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Democrats delay votes on police, gun control legislation

Package included bills on a new assault weapons ban, to reinstate some civil liability for gun-makers and on grants for police

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., conducts her weekly news conference on  July 21, 2022.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., conducts her weekly news conference on July 21, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Democratic leaders pulled back on planned votes this week on a package of public safety bills that included police grant funding and an assault weapons ban, amid division within their caucus.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., acknowledged an internal Democratic split in a statement Wednesday, but said the House may still vote on the measures in August when members are expected to convene to vote on a reconciliation bill.

“We are grateful to all our Members for promoting our shared values reflected in specific legislation that we can all support,” Pelosi said.

The punt comes as Democrats have tried to build political momentum for gun control measures beyond a rare bipartisan bill to address gun violence that Congress passed last month.

The planned package included a bill to create a new assault weapons ban, a bill to reinstate some civil liability for gun-makers and bills to establish new federal grant programs for local police.

However, the House Rules Committee pulled the bills from consideration Wednesday, as the House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing on the role of gun manufacturers in the wave of mass shootings in recent weeks.

A handful of Democrats have come out against the assault weapons ban, including Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar and Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader.

Gun rights backers like Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, called the pulled votes “a win for liberty,” during the Oversight hearing.

“Those are some wins for the American people and a win for the Constitution,” Jordan said.

During that hearing, Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., argued gun-makers have made more than $1 billion in profit from the AR-15 and similar weapons since the last assault weapons ban lapsed in 2004.

“The gun industry has flooded our neighborhoods, our schools, and even our churches and synagogues, with these deadly weapons and has gotten rich doing it,” Maloney said.

Citing a staff report, Maloney said Sturm, Ruger & Co. made $500 million selling AR-15 style weapons, and Smith & Wesson made more than $600 million. She called it “the very definition of putting profits over people.”

Ranking member James Comer, R-Ky., and other Republicans argued Democrats had blamed society for the actions of a few individuals — to their political peril.

“It’s become clear that the two parties in Washington have very different solutions of putting an end to the violent crime wave across the nation,” Comer said. “Republicans want to target criminals. Democrats want to target lawful gun owners and take away their guns.”

Heading into a turbulent midterm election season, Democrats have sought to balance their push for gun control with bills supporting local police. Maloney herself is locked in a hard-fought intraparty primary with Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.

However, Democrats have not shored up support for the assault weapons ban in the House, where they only have a five-seat majority. An assault weapons ban is expected to get heavy opposition from Republicans in the Senate.

Gun groups such as the American Firearms Association held up Wednesday’s punt as a victory in an email to supporters.

“But the bad news is that the enemies to our gun rights will not relent,” the email to supporters said. “We need to be absolutely relentless in hounding the House, making sure that vulnerable Democrats and weak Republicans know that any vote for [the assault weapon ban] will cost them dearly.”

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