House Votes to Increase Semi-Automatic Rifle Purchase Age to 21

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On Wednesday, as part of a slate of bills aimed at curbing mass shootings and gun violence, the House voted to increase the age required to purchase a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21.

The vote was 228 to 199, with ten Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the measure. Those GOP members were Representatives Fitzpatrick, Gonzalez, Jacobs, Katko, Kinzinger, Malliotakis, Salazar, Smith, Turner, and Upton.

After an 18-year-old gunman used an AR-15-style weapon to massacre 19 children and two teachers in a fourth-grade elementary-school classroom in Uvalde, Texas, in May, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been moving with urgency to pass bills to prevent such tragedies. In the past few weeks, a bipartisan coalition of senators has been negotiating gun legislation, pitching proposals such as expanded background checks and federal standards for red-flag laws, which allow the confiscation of firearms from individuals deemed dangerous.

The vote comes after testimony from recent Uvalde shooting victims and family members and speeches from gun-control advocates,  including celebrities such as Matthew McConaughey. Miah Cerrillo, an eleven-year-old who covered herself with her friend’s blood to play dead and avoid being shot as the carnage unfolded in Uvalde, spoke to  the House Oversight and Reform Committee Wednesday to share her gut-wrenching experience.

While the age-requirement bill advanced in the House, where Democrats have a larger governing margin, it is unlikely to survive in the evenly divided Senate, where deliberations over improving mental-health programs, “hardening” schools with enhanced security, and expanding background checks are currently taking precedence.

The age provision is part of the Protecting Our Kids Act, a package of proposals that also includes a prohibition on large-capacity ammunition-feeding devices, tougher punishments for gun trafficking and straw purchases, and a requirement for registration of bump stock–type devices, among other regulations. Democratic leaders split the package into individual items as a strategy to push Republicans who otherwise oppose broad gun control.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise suggested Wednesday that the legislation is unconstitutional and that Democrats should stop focusing on restricting weapons and start working to identify what is driving the spike in mass shootings.

“The idea that you can take away somebody’s rights without due process as the bill that Speaker Pelosi is bringing to the floor under the name Red Flag is unconstitutional, violates multiple sections of our Constitution that give Americans the right to due process,” Scalise said.

“Airplanes were used that day as the weapon to kill thousands of people and to inflict terror on our country. There wasn’t a conversation about banning airplanes,” he told reporters Wednesday.

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