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Assault weapons ban

Students, families, and supporters of "March For Our Lives" took to the streets of New York City on March 24, 2018. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Critics Call Out House Democrats for Excluding Assault Weapons Ban From Gun Proposal

"In the 10-year period after the assault weapons ban lapsed, mass shooting deaths jumped 239%. Two-thirds of Americans support a ban. Why is it not included?"

Kenny Stancil

Amid reports that the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee plans to mark up a package of eight gun violence prevention bills at an emergency hearing on Thursday, progressives are decrying the absence of an assault weapons ban—a popular and proven way to reduce mass shootings.

The panel's consideration of the so-called Protecting Our Kids Act comes amid the nation's ongoing gun violence crisis, which has received renewed attention in the wake of two horrific massacres—at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas and at a grocery store in Buffalo—committed by 18-year-olds with AR-15-style rifles.

According to Punchbowl News, which first reported the committee's plan:

The omnibus package includes bills to raise the purchasing age for semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21; ban the import, sale, manufacture, transfer, or possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines, although existing magazines are "grandfathered" in; requires existing bump stocks be registered under the National Firearms Act and bars the manufacture, sale, or possession of new bump stocks for civilian use; amends the definition of "ghost guns" to require background checks on all sales, as ATF is trying to do through rulemaking; beefs up federal criminal penalties for gun trafficking and "straw purchases"; and establishes new requirements for storing guns at home—especially with minors present—while providing tax credits for storage devices.

Critics quickly noted, however, that the proposed legislation contains at least one glaring omission: a ban on assault weapons.

Sawyer Hackett, a senior advisor to former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, was among those questioning the lack of such a provision.

"In the 10-year period after the assault weapons ban lapsed, mass shooting deaths jumped 239%," Hackett wrote Tuesday on social media. "Two-thirds of Americans support a ban. Why is it not included?"

Data indicates that the 10-year assault weapons ban, which was in effect from 1994 to 2004, is correlated with a significant reduction in mass shooting deaths. Since Congress allowed the federal prohibition to expire nearly two decades ago, the number of fatalities from mass shootings—defined as events in which three or more victims are killed indiscriminately in a public place—has skyrocketed.

Mass shooting deaths in the U.S. before and after the federal assault weapons ban

New polling conducted in the wake of the Uvalde massacre found that reinstating a ban on assault weapons is supported by 67% of U.S. voters, compared with just 25% opposed.

"Legislation like this cannot wait," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) tweeted Monday. "There is no reason why the average person should be able to walk into a store and buy an AR-15."

While House Democratic leaders haven't ruled out an assault weapons ban, "they don't have the votes right now to pass it," Punchbowl News reported.

As for the eight measures included in the proposed legislation, the news outlet added:

House Democratic leaders plan to bring the bills to the floor early next week and are confident they have the votes to pass them. There's still a debate, however, about whether members will vote on the bills individually or as one package. Several members want to vote on the bills individually, we're told.

The House will vote on this package of bills in some form—either together or separately—when it returns next week. The chamber will also vote on red flag law legislation.

It's doubtful that any of the House Democrats' bills will make it through the Senate. In the absence of filibuster reform, 10 Republican votes are needed in the evenly spilt upper chamber. Opposition from GOP lawmakers beholden to the gun lobby is expected to remain strong even after 19 children and two teachers were gunned down last week at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, just days after a white supremacist murdered 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket.

As Punchbowl News noted, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), is "trying to cobble together a much more modest bill in response to the Uvalde massacre. That Senate proposal could include a program 'incentivizing' states to adopt 'red flag' laws, and potentially expanded background checks, although it will be tougher to get GOP support for the latter."

President Joe Biden's Monday suggestion that "rational" Republicans—including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is bankrolled by the National Rifle Association and has spent decades fighting against gun regulations—will suddenly move to limit access to firearms was lambasted as politically naive.

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