House overcomes internal resentment to issue assault weapons ban


House Democrats on Friday passed a ban on assault weapons for the first time in about 30 years, a legislative achievement on a politically charged issue that tested the unity of the caucus.

The landmark legislation passed 217-213, largely along party lines with only two Republicans supporting. The bill has virtually no chance of passing by an evenly divided Senate.

The passing of a ban on assault weapons is a major achievement for any chamber of Congress. Multiple attempts to even consider the legislation in committees were jettisoned. But the rise of mass shootings that have touched every corner of American life since the previous assault weapons ban expired in 2004 has catapulted the issue into a top priority for Democrats, who have long pushed for reform of gun laws.

And more recently, a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 children and two teachers, motivated many Democrats to push House leaders to get the ban on the ground, according to multiple members and aides who spoke about the condition of anonymity to outline personal deliberations. The House Judiciary Committee last week approved the bill’s approval, green-lighting legislation ahead of Friday’s landmark vote.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) presided over the vote and enthusiastically read the results to the chamber before Democrats burst into cheers.

“If guns are the number one killer of children in America, if more children die from guns than the active police and military combined, we must act. Today, the House Democrats acted,” President Biden said in a statement.

Democrats’ narrow margin in the House allows only four defectors. The bill would have failed had the two Republicans not recalibrated margins after five Democrats voted against it.

Rep. Chris Jacobs (RN.Y.) voted in favour, just months after he changed his stance on the banning of assault weapons, which was influenced by a racially motivated shooting in his hometown of Buffalo and the Uvalde, Texas. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) runs in a competitive district not far from liberal Philadelphia.

The five Democrats who voted against were Reps. Henry Cuellar (Tex.), Vicente Gonzalez (Tex.), Jared Golden (Maine), Ron Kind (Wis.) and Kurt Schrader (Ore.). Golden, Cuellar and Gonzalez are in competitive races, while Kind and Schrader are not returning to Congress.

Schrader said he voted against the legislation on Friday because removing semiautomatic weapons undermines the Second Amendment, an argument echoed by Republicans. Gonzalez previously noted that banning assault weapons may not end mass shootings, citing that high-capacity magazines and punch stocks — currently banned under executive orders — can still kill people quickly.

While Democrats were largely in agreement on the principle of supporting a party platform issue — more than 200 Democrats co-sponsored the legislation led by Rep. David N. Cicilline (DR.I.) – Competing interests between vulnerable Democrats representing swing districts and their more liberal counterparts risked passage at several points Friday afternoon.

The fate of the ban was initially tied to a package of public safety bills, which included community action to curb violence and legislation overturning a civil liability law protecting arms manufacturers. But an initial bipartisan proposal to double funds for local law enforcement grants, issued by the Justice Department, was met with skepticism by members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus. The deadlock led to a delay in handling the entire package.

But on Thursday night, members of the CBC struck a deal with Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Josh Gottheimer (DN.J.) to add language to a public safety bill that includes additional accountability measures related to receiving the funds. .

The CPC learned about the deal late Thursday night and outraged members for not being involved in the process, according to multiple lawmakers and aides who spoke on condition of anonymity to detail private conversations. In addition, several members remained furious that they had to vote to fund the police to vote on the ban on assault weapons. Many in the liberal caucus pushed for Friday morning to decouple the assault weapons ban from the public security package and to hold separate votes.

Numerous civil rights groups, including the ACLU, wrote letters to Democratic leaders Friday morning requesting Spanberger’s bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Rice (RS.C.), not to be considered.

However, it was risky to disconnect the assault weapons ban from the rest of the public security package. Numerous Democrats have previously said they would vote against or leaned toward it because they disagreed with a full ban.

But frontline Democrats were annoyed when the leadership decided to postpone a vote on public security laws until mid-August, instead siding with liberals to approve the assault weapons ban Friday, according to several people familiar with the matter. the discussions of the group. Many vulnerable Democrats were outraged and threatened to lose a procedural vote needed to pass the legislation.

Child indicated he would vote against the ban early Friday out of frustration, noting that: the increased funding for DOJ scholarships is something “my parents need more at home.”

“Last-minute legislation was never really a good way to put together a package, especially one as important as this one,” he said, echoing several Democrats who have expressed concerns about how quickly some bills pass. leaders are brought to the table. “You would hope there would be a little more time to research and consider some of the issues with the legislation before they just bring it up.”

Vulnerable Democratic members have urged leaders to consider messaging bills that would fund police forces, hoping to deter Republicans from attacking them for being gentle on crime. It is a campaign message that many members believe still cost a significant number of seats in the 2020 elections.

Democrats hoped to leave Washington on a high note, having just helped pass a bipartisan bill to bolster domestic manufacturing and technology and a Senate deal that includes priorities for tax, climate and health care reforms. .

“We applaud Speaker Pelosi and House Leadership for advancing the assault weapons ban for a standalone vote today,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who chairs the Progressive Caucus. “We are also pleased that this bill, which reflects the consensus of the Democratic Caucus, will be swiftly passed as a separate legislative package on public safety is further developed and revised.”

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