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House Democrats Are Pushing to Force a Vote on Banning Assault Weapons

The push comes amid a record-breaking increase in gun violence.

People march to the Capitol to protest for a ban on assault weapons, in Washington, D.C., on April 17, 2023.

A group of Democrats is launching a push to force a vote in the Republican-dominated House on a proposal to ban assault weapons and enact other gun control initiatives as gun violence reaches a record high in the U.S.

With the support of House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York), three Democrats have each taken the helm of a discharge petition to force votes on three different proposals aimed at addressing the gun violence epidemic. If a lawmaker is able to get a majority of House members to sign a discharge petition, it automatically triggers a vote on the House floor — meaning that Democrats would only need five Republicans to sign onto a petition if the rest of the Democratic party signs it.

One bill, spearheaded by Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Georgia), would ban assault weapons — a measure long demanded by gun safety advocates. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-California) is leading a discharge petition effort for a second bill to implement background checks for nearly all gun sales.

The third bill, introduced by Rep. James Clyburn (D-South Carolina), closes a loophole that allows gun purchases to go forward by default if a background check hasn’t been completed within three business days. This is known as the Charleston loophole for its role in allowing the shooter to shoot and kill nine Black worshipers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

All three of these bills were passed under the Democratically-controlled House in the last session of Congress, but failed to pass the Senate, with the filibuster and conservative Democrats in the way of passing the legislation.

“While the American people are calling for progress, it remains clear House Republican leadership refuses to take this issue seriously. The American people deserve more from their elected representatives,” said Thompson, per The Washington Post. “Action on gun violence prevention is long overdue. The only question is will Republicans join us in bringing these bills up for a vote.”

Several Democratic lawmakers have joined gun safety advocates who have been protesting in D.C. over the past week.

Progressive lawmakers like Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) have touted signing on to a petition, but it’s unclear whether or not the petitions will get enough signatures to come to a floor vote. Even if they do, the bills have virtually no chance of passing the Senate.

But the proposals are extremely popular among the public. A Morning Consult and Politico poll last year found 88 percent support for requiring background checks on all new gun sales, while Gallup polling from recent years has found that a majority of Americans think assault rifles should be banned.

Despite this, some Republicans are trying to pass a proposal that would loosen regulations on pistol braces, an accessory often used with assault weapons to allow them to be shot one-handed more easily, as mass shooters have done in recent attacks.

Such loosening of gun regulations would likely cause more gun violence. Gun-related deaths are on the rise, with gun deaths reaching a record high of 48,830 in 2021, according to the most recent data. Mass killings, driven largely by gun violence, are on pace to break a record this year.

The rise in gun violence has come at a time when guns are becoming easier and easier to access. In recent years, states have been loosening gun laws; in the year following the horrifying mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, lawmakers have passed 52 bills expanding gun access or bolstering the gun industry. At the same time, gun purchases are on the rise.

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