House Democrats voted to ban sales of the most popular rifle in America on Friday.
H.R.1808, otherwise known as The “Assault Weapons” Ban of 2021, cleared the House by the thinnest of margins: 217 to 213. It is the first sales ban on guns, including the AR-15 and AK-47, since a similar ban was enacted back in 1994 and expired in 2004. It represents the culmination of a decades-long push by gun-control activists to reinstitute that ban.
“Our nation has watched in unspeakable horror as assault weapons have been used in massacre after massacre in communities across the country,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said during a floor speech supporting the bill. “Today, the House Democrats will vote to reinstate the assault weapons ban with strong protections for children and families.”
“Here they go again,” Representative Richard Hudson (R., N.C.) said in response. “Once again, my colleagues across the aisle have rushed to exploit your fear and the pain of victims to rush out a gun-control measure that will do nothing to save lives or address the root cause of violence.”
The vote came down largely along party lines. However, the bill would not have passed except for support from Republican representatives Jacobs (N.Y.) and Fitzpatrick (Pa.) since Democrats Cuellar (Texas), Golden (Maine), Gonzalez (Texas), and Kind (Wis.) voted against it.
The successful vote provides House Democrats with another example of a key policy proposal they managed to pass as they go into the midterm elections. However, it may also prove to be another hard vote for moderate Democrats who are facing the toughest races and are now saddled with a vote for a new ban affecting guns owned by tens of millions of Americans that has only lost support in the wake of the Uvalde shooting. And it’s an accomplishment that is likely to prove mostly symbolic.
The ban will now head to the Senate, where it faces a likely-insurmountable hill to climb. The bill will need 60 votes to pass, meaning ten Republicans would have to support it. Not a single Republican has voiced support for a ban, and key members of the coalition that negotiated last month’s bipartisan gun law have already explicitly rejected it.
“So-called ‘assault rifles’ are semi-automatic firearms,” Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas) tweeted recently. “Firing mechanism essentially the same as a semi-automatic pistol and shotgun. They should be honest: Democrats want to disarm law abiding citizens while doing little about crime and undermining the police.”
Additionally, many moderate Democratic Senators are unlikely to vote for the ban. The Senate companion version has just 37 co-sponsors.
The bill would ban future sales of many semi-automatic rifles, shotguns, and pistols. It specifically targets guns that are equipped with one or more features such as a flash suppressor, adjustable stock, or pistol grip. It would also ban many more guns by name, including the popular AR-15. It is similar to the 1994 ban but is also more aggressive because it cuts the number of banned features allowed on a gun from two down to one. It also incorporates a ban on pistol braces and includes federal funding for state buyback programs.
Recent polling will likely add to the difficulty in moving the bill any further. The latest poll from Quinnipiac University shows support has dropped below 50 percent and is sitting at an all-time low. Gallup’s most recent poll on the ban also found a six-point drop in support from the last time it asked the question, coming in at 55 percent. The poll found the ban has lost support even as other gun-control measures have seen increased support in the wake of Uvalde.
Morning Consult’s latest polling has support for the ban higher at 66 percent. However, it also found a four-point decline in support from 2019.
The passage also comes as assault weapons bans are facing increased scrutiny in federal court. U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore, an Obama appointee, blocked enforcement of a Colorado town’s ban late last week. He said the ban violated the Second Amendment under the Supreme Court’s new guidance issued in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.
While Presiden Joe Biden is willing to sign the ban into law and set up a legal showdown, it remains unlikely the bill ever gets that far. The Senate has not announced any scheduled votes on its version of the ban.