The House of Representatives passed a sweeping gun bill on Wednesday that would raise the minimum age to purchase an assault rifle in the US from 18 to 21, though legislation doesn’t stand much of a chance in the Senate.
The bill, dubbed the Protecting Our Kids Act, would also ban the sale of large-capacity magazines and introduce new rules mandating proper gun storage at home.
The Democrat-held chamber approved the bill by a vote of 223 to 204. It was largely voted along party lines: five Republicans supported the measure, while two Democrats opposed it.
The House of Representatives had earlier voted 228 to 199 to include the age requirement for purchases – which is under rigorous scrutiny following two recent massacres of 18-year-olds – in the broader bill.
The package is a collection of several laws aimed at restricting access to guns and other firearms equipment following last month’s mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, which left 31 Americans dead.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks at a rally with gun violence prevention organizations, gun violence survivors and hundreds of gun safety supporters calling for gun legislation, outside the United States Capitol in Washington, June 8, 2022 .
Evelyn Hockstein Reuters
Another piece of legislation, dubbed the Untraceable Firearms Act, would strengthen regulations for so-called ghost guns, or those without a serial number. It is far more difficult for law enforcement to track ownership and possession of firearms without a serial number.
While House Democrats passed tougher gun laws in response to the massacres, their success is largely symbolic. Senate Republicans, who have the power to block legislation with a filibuster that requires 60 votes to overcome, are unanimous in their opposition to House gun restrictions and will block the bill’s progress.
The 50-50 split in the Senate, which gives Vice President Kamala Harris the crucial casting vote, means Democrats must convince 10 Republicans to pass legislation. A bipartisan group of senators is negotiating a tighter compromise bill that they say would strengthen background checks, improve mental health services and strengthen school security.
Political analysts say neither the May 24 elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, nor the May 14 racist killing spree at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, are likely to garner enough support for legislation passed by the House of Representatives.
A gunman at Robb Elementary in Uvalde shot dead 19 children and two teachers, while the gunman killed 10 people in a mostly black Buffalo neighborhood. Both gunmen were 18 years old and were carrying AR-15 style assault rifles.
Parents of the victims, police officers and an 11-year-old Uvalde survivor appeared before Congress on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to pass new gun laws.
Kimberly Rubio, mother of murdered 10-year-old Lexi Rubio, tearfully told lawmakers she doesn’t want her daughter to be remembered as “just a number”.
“She was intelligent, compassionate and athletic. She was quiet and shy unless she had something to say,” Rubio told the House Oversight Committee. “Somewhere out there, a mother is listening to our statement and thinking, ‘I can’t even imagine her pain,’ not knowing that one day our reality will be hers. Unless we act now.”
After the two massacres, Senate leaders Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blessed bipartisan talks in the upper chamber on a tighter set of new firearms rules.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, and Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, are leading these deliberations, which have so far focused on stricter background checks and red-flag legislation.
Red flag laws allow family members, colleagues or the police to ask a court to confiscate a person’s guns for a period of time if the person is deemed a threat to themselves or the public.
The Senate’s bipartisan ideas — though far less stringent — are Democrats’ best effort to send gun laws to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature into law. The president, who has urged federal lawmakers to pass tougher gun laws, met with Murphy on Tuesday to discuss bipartisan negotiations.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday Biden supports red-flag legislation and stricter background checks.
“We understand that not every component of what the President is asking for will stop every tragedy,” Jean-Pierre said. “But we have to take the steps, and we have to move forward, and we have to do something.”
Despite the overwhelming support of Democrats in Congress and the White House, new gun laws face a tough odds in the Senate, advisers say, because the vast majority of Republicans would never vote for even stricter gun laws.
Cornyn acknowledged this political reality in the Senate Wednesday afternoon, but struck an upbeat tone during the bipartisan talks.
“I am pleased to say that we are making steady progress on this topic. It’s still early in the process, but I’m optimistic about where things are at the moment,” he said. “What am I optimistic about? I’m optimistic that we can pass legislation in the Senate, it can pass the House, and it will get President Biden’s signature. And it becomes the law of the land.”
The Texas Republican said he is focused on making sure young adults have access to mental health services and that schools have adequate safety protocols.
He also noted that another idea under consideration is legislation that would require states to upload juvenile files to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
“Because this young man turned 18 in Uvalde and there was no look back on his youth record, he passed a background check. It’s like he was born on his 18th birthday and nothing that happened before that mattered,” Cornyn said. “That’s obviously a problem.”