WASHINGTON - The House on Wednesday is expected to pass some of the most aggressive gun-control measures taken up on Capitol Hill in years - including raising the minimum age for the purchase of most semiautomatic rifles to 21 and banning high-capacity ammunition magazines - as Washington seeks to mount a response to recent high-profile mass shootings.
The votes are set to take place just hours after a House committee heard searing testimony from a young survivor of the May 24 shooting in Uvalde, Texas, as well as the parents of a victim and a pediatrician who responded to the tragedy that left 19 fourth-graders and two teachers dead.
“Somewhere out there, there is a mom listening to our testimony thinking, ‘I can’t even imagine their pain,’ not knowing that our reality will one day be hers, unless we act now,” said Kimberly Rubio, the mother of 10-year-old Lexi Rubio, who was killed in the attack.
The House votes, however, will amount to little more than a political messaging exercise because of firm Republican opposition to substantial new gun restrictions. That has left hopes for a bipartisan deal that could be signed into law in the hands of a small group of senators who are exploring much more modest changes to federal gun laws. Those talks continued Wednesday in hopes of sealing a deal in the coming days.
Still, Democrats said this week’s House votes were necessary to show Americans that more can be done to prevent not only mass-casualty incidents such as the killings last month in Buffalo and Uvalde, but the hundreds of less deadly mass shootings and everyday incidents of gun violence that have long scourged America.
“We have solutions that the majority of Americans accept and agree upon. They believe in these solutions. They are common-sense solutions and compromises that will keep Americans alive. We have the opportunity right now, as a nation, to fully do what is right,” Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., whose 17-year-old son was shot and killed in 2012, told reporters Wednesday. “This is the time right now. This is the moment.”
Republicans attacked the bills as an unserious, partisan effort that would infringe on Americans’ constitutional rights. At a news conference Wednesday, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, called them an effort “to destroy the Second Amendment.”
The bill under consideration Wednesday, Jordan said, “in short, tells Americans, law-abiding American citizens, when they can buy a firearm, what kind of firearm they can get, and where and how they have to store it in their own darn home - a direct attack on Second Amendment rights.”
Besides the minimum-age measure and the ban on high-capacity magazines, the House legislation includes proposals that would crack down on gun trafficking, create new safe-storage requirements for gun owners, and codify executive orders that ban untraceable “ghost guns” as well as “bump stock” devices that allow a semiautomatic rifle to mimic machine-gun fire.
The House will vote Thursday on a separate bill dealing with red-flag laws that could allow authorities to keep guns out of the hands of people judged to represent a threat to themselves or their communities. The bill combines legislation from Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., creating a federal grant program to encourage states to adopt their own red-flag laws with a measure from McBath that would allow federal courts to issue red-flag orders, which are formally known as “extreme risk protection orders.”
The Senate is exploring a narrower package that could include legislation encouraging states to create red-flag systems, a modest expansion of background checks to incorporate juvenile records, as well as funding for mental health programs and school security improvements.
Each of the adults from Uvalde who testified Wednesday to the House Oversight and Reform Committee asked Congress to take action, as did Zeneta Everhart, the mother of a young man wounded in the Buffalo shooting.
The hearing featured a videotaped account of the Uvalde shooting from survivor Miah Cerrillo, 11, who described wiping her dead classmate’s blood on herself to fool the shooter into believing she was dead. She asked for “security” and said, “I don’t want it to happen again.”
Asked by an interviewer if she thought it would happen again, she nodded.
“I wish something would change not only for our kids, but every single kid in the world, because schools are not safe anymore,” Miah’s father, Miguel Cerrillo, then told the panel. “Something needs to really change.”
Rubio, the mother whose 10-year-old was killed, was more direct, calling on Congress to raise the minimum age for assault weapon purchases, repeal gunmakers’ immunity from product liability lawsuits, and approve red-flag laws and stronger background checks. So was the pediatrician, Roy Guerrero, who described young bodies “pulverized by bullets fired at them, decapitated, whose flesh had been ripped apart.”
“Keeping [children] safe from bacteria and brittle bones, I can do, but making sure our children are safe from guns, that’s the job of our politicians and leaders,” he said. “In this case, you are the doctors and our country is the patient. We are lying on the operating table riddled with bullets, like the children of Robb Elementary and so many other schools. We are bleeding out and you are not there.”
Republicans in the room offered sympathies to the victims but no indication that they intended to change their views on gun rights. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., a gun-store owner, said the tragedies “highlight the need for additional school security” and condemned Democrats for seeking to restrict firearms.
“While every loss of life is a tragedy, no one should weaponize or politicize these abhorrent acts to punish law-abiding citizens,” he said.
Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., a leading gun rights supporter among House Republicans, promoted legislation Wednesday that would put billions of federal dollars into school security programs but not touch gun laws. GOP leaders planned to force a vote on Hudson’s bill Wednesday as an alternative to the Democratic gun bill.
Hudson accused Democrats of “exploiting these tragedies to advance their radical gun-control agenda” and criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other leaders for inviting victims to testify and call for measures that cannot pass Congress.
“The bills on the floor this week would have done nothing to stop any of these tragedies, and they will never become law,” he said. “They’re exploiting the pain of these people, these children, these parents to advance their radical interests, and I say shame on them.”