A Senate proposal to ban AR-15s and other popular firearms went down without a vote on Wednesday.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) brought Senate Bill 25, the “Assault Weapons” Ban of 2023, to the floor for a vote in the 11 am hour, but it failed shortly afterward. A universal background check and gun storage requirement proposal soon suffered the same fate. None of them received a roll call vote.
The bills failed because they were brought to the floor by unanimous consent requests. As the name implies, the bills would have needed support from every senator to pass. A single senator’s objection can, and in this case did, derail the legislation.
The failure is a setback for gun-control advocates and President Joe Biden, who has repeatedly called on Congress to pass an “assault weapons” ban. It comes about a year after the Senate failed to even take up a version of the same bill passed by Democrats in the House shortly before they lost control of the body. Wednesday’s vote also takes place as support for a ban has declined in recent years.
In April, Monmouth University found that 49 percent of Americans now oppose a ban on the sale of assault weapons, often defined as semi-automatic centerfire guns capable of accepting detachable magazines and featuring accessories such as a pistol grip or telescoping stock, while 46 percent support it. That came shortly after an ABC News/Washington Post survey found a majority of Americans now oppose a sales ban. A Quinnipiac University poll from around that time also found more Americans opposed than supported a ban. That downward movement has persisted in major polls even after high-profile mass shootings and the House’s ban passing last year.
While most major polls have identified a trend away from support for a ban, some polling pegs it at a higher level. In August, an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found nearly three in five adults support an assault weapons ban. That was steady from the previous August but up seven points from the previous May.
It’s unclear exactly what effect the polling has had on Senate support for a ban, and Wednesday’s vote didn’t provide much further insight. That’s because the unanimous consent request protected Democrats from not only failing to clear the 60-vote threshold needed to break a filibuster but even getting majority support. It also kept senators from being forced to take a clear position on the ban by actually voting on it.
None of the bills offered for unanimous consent have secured majority support or even support from all of the senators in the Democratic caucus. S 494, the universal background check bill, has the most sponsors at 48. S 173, the gun storage bill, has 36 sponsors.
S 25, the most prominent bill considered, has 45 sponsors. The assault weapons ban is six votes short of capturing the entire Democratic caucus. Three of those six missing Democratic votes announced their own version of an AR-15 ban, one that’s stricter in several ways than S 25, last week. But that bill has yet to appear in the congressional legislation tracker, and it’s unclear who backs it beyond the four initial sponsors.
Outside of those already listed as sponsors, none of the senators who backed last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which expanded federal gun prohibitions for the first time in 30 years, announced their support for the assault weapons ban before Wednesday’s vote. None of them spoke on the floor in support of the bill or opposition to it. The only one who responded to a request for comment on the bill was Senator Jon Tester, whose office told The Reload he’s opposed to it.
“As a proud gun-owner and strong supporter of the Second Amendment, Senator Tester opposes banning assault weapons and will always protect the rights of law-abiding Montana gun owners,” a spokesperson for Tester’s office told The Reload.
Moderate Senators Kyrsten Sinema (I., Ariz.), Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), Susan Collins (R., Maine), Mitt Romney (R., Utah), and Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), key votes for any potential bipartisan gun legislation, were all mum on the bill.