The House of Representatives on July 29 passed legislation that would ban so-called “assault weapons” and high-capacity magazines.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and dubbed the “Assault Weapons Ban Act,” passed in a mostly party-line 217–213 vote.
Though the definition of “assault weapon” has long been contested, the bill defines such weapons as “semiautomatic assault weapon[s] or large capacity ammunition feeding device[s]” and makes the importation, manufacturing, transferring, or possession of such items a crime.
This would also include some semiautomatic handguns.
The bill exempts firearms that require a manual action between rounds to prepare the gun to fire again, including things like bolt-, pump-, lever-, or slide-action mechanisms.
Also exempt are firearms that have been rendered permanently inoperable or are classified as antiques. In addition, the bill contains a short list of rifle and shotgun models that are specifically exempted.
The bill also allows the importation, sale, manufacture, transfer, or possession of otherwise-prohibited firearms for law enforcement or authorized research purposes, as well as for activities related to securing nuclear materials. Retired law enforcement officers would also be permitted to own the banned weapons.
The proposed ban would not apply to any firearms already in existence. Weapons that were manufactured before the effective date of the ban could still be legally bought, sold, and owned. This grandfather clause is similar to a clause contained in President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act, which banned the manufacture of new automatic weapons for private use after May 1986.
High-capacity magazines—defined in the bill as magazines capable of holding more than 15 rounds of ammunition—would be removed from circulation, but current owners would be allowed to keep the magazines already in their possession.
The bill would also require that high-capacity magazines and prohibited weapons manufactured for law enforcement purposes display the date of manufacture and serial numbers.
Finally, the bill would seek to reduce the number of firearms and magazines in circulation through a buyback program.
Democrats said that the bill, which is very similar to a 1994 bill, is essential in the wake of a string of high-profile shootings in recent months.
“Assault weapons, especially when combined with a high-capacity magazine, are the weapon of choice for mass shootings,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.). “These military-style weapons are designed to kill the most people in the shortest amount of time.”
“Quite simply, there is no place for them in our streets,” Nadler said.
Referencing the 1994 semiautomatic weapons ban, Nadler said: “In 1994 we banned these killing machines, and countless lives were saved. But Republicans allowed [that bill] to lapse. Since then, we have seen the predictable results: mass shootings have increased exponentially in our public spaces: schools, movie theaters, supermarkets, houses of worship—you name it—have all become vulnerable to attack.”
“How many more mass shootings do we have to endure?” Nadler added.
Republicans, on the other hand, excoriated the bill as a violation of law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
“For years Democrats told us they’re not coming for your guns,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in an impassioned speech on the House floor. “Oh yes they are!”
“Let’s be clear: the Second Amendment is as clear as possible—and that’s their beef—the Second Amendment says ‘The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,’” Jordan continued.
“But they don’t care. In fact, [Cicilline] said so in committee. He said, quote: ‘Spare me the B.S. about constitutional rights.’ They don’t care about that fundamental liberty that law-abiding citizens in this country enjoy,” Jordan said.
Initially, the bill was set for consideration on July 27.
However, that vote was delayed after infighting among Democrats threw into doubt the possibility of advancing the legislation through the House. Because Democrats hold the lower chamber by four seats, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) couldn’t afford to lose a single vote on the legislation, which is likely to face unified GOP opposition.
The bill advanced quickly through the House Judiciary Committee on July 20 despite unanimous Republican opposition.
This bill is only the latest in a series of efforts by Democrats in the House and Senate seeking to advance stricter gun control laws.
At the end of June, a compromise gun bill brokered in the Senate between Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) won enough support to overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold, and has since passed the House and been signed into law by President Joe Biden.
While the measure was a victory for gun control proponents and a stinging defeat to Second Amendment advocates, Democrats have little chance of being able to replicate the feat with more wide-reaching firearms legislation.
The latest bill will now go to the Senate for consideration, where it will almost certainly fail to gain the 10 GOP votes needed to overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold.