The House on Friday passed legislation that would ban assault weapons for the first time since 2004, in a sign that Democrats plan to take more aggressive measures to prevent gun violence after a spate of mass shootings.
The bill passed in a largely partisan vote of 217-213, with two Republicans voting for the measure and five Democrats opposing it.
The GOP’s level of opposition indicates the bill is unlikely to pass in the evenly divided Senate, where it would need the support of at least 10 Republicans to defeat a guaranteed filibuster. It is also not clear whether the measure has the support of all 50 Senate Democrats.
The legislationwritten by Rep. David Cicilline, DR.I., would criminalize knowingly selling, manufacturing, transferring, possessing or importing many types of semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity ammunition feeders.
President Joe Biden praised House Democrats for passing the bill and urged the Senate to follow suit.
“If guns are the number one killer of children in America, if more children die from guns than the active police and active military combined, we must act,” he said in a statement. “Today, the House Democrats acted by uniting to enact an assault weapons ban to keep weapons of war off our streets, save lives in this country and reduce crime in our communities.”
He added that the Senate “must act quickly to get this bill on my desk, and I won’t stop fighting until that happens.”
During the floor debate ahead of Friday’s vote, House Democrats argued that an assault weapons ban was necessary because of the number of recent shootings in which gunmen have used assault weapons.
“Our nation has watched with unspeakable horror as assault weapons have been used in massacre after massacre in communities across the country,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “We know that a ban on assault weapons can work because it has worked before.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, asked, “How many mass shootings do we have to endure? When will we learn?”
The Judiciary Committee pushed forward the measure last week with a 25-to-18 party vote.
House Republicans on Friday insisted that the legislation was unconstitutional and that Democrats want to confiscate firearms.
“Today they’re coming for your guns,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the highest-ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “They want to take all weapons from all people.”
This bill “will, I think, make communities less safe,” he added.
The assault weapons ban would not apply to certain types of firearms, including antiques, rifles and shotguns explicitly identified by make and model, and weapons that are manually operated in various ways.
Former President Bill Clinton signed a 10-year ban on assault weapons in 1994. It expired in 2004. Several studies, including one published in 2019 in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgeryhave shown that the number of deaths in mass shootings has decreased in the years that the ban has been in effect.
Republicans in the Senate were not open to additional gun measures after they passed bipartisan legislation last month aimed at improving background checks to include juvenile records and providing grants to states to enact “red flag” laws.
The five House Democrats who voted against the assault weapons ban were Representatives Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Jared Golden of Maine and Ron Kind of Wisconsin.
The two Republicans who crossed the aisle to support the bill were Representatives Chris Jacobs of New York and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania. Jacobs’ district includes Buffalo, where a white gunman has been accused of killing 10 black people in a racist mass shooting at a supermarket in May.
In a brief interview with NBC News after the vote, Jacobs said that while he doesn’t expect the Senate to pass the bill, he hopes it “starts the dialogue toward something.”
“I’m not unrealistic that this is going to happen. The Senate doesn’t seem inclined to do it right now,” he said.
The cause of tougher gun laws has received more attention in Congress and in US opinion polls after the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas. The push for gun limits also represents a desire for Democrats to turn the tables of the GOP on the issue of crime en route to the November midterm elections.
The House planned to vote earlier this week on the ban on assault weapons, in addition to legislation to fund local police forces. But members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other progressives opposed the latest measures, calling for more accountability measures in return for funding. They struck a deal on Friday to go ahead with the assault weapons ban alone.
Pelosi said the House would continue to work on police funding legislation for future consideration.
Representative Joyce Beatty, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, told reporters she was proud of the CBC’s leadership in closing Friday’s deal and was grateful to Pelosi for listening to their concerns. She described the vote on assault weapons as “step one” in tackling violence and policing.
“We have people from Uvalde and Parkland who are here today with those kids asking us to make sure we do a restraining order. … Now, are we ready? No, we’re not ready yet. We’ll be back and we will look at the crash barriers we put in place,” she said, referring to the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Friday’s vote comes days after the House Oversight Committee held a controversial hearing in which Democrats pressured gun makers to take responsibility for their role in the gun violence epidemic and took a look at what they called “disturbing sales tactics” to persuade young men. to bring violence to buy weapons.