Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill Thursday with swath of gun control proposals, setting up a floor vote as early as next week.
Voices cracked and emotions ran high during a nearly 10-hour markup that ended with a vote of 25-19, along party lines, to approve the bill. It is the first push on broad legislation after a recent rash of mass shootings across the country.
Democrats such as Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia described the toll of gun violence at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, last week, and at a Tulsa, Okla., medical facility Wednesday. In 2012, a gunman killed McBath’s 17-year-old son.
“Do we have the courage, right here in this body, to imagine the phone call parents across Uvalde received last week?” McBath said. “The phone call that confirms our fear, our singular fear, that my child is dead and that I was unable to protect them? Because I know that phone call.”
Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., argued in his opening statement that the legislation would help cut down on gun violence, while Republicans at the beginning of the hearing expressed staunch opposition to the proposals.
The bill rolls together eight individual bills, including measures to increase the age to buy some rifles, limit magazine sizes, codify regulations banning bump stocks and ghost guns, and provide standards for safe gun storage.
Nadler said the markup, held during what was otherwise a week for members to be in their home districts, would set up the full House to pass the gun control legislation when it returns from its break next week.
“We are painfully aware that we cannot do enough today to save all of these lives,” Nadler said of gun violence in the United States. “But that each life, we say, is an entire world.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas and other Republicans bristled at Democrats’ claims that the GOP didn’t care about the mass shootings and other gun violence. Gohmert said the measures in the legislation would only make violence worse, because criminals would not care about the restrictions.
“Democrats control the major cities that have the worst murder rates,” Gohmert said. “That's why your ideas have been shown to get people killed.”
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee, was among members of his party who proposed other solutions to gun crime, such as increasing school security investments and repealing gun-free school zones, over further restrictions on gun rights.
And Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., argued the bill would run afoul of the Constitution. Bishop pointed to a recent federal appeals court decision that tossed a California law setting the minimum age for gun purchases to 21, as well as the Supreme Court’s 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision that mentioned gun storage in the home.
“At least two parts of this proposed hodgepodge raise questions about constitutionality,” Bishop said.
The committee rejected all but one of 11 amendments Republicans offered. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and other Republicans argued Democrats on the committee had advanced the legislation too quickly, even at the expense of understanding their own legislation.
“I think it's indicative of the lack of thought and the unintended consequences that will stem from these bills that they're trying to pass today, and their lack of knowledge of what it does and doesn't allow,” Massie said.
Massie offered the one successful amendment, mandating a report on denials issued by the National Instant Background Check System within a year of the bill’s enactment. Massie argued Black and Hispanic gun purchasers may be disproportionately impacted by false negatives.
Republican opposition also previewed the measure’s steep climb to pass the Senate, even if the full House passes the bill next week.
A bipartisan group of senators, including Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., has been engaged in talks over efforts to negotiate gun legislation that could pass that chamber in the coming weeks. Murphy, who has taken the lead on several gun control proposals, published an op-ed in Fox News on Thursday saying he would support expanded background checks and national “red flag” legislation.
“My desire is simple — to find a way for Republicans and Democrats to come together around a small but meaningful set of changes to our nation’s gun laws, along with major investments in mental health, that will make it less likely that another Sandy Hook or Uvalde ever happens again,” Murphy wrote.
President Joe Biden gave an address on gun control Thursday night in which he again called on Congress to take action on numerous proposals.
The House is also expected to take up at least one other gun measure. Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., last week said the chamber would vote on a bill from McBath to establish a federal “red flag” court procedure.
The bill would allow for federal courts to seize guns in emergency situations, and has been opposed by gun groups.