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House passes slate of bills to restrict access to guns and ammunition; it faces long odds in Senate

NBC News 6/8/2022 Sahil Kapur and Julie Tsirkin and Frank Thorp V and Kyle Stewart and Kate Santaliz
© Provided by NBC News

WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday passed a series of new gun measures, including raising the minimum age to buy semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, in response to a horrific spate of mass shootings across the country.

The legislative package passed in a 223-204 vote, with five Republicans joining all but two Democrats in supporting the measure. It now heads to the evenly split Senate, which is not expected to take up the legislation as negotiators attempt to craft a much narrower measure designed to win enough bipartisan support to overcome a GOP filibuster.

Democratic Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Kurt Schrader of Oregon opposed the bill. The five Republicans who bucked their party were Reps. Chris Jacobs of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

The Protecting Our Kids Act, written by Democrats, is an attempt to offer the party's vision for gun laws and to pressure Republican lawmakers who are resistant to tougher limits in response to a wave of mass shootings.

“Why? Why would someone be against raising the age so that teenagers do not have AK-47s?” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday at an event with advocates seeking to reduce gun violence. “Yes, they say mental health issues. Yes, we want to address mental health issues. Other countries have mental health issues. They don’t have a gun violence epidemic.”

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Ahead of the vote, House Republican leaders sent an email to GOP offices pressuring them to vote “no” on the bill, derisively labeling it the “Unconstitutional Gun Restrictions Act.”

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said Congress should try to address the root cause of the problem and not impose gun restrictions, arguing that lawmakers did not ban airplanes after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Airplanes were used that day as the weapon to kill thousands of people and to inflict terror on our country. There wasn’t a conversation about banning airplanes,” Scalise told reporters.

The Protecting Our Kids Act includes a ban on large-capacity ammunition feeding devices and tougher penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchases. It also would establish residential gun storage rules, with criminal penalties for violations. Additionally, the bill would require registration for bump stock-type devices and modify the definition of a "ghost gun" that is subject to regulation.


Video: House Dem proposes 1,000% federal tax on AR-15-style rifles (CNBC)

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Republicans are facing some pressure to back tougher laws after recent shootings — including the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas — have shocked the nation. A recent CBS News poll found that U.S. adults prefer stricter gun laws over less strict measures by a 5-to-1 margin.

In the poll, 77 percent of respondents said the minimum age to buy semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 should be 21, if not older.

"The slaughter of children is not a partisan issue," House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters.

Dim prospects in Senate

The legislative package is all but guaranteed to fail in the 50-50 Senate, where Republicans have effective veto power on gun legislation due to the filibuster. Separate negotiations are taking place on a slimmer bill that is unlikely to include raising the rifle purchasing age, a key provision of the House bill.

The chief Republican negotiator, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, is resistant to increasing the age minimum as he seeks a deal that can win about half the 50-member GOP caucus.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who is part of the negotiating group, said raising the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic weapons wasn’t on the table, but “it may come up in future discussions."

Still, there are numerous signs of movement in the Senate after semi-automatic rifles were used in recent shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, came out for raising the age to 21 this week. Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, of Utah, said raising the age "makes a lot of sense." And Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, said she's open to the idea.

“It’s certainly alarming that so many of the mass killers have been between age 18 and 21,” she said.

Some Republicans in conservative states are also facing calls to act.

"Wyoming is a very Second Amendment-supporting state, so I've heard many people calling in, saying, leave our gun rights in place. By the same token, I've heard a lot of calls, also from people who are saying, try to find something you can do to work on this," Sen. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming said.

But when asked if she would support raising the age to buy certain firearms, Lummis responded: "I would not support that."

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