The US House of Representatives voted to reinstate a ban on certain semi-automatic firearms, the first vote of its sort in years and a direct response to the guns frequently used in the wave of mass shootings ravaging communities around the country.
Once prohibited in the United States, high-powered weapons are now widely blamed as the weapon of choice for many of the most horrific mass shootings committed by young men.
However, Congress allowed the 1994 restrictions on the manufacture and sale of these weapons to expire a decade later, lacking the political will to confront the influential gun lobby and reinstate the prohibition.
Friday (local time), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi campaigned for passage in the Democratic-controlled House, stating that the previous prohibition "saved lives."
US President Joe Biden praised the decision in the House, stating that "the majority of Americans agree with this common sense action." He asked the Senate to "get this bill to my desk as soon as possible."
It is nonetheless likely to stall in the 50-50 Senate. The proposal in the House is disregarded by Republicans, who view it as an election-year tactic by Democrats.
Almost all Republicans opposed the House bill, which passed by a vote of 217 to 213.
The bill comes at a time when concerns about gun violence and shootings in the United States are growing — the supermarket shooting in Buffalo, New York; the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas; and the Fourth of July massacres in Highland Park, Illinois.
As Congress fractures along party lines and members are compelled to state their positions on the record, voters appear to take election-year ballots seriously.
A recent decision to protect same-sex marriages from future legal challenges by the Supreme Court had a surprising amount of bipartisan support.
As a senator in 1994, Biden was crucial in securing the first semi-automatic weapons prohibition. The Biden administration stated that mass shootings decreased for a decade while the ban was in effect.
According to the statement, when the restriction ended in 2004, the number of mass shootings increased.
During a heated debate preceding the vote, Republicans were adamantly opposed to restrictions on ownership of high-powered rifles.
Representative Guy Reschenthaler stated, "This is a blatant gun grab."
Representative Andrew Clyde stated, "An armed nation is a safe and free nation."
Democrats claimed that the ban made sense, casting Republicans as extremists and out of touch with American values.
Representative Jim McGovern stated that the purpose of the weapons ban is not to restrict the Second Amendment rights of Americans but rather to ensure that children have the right "not to be shot in school."
Pelosi exhibited a poster of a gun manufacturer's marketing for children's guns, miniature copies of the popular AR-15 rifles marketed with cartoon characters. "Detestable," she exclaimed.
In one incident, two Ohio legislators argued. Representative Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat, said to Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican, "Your freedom ends where mine and my constituents' begins."
Schools, retail malls, grocery stores, and Fourth of July celebrations should not be the sites of mass murder and bloodshed.
Jordan responded by inviting her to his congressional district to debate him on the Second Amendment, stating that "probably the majority of my constituents agree with me and the United States Constitution."
The bill would prohibit importing, selling, and producing a broad list of semiautomatic weapons. Representative Jerry Nadler, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, stated that it exempts individuals already in possession.
New York's Chris Jacobs and Pennsylvania's Brian Fitzpatrick were the only Republicans to support the legislation. Representatives Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Jared Golden of Maine, Ron Kind of Wisconsin, and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas voted against the resolution.
Since the previous ban expired nearly two decades ago, Democrats have been unwilling to revisit the subject and confront the gun lobby. However, voter sentiments appear to be shifting, and Democrats were bold enough to act before the fall election.
The outcome will enlighten voters about the candidates' positions on the topic.
Following the vote, Jason Quimet, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement that "barely a month after" the Supreme Court expanded gun rights, "gun control advocates in Congress are spearheading an assault on the freedoms and civil liberties of law-abiding Americans."
He stated that the bill might outlaw millions of firearms "in blatant opposition to the Supreme Court's rulings" that have established and expanded the right to own a handgun.
More than 200 varieties of semi-automatic rifles and pistols, including AR-15s, would be prohibited.
Democrats attempted to couple the firearms ban with a larger set of public safety measures that would have bolstered government financing for law enforcement. It was something moderate Democrats in tough re-election races desired to protect them from electoral allegations by their Republican opponents that they are soft on crime.
Pelosi stated that the House will revisit the public safety bills in August, when lawmakers are expected to return briefly to Washington to deal with other outstanding legislation, such as Biden's priority inflation-fighting package of health care and climate change strategies making their way through the Senate.
In the midst of the horrific massacre of 19 schoolchildren and two teachers in Uvalde, Congress passed a modest gun violence prevention package just last month.
After years of fruitless attempts to fight the gun lobby, notably after a comparable mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, this bipartisan initiative was the first of its type.
This bill expands background checks for young adults purchasing firearms and permits access to certain juvenile records by law enforcement. It also closes the so-called "boyfriend loophole" by preventing anyone convicted of domestic violence outside of marriage from purchasing firearms.
The new measure also makes federal cash available to the states, including for "red flag" laws that allow authorities to take firearms from those who pose a danger to themselves or others.
But even this modest effort to curb gun violence occurred during a moment of significant uncertainty in the United States regarding restrictions on firearms, as the more conservative Supreme Court addresses gun rights and other concerns.
Two days after the Supreme Court's decision throwing down a New York law restricting concealed carry, Biden signed the bill into law.