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House Democrats Push GOP to Take a Position on Military-Style Assault Rifles

Lawmakers will consider a ban on assault weapons sales and have called on gun makers to testify.

Protestors in Los Angeles, California, demonstrate for gun reform laws on June 11, 2022.

House Democrats are lining up behind a bill to ban the manufacture and sale of certain military-style semiautomatic assault weapons in an effort to keep guns such as AR-15s out of the hands of potential mass shooters — and force Republicans to take a position on the issue ahead of the midterms.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler announced on Friday that lawmakers on the committee would consider and mark up the Assault Weapons Ban of 2021 on July 20. Four gunmen have killed a combined 42 people with assault rifles in the past four months alone, Nadler said, including 19 children at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

The gunman in the Uvalde massacre, as well as the young white nationalist who shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, on May 14, both legally purchased AR-15-style semiautomatic rifles used in the attacks. The shooter who allegedly killed seven people at a July 4 parade in the Highland Park area of Chicago was apprehended with a semiautomatic rifle, which was also purchased legally with help from his father.

The House bill, which is co-sponsored by 212 Democrats as of Friday, would ban the manufacture and sale of semiautomatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns with certain military-style features such as high-capacity magazines that allow shooters to quickly spray 10 bullets or more.

These guns are designed for military combat, often at close range, and are capable of shooting more bullets than traditional hunting rifles, and shooting them more quickly. Devices that essentially allow the guns to operate like military-grade machine guns are readily available on the legal gun market, where sellers regularly exploit loopholes and grey areas in the law.

“AR-15 style firearms have become the weapon of choice for shooters looking to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible and have been used in the deadliest mass shootings in our history, from Sandy Hook to Parkland to Uvalde,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), who introduced the legislation last year, in a statement Friday.

For years now, Cicilline and other Democrats have pushed to resurrect a similar ban on military-style assault weapons that was in effect from 1994 to 2004. The ban exempted more than 2,000 deadly weapons and expired after 10 years, when lawmakers — including Democrats — allowed the ban to quietly lapse. Conservative politicians and the gun lobby have pushed back on a renewed ban ever since, using the issue to fundraise and turn out voters.

There has been some debate over how to interpret data on gun violence before the most recent spate of mass shootings, but a broad Mother Jones database tracking “indiscriminate rampages in public places” clearly shows that the number of incidents increased in the two decades after the assault weapons ban was lifted. The number of victims skyrocketed.

The original assault weapons ban did not apply to assault weapons that people already owned, leaving a large number weapons in circulation. Like the current proposal, the ban only prohibited new sales and transfers of the weapons in hopes of preventing potential mass murderers from acquiring high-powered guns on demand.

It remains to be seen whether lawmakers will debate so-called gun buyback programs designed to reduce the number of guns in circulation by allowing people to sell military-style guns to the government. The current version of the assault weapons ban does not contain any buyback provisions and exempts sales of hundreds of firearms that are less likely to be modified and used like machine guns, which are listed by name in a lengthy appendix.

Democrats are betting that a chunk of the vast majority of voters who do not own assault weapons may be comforted by any kind of limitation on sales of such guns, rifles and grenade launchers — and they are eager to force Republicans to publicly take a position on the aggressive marketing of weapons and add-ons designed for urban combat and mass death. Democrats recently sent letters to CEOs of top gun manufacturers Daniel Defense, Smith & Wesson Brands, and Sturm, Ruger & Company, whose weapons were wielded by the recent mass shooters, requesting they testify on Wednesday before the House oversight committee while the legislation is under consideration.

Republicans and the gun lobby have been celebrating a recent ruling by the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court that struck down long-standing state laws restricting concealed handguns carried in public, a precedent that has now inspired pro-gun groups to file a lawsuit challenging a statewide ban on assault weapons in New York, according to Bloomberg.