WASHINGTON (AP) – The House of Representatives is rushing to pass a gun bill that would raise the age limit for buying a semi-automatic rifle and ban the sale of ammunition in response to the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas Magazines with a capacity of more than 15 rounds.
The bill has almost no chance of becoming law as the Senate conducts negotiations focused on improving mental health programs, strengthening school safety and improving background checks. But the House bill gives the Democratic lawmaker a chance to frame voters in November where they stand on policies that polls show have broad support.
“We can’t save every life, but my god, shouldn’t we try? America, we are listening to you, and today in the House of Representatives we are taking the action you are requesting,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas. “Be careful who is with you and who is not.”
The House of Representatives votes on individual titles of the bill before taking a final vote. The part raising the minimum age for semi-automatic purchases passed by a vote of 228 to 199.
The push comes after a House committee heard harrowing testimonies from recently shot victims and family members, including 11-year-old girl Miah Cerrillo, who covered herself in the blood of a dead classmate to avoid being shot at Uvalde Elementary School.
The seemingly endless cycle of mass shootings in the United States has rarely moved Congress to act. But the shooting of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde has reignited efforts in a way that lawmakers from both parties are talking about the need for a response.
“It’s disgusting, it’s disgusting that our children are being forced to live in this constant fear,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Pelosi said the House vote “would make history by making progress.” But it’s unclear where the House action will go after Wednesday’s vote, as Republicans have been adamant in their opposition.
“The answer isn’t to destroy the Second Amendment, but that’s what Democrats want to do,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.
The work of finding common ground takes place primarily in the Senate, where it takes the support of 10 Republicans to sign a law. Nearly a dozen Democratic and Republican senators met privately for an hour Wednesday in hopes of reaching a framework for compromise legislation by the end of the week. Participants said further discussions are needed about a plan, which is expected to propose modest steps.
Given the political danger that efforts to curb guns pose to Republicans, five of the GOP’s six lead Senate negotiators will not face re-election before 2026. They are Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, John Cornyn of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. The sixth, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, will retire in January. Also of note is that none of the six are seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
While Cornyn has said the talks are serious, he has not joined the chorus of Democrats saying outlines of a deal could be reached by the end of this week. He told reporters Wednesday that he thinks reaching an agreement before Congress begins a pause in late June is “a goal worth striving for.”
The House bill sews together a multitude of proposals that Democrats had tabled before the recent shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. The suspects in the shootings at Uvalde, the elementary school and the Buffalo supermarket were both just 18 years old when they bought the semi-automatic weapons used in the attacks, according to authorities. The bill would increase the minimum age for purchasing such weapons to 21.
“A person under the age of 21 cannot purchase Budweiser. We should not let anyone under the age of 21 buy an AR-15 war weapon,” said Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif.
Republicans have noted that a US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last month found California’s ban on the sale of semi-automatic weapons to adults under the age of 21 unconstitutional.
“It is unconstitutional and immoral. Why is it immoral? Because we’re telling the 18, 19, and 20-year-olds to sign up for the draft. You can die for your country. We expect you to defend us, but we will not give you the tools to defend yourself and your family,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky.
The House bill also provides incentives aimed at increasing the use of secure gun storage devices and provides penalties for violating secure storage requirements that include a fine and up to five years imprisonment if a gun is found improperly stored and subsequently used by a minor to harm or kill themselves or another person.
It also builds on the Biden administration’s executive action, which bans fast-acting “bump-stock” devices and “ghost weapons” that are assembled without serial numbers.
The House of Representatives is also expected to approve a bill on Thursday that would allow families, police and others to ask federal courts to order the removal of firearms from people believed to be at extreme risk, harm yourself or others.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia currently have such “Red Flag Laws”. Under the House bill, a judge could order the firearms to be temporarily removed and stored until a hearing can be held no later than two weeks later to determine whether the firearms should be returned or stored for a period of time.
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