President Joe Biden’s call for Congress to pass an assault weapons ban faces skepticism from some advocates and lawmakers who prefer to focus on gun control bills that stand a better chance of being signed into law.
The president’s plea came after 18 people were killed in two recent mass shootings, one in Atlanta and another this week in Boulder, Colo. In both cases, the alleged shooter used an assault weapon.
A ban on assault weapons has been introduced in the House, along with legislation that would expand background checks (H.R. 8) and another bill that would require a longer waiting period for background checks to be completed before a firearm can be sold (H.R. 1446). While the House passed the background check measures, the assault weapons ban has yet to come to the floor.
Gun control advocates say focusing on background checks over a ban is a strategic move because both measures received some Republican support. The assault weapons ban is even opposed by some Democrats representing more rural swing districts, meaning it could have difficulty getting passed with the party holding only a slim majority.
Brian Lemek, executive director at Brady PAC, a gun control group, said an assault weapons ban is an important piece of legislation but further work needs to be done to get more Democratic lawmakers on board. Meanwhile, the bill to expand background checks “is our lead bill,” Lemek said. “It went up early and we want to see it through.”
“That doesn’t mean we don’t set the groundwork for other legislation on ghost guns, safe storage, or the assault weapon ban,” he added.
While it faces an unclear path forward in the House and an even steeper climb in the Senate, where 60 votes would be needed, some Democrats say they aren’t giving up on the assault weapons ban, especially with a boost from the White House. Last Congress, 216 Democrats signed on to legislation from Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) that would ban the sale and manufacture of assault weapons.
Cicilline re-introduced his bill (H.R. 1808) in March with 195 cosponsors including Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), who cosponsored the bill a week before a mass shooting took place in his district.
“Weapons of war have no place in our communities, in our schools, in our movie theaters and in our grocery stories,” Neguse said during a Wednesday press conference on gun violence. “A ban on assault weapons has saved lives before and it can again.”
He added that he hopes the House can move quickly to consider the assault weapons ban.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), a leading proponent of gun control legislation, said he’s spoken to House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), whose committee would be responsible for approving legislation before it went to the full House for a vote. Deutch represents Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were shot and killed at a high school in 2018.
The committee held a hearing on assault weapons in 2019, after Democrats had won the majority, but never moved legislation. A spokeswoman from the House Judiciary Committee didn’t respond to an email asking if the committee would take up the bill.
As a senator, Biden helped pass a ban on assault weapons as part of the larger 1994 crime bill. He might not have the same luck now, said former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.), who helped negotiate the legislation.
“It’s going to be a lot harder,” she said. Growing partisanship has reduced the number of moderate Republicans in Congress and those who are there would take a bigger risk in partnering with Democrats on a controversial bill, she said.
Molinari, who worked with Biden on the 1994 bill, isn’t surprised he’s pushing for the ban but says he knows what an uphill battle it would be.
“He’s going to make his case,” she said. “He’s very clear-eyed on what Congress was and what Congress is.”
Everytown for Gun Safety advocates for universal background checks and other gun control measures. Michael Bloomberg is the majority owner of Bloomberg Government’s parent company and serves as a member of Everytown’s advisory board.