The House of Representatives on Friday voted 217-213 in favor of taking up a ban on certain semi-automatic weapons.
“Today, our Democratic Majority will take up and pass the Assault Weapons Ban legislation: a crucial step in our ongoing fight against the deadly epidemic of gun violence in our nation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement previewing the vote.
Two Republicans – Rep. Chris Jacobs of N.Y. and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania – joined Democrats in supporting the ban. Five Democrats, however, voted with Republicans: Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez, both of Texas; Jared Golden of Maine; Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Ron Kind of Wisconsin.
The restriction, which is unlikely to pass the current Senate, would be the first of its kind considered by Congress in nearly two decades.
An assault weapons ban went into effect in 1994 but expired a decade later; multiple attempts to renew it were unsuccessful, despite studies suggesting that it was highly effective at preventing shooting massacres. A 2021 study from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine showed that the ban prevented 10 public mass shootings while it was in place, and were it allowed to continue, it would have "prevented 30 public mass shootings that killed 339 people."
The effort comes in the wake of several mass shootings this year, including at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois. Authorities say the gunmen in all three shootings, which killed 38 people in all, used AR-15-style rifles.
"The vote we are taking today will show the families of those murdered exactly who is on their side," said Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., who represents Highland Park.
The bill was introduced by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and co-sponsored by 211 other House members. It was marked up by the House Judiciary Committee in mid-July.
The measure would make it illegal for anyone to “import, sell, manufacture, or transfer” semiautomatic rifles that have military features and can accept a detachable magazine or have a fixed magazine that holds 10 or more rounds of ammunition. The proposal also seeks to ban most semiautomatic pistols and shotguns, “bump stocks” that allow semiautomatic rifles to fire faster, and high-capacity feed devices such as magazines, strips and drums that accept more than 10 rounds.
“AR-15 style firearms have become the weapon of choice for shooters looking to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible and have been used in the deadliest mass shootings in our history, from Sandy Hook to Parkland to Uvalde,” Cicilline said in a statement.
“Protecting the lives and safety of Americans is not at odds with our Second Amendment rights. We cannot rest until we ensure that our kids and families are safe in schools, houses of worship, and everywhere in our communities,” he added.
The bill would not ban the sale, transfer or possession of assault weapons or large-capacity ammunition feeding devices legally owned on the date the law would take effect. It also would not restrict antique guns, manually operated firearms, or hunting or sporting weapons.
House leadership was set to pair the measure with police funding and other safety bills, but that decision faced backlash from members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other Democrats. Pelosi said at her weekly press conference that the House will consider those measures in mid-August.
Should the measure pass the House, it faces virtually impossible odds in the evenly divided Senate.
Democrats argued that the bill was necessary to protect Americans from the scourge of gun violence.
"We face two choices today in this body: One is to protect our children to protect our houses of worship, to protect where we shop, to protect when we watch a movie, from guns that exist for one purpose, only mass death inflicted efficiently," said Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly." Or we can listen to the other argument, which you've heard, in thrall to the gun manufacturers, to protect them at any cost. And you as a citizen, are collateral damage at the altar of the gun manufacturers, and we will be bathed in blood forever."
"It is time to act," he added. "It is time to end the madness and disenthrall ourselves from automatic weapons that are mass killers."
But Republicans, like Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, accused Democrats of wanting "to take all guns from all people because they can't stand the Second Amendment."
"Republicans care about law-abiding citizens' constitutional liberties," he said.
President Joe Biden last month signed a bipartisan gun bill, the first federal gun reform legislation in nearly 30 years. That bill expanded background checks for gun buyers 18 to 21 years old, closed a loophole that allowed some convicted domestic abusers to buy firearms and created financial incentives for states to pass “red flag” laws, among other provisions.
That legislation did not include an assault weapons ban, and it’s unlikely there is enough bipartisan support to pass one now due to broad opposition among Republicans.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, signaled Friday he would oppose Cicilline’s bill.
Like we’ve said now for a long time: They (Democrats) want to get rid of the Second Amendment,” he told Fox Business. “Republicans and conservatives are going to defend your First Amendment liberties, your Second Amendment liberties. We’re going to defend the Constitution.”