WASHINGTON – The House narrowly passed a ban on firearms Friday in response to mass shootings this summer that claimed scores of victims and shook the nation.
It was the first such ban to pass the House in nearly 30 years. Congress enacted one as part of a sweeping anti-crime bill in 1994, but it expired in 2004.
The bill passed 217-213 along party lines – almost every Democrat in favor and almost every Republican against. It marked a stark contrast to the gun package that passed through both chambers in June with bipartisan support.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., represents Gilroy, California, where a gunman fired on the annual Garlic Festival, killing three and injuring 17 in July 2019.
"The killer that killed my constituents couldn't buy the assault weapon in California, so he just went over to Nevada and bought it there," she said on the floor Friday before the vote. "Americans deserve to be safe and be free from fear that when kids go to school, they'll be obliterated."
The ban is likely to fail in the Senate where it would take at least 10 Republicans to join all 50 Democrats to overcome a filibuster. It's not clear whether Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., would support it.
There is no vote scheduled in the Senate, which plans to break for a monthlong recess Aug. 8. COVID-19 exposures keep senators from the floor, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is recovering from hip surgery, so it is unlikely the Senate will vote on the ban in the next week.
President Joe Biden praised the House vote.
"The majority of the American people agree with this common sense action," he said in a statement issued by the White House. The Senate should "move quickly to get this bill to my desk, and I will not stop fighting until it does. There can be no greater responsibility than to do all we can to ensure the safety of our families, our children, our homes, our communities, and our nation."
GOP: Ban impedes Second Amendment rights
Republicans criticized the bill, saying it would infringe on gun rights while doing little to prevent gun violence deaths.
They pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court decision (District of Columbia v. Heller) in 2008 that established that firearms in "common use" for lawful purposes such as self-defense are protected under the Second Amendment. They called the House bill unconstitutional, citing the popularity of weapons such as the AR-15 rifle and its use for self-defense.
"Democrats are once again considering legislation that will do nothing more than penalize law-abiding citizens while doing nothing to prevent gun violence," Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., said on the House floor before the vote. "This is just the latest in House Democrats' never-ending attack on Americans' Second Amendment rights."
Congress passed a bipartisan gun bill that Biden signed in June. The law beefs up background checks on young buyers, provides more money for school security and mental health services, incentivizes "red flag" laws that allow authorities to confiscate weapons from people who might present a danger, and closes the "boyfriend loophole" to forbid guns from domestic abusers.
The bill the House passed Friday would make it illegal for anyone to import, sell, manufacture, transfer or possess certain semi-automatic weapons. This wouldn't apply to semi-automatic weapons sold before the bill's passage.
The bill would make exceptions for shotguns, guns that have been rendered permanently inoperable and antique firearms.
During the negotiations on the bipartisan gun changes and after that law passed, Democrats continued to push for further action to prevent mass shootings, pointing out that more Americans died of gun-related injuries in 2020 than in any other year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Gun violence is the leading cause of death among children.
Uvalde, Buffalo, Parkland shootings involved AR-15-style rifles
Republicans criticized gun bans as ineffective in combating violence. Rifles accounted for 3% of homicides in 2020, according to the Pew Research Center. Mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas (2022), Buffalo, New York (2022), Parkland, Florida (2018), Las Vegas (2017) and Newtown, Connecticut (2012), involved AR-15-style rifles.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., criticized Democrats for rushing the bill to the floor Friday, saying the ban would target "millions of gun owners who use these types of firearms every week." He pointed out that from 1994 to 2004 – when the previous ban was in place – 2 million weapons came into circulation.
House Democrats intended to include the ban as part of a package of law enforcement measures that would increase funding for police and create a grant program to hire officers. House liberals criticized those measures, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told colleagues Friday they would continue to work on the package but put the gun ban vote to the floor immediately.
Major gun manufacturers testified before Congress for the first time in nearly 30 years at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform this week. Manufacturers included Daniel Defense, which sold the weapon used in the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, and Ruger Firearms, the largest weapons manufacturer in the USA.
According to the committee's investigation into gunmakers, five major manufacturers collected more than $1 billion from the sale of rifles over the past decade.
Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said manufacturers use "dangerous selling tactics to sell assault weapons to the public," including "marketing to children, preying on young men's insecurities and even appealing to violent white supremacists."
Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., represents Highland Park and was at the Independence Day parade where a shooter killed seven people. He said Wednesday that he pushed his colleagues to support the weapon ban.
"The shooter was able to fire off his bullets so fast that they couldn’t even identify where they were coming from. Without an assault weapon, the shooter in Highland Park would have likely not have afflicted the extreme carnage we experienced," Schneider said. "These weapons were designed to massacre."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: House passes 'assault weapon' ban with little Republican support