restrictions on the ownership of high-powered firearms during a sometimes emotional debate ahead of the vote.
“It’s just a gun grab,” Rep. Guy Reschenthaler told a reporter.
Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., said, “An armed America is a safe and free America.”
Democrats have argued that the gun ban makes sense, portraying Republicans as extreme and out of step with Americans.
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said the gun ban is not about taking away Americans’ Second Amendment rights, but about ensuring that children also have the right “not to get shot at school.”
Pelosi displayed a poster advertising a children’s gun, a smaller version that resembles the popular AR-15 rifles and is marketed with cartoon characters. “Disgusting,” she said.
During one exchange, two Ohio lawmakers argued. “Your freedom stops where mine and my constituents’ freedom begins,” Democratic Rep. Marci Kaptur told Republican Rep. Jim Jordan. “Schools, shopping malls, grocery stores, Independence Day parades should not be places of mass slaughter and bloodshed.”
Jordan responded by inviting her to his congressional district to discuss the Second Amendment with him, saying he believed most of his constituents “probably agree with me and agree with the United States Constitution.”
The bill would ban the import, sale or manufacture of a long list of semi-automatic weapons. Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, R-N.Y., said that includes an exception that allows possession of existing semi-automatic weapons.
Representatives Chris Jacobs of New York and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania were the only Republicans to vote in favor of the measure. Democratic lawmakers who voted against 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 have been reluctant to revisit the issue and stand up to the gun lobby. But voters’ opinions seem to be changing, and Democrats have ventured into action before the fall election. The results will give voters information about the candidates’ positions on the issue.
Jason Quimet, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement after the vote that “just one month after” the Supreme Court expanded gun rights, “gun control advocates in Congress are leading an assault on people’s liberties and civil liberties. law-abiding Americans.”
He said the bill would potentially ban millions of firearms “in clear violation of Supreme Court rulings” that have established gun ownership as an individual right and expanded it.
Among the banned semi-automatic weapons will be about 200-plus types of semi-automatic rifles, including the AR-15, and pistols. Restrictions do not apply to many other models.
Democrats have tried to tie the gun ban to a broader package of public safety measures that would increase federal funding for law enforcement. It’s that centrist Democrats in tough re-election campaigns wanted to protect themselves from political attacks by Republican opponents, they’re soft on crime.
Pelosi said the House will take up the public safety bills in August, when lawmakers are expected to return to Washington briefly to deal with other pieces of legislation, including Biden’s priority anti-inflation package on health care and a climate change strategy that is making its way into Senate.
Congress passed a modest package of measures to prevent gun violence just last month after the tragic killing of 19 school children and two teachers in Uvalde. The bipartisan bill is the first of its kind after years of failed attempts to counter the gun lobby, including after a similar mass tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
That law provides for expanded background checks on young people who buy firearms, allowing authorities to access some juvenile records. It also closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” denying firearms to those convicted of domestic violence outside of marriage.
The new law also frees up federal funding for states, including for “red flag” laws that allow authorities to take guns away from those who might harm themselves or others.
But even these modest efforts to end gun violence come at a time of great uncertainty in the US over gun restrictions as the more conservative Supreme Court deals with gun rights and other issues.
Biden signed the measure two days after the Supreme Court ruled to strike down a New York law that limited people’s ability to carry concealed weapons.
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