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House passes assault weapons ban in wake of mass shootings

A similar ban lapsed in 2004

Demonstrators hold signs during a rally with senators outside the U.S. Capitol to demand the Senate take action on gun safety in May, after the Robb Elementary School shooting in Texas.
Demonstrators hold signs during a rally with senators outside the U.S. Capitol to demand the Senate take action on gun safety in May, after the Robb Elementary School shooting in Texas. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House passed a bill Friday that would ban the sale of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, for the first time since a similar ban lapsed in 2004.

The 217-213 vote saw seven members cross party lines, but Democrats still overcame objections from Republicans, who argued it infringes on Second Amendment rights. Five Democrats voted against the bill, and two Republicans voted for it.

The evenly divided Senate is unlikely to pass the measure, but Democrats argued Friday’s vote was a needed step to counter a wave of mass shootings across the country.

“These military-style weapons are designed to kill the most people in the shortest amount of time,” Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said during floor debate. “Quite simply, there is no place for them in our streets.”

The vote is the latest in a series of Democratic gun control bills to advance through the House since a wave of mass shootings this year, including an elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 students.

The bill, HR 1808, would ban the sale, possession and transfer of high capacity magazines and assault-style weapons by both name, such as the AK-47, and features, such as a pistol grip. The bill would also ban the sale of some firearm accessories like pistol braces.

The Biden administration backed the bill Friday. “We know an assault weapons and large-capacity magazine ban will save lives,” an administration statement said.

Democrats argued that the prior assault weapon ban reduced mass shootings and that rifles such as the AR-15 have become a favorite of mass killers. They described graphically the damage high-powered rifles can do to the human body.

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., the bill sponsor, also argued that such weapons are also frequently used in police shootings.

“These weapons have no place in our communities. They turn our streets, our schools, our grocery stores, our movie theaters and hospitals into bloody battlefield scenes,” Cicilline said in a floor speech. “And they kill our children, our friends and neighbors and the police officers trying to protect them.”

Republicans argued the bill would violate the Second Amendment; Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan called it a gun grab.

“For years the Democrats told us we’re not coming for your guns. Oh yes they are,” Jordan said.

Earlier this year the House also passed 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. That has not seen action in the Senate.

The Senate did take up, and pass, a rare bipartisan bill to address gun violence earlier this year. The bill expanded background checks for people under the age of 21, provided support for “red flag”-style laws at the state level and expanded the country’s mental health supports.

Friday’s vote comes after earlier this week the House punted planned votes on the assault weapon ban as well as a package of police grant bills amid divisions in the Democratic caucus. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a floor speech Friday the chamber would pass some form of those bills when it returns next month for votes on a budget reconciliation package.

The Democrats who voted against the bill were Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Jared Golden of Maine and Ron Kind of Wisconsin. Republicans who voted for the measure were Reps. Chris Jacobs of New York and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.

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