Senate Democrats face new pressure to pass assault weapons ban


Democrats in Congress are under renewed pressure to push forward an assault weapons ban after a 21-year-old gunman killed seven people during a July 4 parade in Highland Park.

The Senate just last month approved a bipartisan gun safety bill that was signed into law by President Biden, but even then it was seen as an insufficient effort to truly reduce gun violence. .

The narrow legislation won support from all 50 Senate Democrats and 15 Senate Republicans, but was opposed by most GOP members in the House and Senate.

And Democrats themselves are split on an assault weapons ban, which could be a risky vote for vulnerable Democratic incumbents in swing states.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) avoided such a vote after deadly shootings at a Buffalo supermarket and elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, choosing to work with Republicans on more modest reforms.

This strategy culminated in the passage of the bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which provided money to states to administer red flag laws and improved background checks for gun buyers aged 18. at 21 years old.

It’s unclear whether this bill would have done anything to prevent violence in Highland Park, Illinois, where a 21-year-old confessed to the shooting, officials say. Robert Crimo III was accused of killing seven people with a Smith & Wesson M&P 15, an assault rifle that carries 30 rounds of military caliber 5.56mm NATO/.223.

Vice President Kamala Harris led the charge for more action on Tuesday during a visit to Chicago to speak at a teachers’ convention, telling the National Education Association, “Congress must have the courage to take action and renew the ban on assault weapons.”

“An assault weapon is designed to kill large numbers of humans quickly,” she explained.

The vice president’s rallying cry was followed Thursday by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), chair of the Senate Rules Committee and a member of Schumer’s leadership team.

“Enough is enough. Reinstate the ban on assault weapons. We can save lives,” tweeted 2020 presidential candidate Klobuchar.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), another member of the leadership team, is one of the original co-sponsors of the Senate assault weapons ban, which is backed by 37 Senate Democrats and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).

Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth (D), an Army veteran who lost her legs in Iraq, said watching video of the Highland Park shooting reminded her that she was in a war zone.

“Let me tell you, the last time I heard a weapon with this capability fire so quickly on the 4th of July was in Iraq,” she said.

Duckworth also supports a nationwide ban on assault weapons.

“No one needs a 50 round drum. No one needs a 30 round magazine. No one needs a weapon of war on our streets,” Duckworth tweeted Thursday.

Democrats once again find themselves embroiled in a debate over whether to impose an assault weapons ban and a high-capacity magazine ban — along with universal background checks — in the Senate and House just months before a difficult midterm election.

Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) After the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, said he preferred to propose legislation that had a chance of passing and saving lives and predicted that an assault weapons ban would receive little Republican support.

“I think right now we just have to focus on trying to see if we can get Republicans to support us on something common sense,” he said in May.

An assault weapons ban has no chance of passing because Republicans will block it in the Senate with a filibuster and it’s not even guaranteed to win the support of the 50-member Senate Democratic caucus.

Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Martin Heinrich (NM), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Mark Warner (Va.) voted against an assault weapons ban sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) in 2013. So did Sen. Angus King (Maine), an independent who caucus with Democrats.

Warner, however, is now a co-sponsor of Feinstein’s new assault weapons ban introduced in March last year.

Christian Heyne, vice president of policy at Brady, a gun violence prevention advocacy group, said a ban on assault weapons likely has the votes to pass in the House, but the path to follow in the Senate is unclear.

“We’ve certainly heard enough Democrats and Republicans calling for this that I suspect the House might pass it and send it to the Senate. Then the Senate has to figure out what it’s going to do,” he said.

“We live in a reality where negotiations for bipartisanship [gun-safety] The package started at a place where universal background checks were irrelevant. So I have to imagine there’s daylight where that package was and where an assault weapons ban would be and it probably comes down to a procedural filibuster that requires 60 votes” to get around, he said. he says.

But even if Senate passage of an assault weapons ban is very, very unlikely, Heyne says Congress has yet to address the issue.

“We absolutely have to deal with assault weapons. They are what makes our mass shootings so regular here in America, so quintessentially American compared to industrial nations around the world,” he said. “It is high time to reinstate the ban on assault weapons and pass an improved ban on assault weapons, like the ones that have been introduced.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said in early June the House would hold a hearing and committee on an assault weapons ban, but the debate in the House was quickly overshadowed by bipartisan Senate negotiations on the gun safety bill.

During these talks, the senses. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Thom Tillis (RN.C.), immediately rejected proposals to implement universal background checks, ban assault weapons for 18-21 year olds and prohibit high capacity stores.

Schumer has expressed reluctance to hold accountability votes on gun control legislation, in which Democrats introduce a bill that is unlikely to pass. Such votes are risky because, while they inflame the Democratic base, they also risk provoking backlash from Second Amendment-motivated voters.

The Democratic leader told a colleague on the floor after the Uvalde massacre that he was more interested in working with Republicans than organizing political messaging votes on the floor on assault weapons and music videos. big capacity.

But with prominent Democratic leaders renewing calls for an assault weapons ban, Schumer will be under pressure to respond before the midterm elections.

Nick Wilson, senior director of gun violence prevention at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank and advocacy group, said his organization is pushing for Congress to vote on an assault weapons ban before the end of the year.

“We think it’s gaining momentum in the House, where the bill now has 210 co-sponsors,” he said. “The Senate will continue to be a challenge, not only on gun safety measures, but on all types of important legislation.

Wilson said the passage of the gun safety bill last month and the expected confirmation of Steve Dettelbach as head of the ATF before the August recess “show that progress is still possible.” .


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