The House of Representatives passed a package of gun control measures on a mostly party-line vote Wednesday evening, even as the bill faces little hope of clearing the evenly divided Senate.
Five Republicans joined Democrats in a 223-204 vote for a bill that rolled together eight other gun control bills, such as raising the age to 21 to buy certain rifles, limiting magazine sizes and codifying existing gun control regulations.
It faces stiff headwinds in the Senate. During the floor debate, Democrats said Congress must address a surge in mass shootings in recent weeks, both at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and across the country.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the House would move forward with another gun bill Thursday, even as fragile bipartisan talks continue in the Senate.
“We've seen promising signs from the Senate that bipartisan agreement may be possible,” Hoyer said. “I surely hope it is. This House will not, should not wait to act.”
Democrats have argued that public opinion is on their side on “common sense” proposals to address one of the most politically sensitive issues in Congress. A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed 74 percent of adults supported raising the age to purchase guns to 21, and 83 percent supported so-called red flag laws for emergency gun seizures.
Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and other Republicans on Wednesday argued the bill would be “dead on arrival in the Senate,” and likely unconstitutional for overly restricting Americans’ Second Amendment rights.
Conservative and gun rights groups have mobilized against the legislation, and the Gun Owners of America, Heritage Action for America and National Rifle Association alerted members that this vote would be used in their lawmaker evaluations.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, argued the legislation would not help communities affected by gun violence, in Uvalde or elsewhere.
“Our hearts go out to those communities and those families who have been impacted in such a such a terrible way,” Jordan said. “But the answer is not to destroy the Second Amendment, and that is exactly where the Democrats want to go.”
Instead, Republicans argued for measures that would “harden” schools, such as more funding for school security or armed guards. Massie and some others argued to repeal gun-free school zones and “stop advertising our schools as soft targets.”
Democrats pushed back on that argument, citing apparent police inaction during the mass shooting in Uvalde, which claimed 21 lives. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., pointed to testimony from a Uvalde survivor at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing Wednesday as a reason to act.
“A few Senate Republicans may do the absolute minimum,” Wasserman Schultz said on the floor. “But when an 11-year-old tells Congress that she smeared her murdered friend's blood on her own body to play dead and stay alive in Uvalde, I'll take baby steps over no steps.”
The bill the House approved Wednesday would raise the age to purchase some rifles from 18 to 21, limit magazine sizes, codify regulations banning bump stocks and ghost guns, and provide standards for safe gun storage.
The four hours of debate included seven separate votes on different parts of the bill, including an amendment added to require a report on the demographics of background check denials. That series of votes followed a letter last week from 21 moderate Democrats asking to split up the package bill that the House Judiciary Committee advanced on Thursday.
The House also plans to vote Thursday on a second bill from Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., that would establish a “red flag” procedure in federal courts to allow individuals and police to seek extreme risk protection orders for the temporary seizure of firearms.
Democrats have pinned their hopes on bipartisan Senate negotiations in a group that includes Sens. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. However, Cornyn said in a floor speech Monday that he would not support key parts of the House bill, including expanded background checks or raising the age of purchase for certain firearms.
Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday he would give those talks until the end of the week but did not rule out a Senate vote on Democratic legislation, which likely would not have the support to surpass a Republican filibuster.
“If they don’t come to that agreement, we will see what happens after that,” Schumer said.
Tillis told reporters Wednesday that the group was still “a few days away” from a framework agreement and would meet again that day.
Suzanne Monyak contributed to this report.