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Congressional Democrats renewed calls for an assault weapons ban and other gun control measures Wednesday, less than a month after President Biden signed bipartisan gun safety legislation into law.
In dual House and Senate Judiciary Committees hearings, Democrats argued that Congress needed to take bolder action to address a spate of terrifying mass shootings.
Within the House Judiciary Committee, lawmakers debated legislation that would ban assault weapons, a term used to describe semi-automatic rifles.
“We all respect the Second Amendment, but it’s not without limits,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. “Imagine how much we could get accomplished if we clung to the desire to protect our children and communities as tightly as some of my colleagues cling to their rifles.”
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Republicans lambasted the bill as overly punitive and nearly impossible to enforce properly.
“If this legislation becomes law, millions of firearms that Americans legally own today will be illegal,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. “Under this bill, if you get one of those legally owned firearms to a family member, or a friend, or a neighbor, you could end up in federal prison for five years.”
A federal assault weapons ban was originally in effect between 1994 and 2004 as part of former President Clinton’s crime bill. Since its expiration, Democrats have been actively pushing for the ban to be reinstated.
The move has faced significant opposition from both Republicans and Democrats. At least two House Democrats are expected to vote against the ban when it comes up for a vote in the near future, although at least a handful of Republicans are expected to back the measure.
“Driven by the courage of survivors and advocates around the country, House Democrats have proudly led the charge for life-saving action to combat gun violence,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
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During Wednesday’s hearing, tempers ran high. Not only did lawmakers accuse each other of political maneuvering and insensitivity to gun violence, but the proceedings also faced disruption from activists in the audience.
Gun control activist David Hogg, a survivor of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, jumped to his feet and accused GOP lawmakers of doing little to stem mass shootings.
“You are perpetuating violence … stop these things now,” Hogg said, while being removed from the hearing room by security.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, heard from the mayor of Highland Park, Illinois. That community was wracked by a mass shooting over the July 4 weekend that left seven dead and at least 48 wounded.
“Less than a minute is all it took for a person with an assault weapon to shoot 83 rounds into a crowd, forever changing so many lives,” Mayor Nancy Rotering told the panel. “Is this freedom?”
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The hearings came less than a month since Biden signed the nation’s first new gun control law in nearly 30 years. That bill, which passed with GOP support, expands background checks and offers states incentives to adopt “red flag” laws, which are used to confiscate guns from those deemed dangerous.
Republican supporters of that bill said Congress should learn from its success and look for other avenues of bipartisan cooperation rather than pushing pet issues that have no hope of becoming law.
“We ought to be looking to find ways to harden … places of worship and other public spaces like shopping malls and movie theaters and those kinds of places,” said Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio. “We did it for schools. We ought to do it for those things as well. Not further eroding the constitutional rights of hard-working, law-abiding citizens.”