Democrats Stop Short of Assault Weapon Ban in Rush to Pass Modest Reform

The House Judiciary Committee advanced a package of gun violence prevention measures 25 to 19 along party lines Thursday in a modest push for gun reform that notably does not include an assault weapons ban.

The Democratic-led package, officially titled the Protecting Our Kids Act, seeks to "provide for an increased age limit on the purchase of certain firearms, prevent gun trafficking, modernize the prohibition on untraceable firearms, encourage the safe storage of firearms, and for other purposes." The age limit measure specifically would raise the age required to purchase semi-automatic centerfire rifles or shotguns from 18 to 21.

The House Judiciary Committee considered the package in an emergency session Thursday as the U.S. grapples with recent mass shootings. These include the attack at a Texas elementary school last week that left 19 children and two teachers dead, as well as the one that occurred Wednesday at a Tulsa, Oklahoma, hospital, which left four people and the shooter dead.

The package does not include an assault weapons ban, making it a moderate start in addressing widespread calls for gun reform to help prevent more mass shootings. The gunman in the Uvalde, Texas, incident, identified as Salvador Ramos, legally purchased the AR-15 rifles he used in the attack after turning 18.

The suspect in the Tulsa shooting used a semi-automatic pistol and a semi-automatic rifle, and the latter reportedly was bought the day of the attack, according to CNN, which cited federal sources briefed on the matter.

House Judiciary Committee Considers Gun Package
The House Judiciary Committee advanced a package of gun violence prevention measures, sponsored by Chairman Jerrold Nadler, on Thursday. Above, Nadler presides over a hearing with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on April 28. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

While the Texas school shooting renewed a push for tougher restrictions on guns among Democrats, many Republicans have instead called for increased school security and a focus on mental health.

But in a Twitter thread posted ahead of the panel's hours-long session on Thursday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat and the bill's sponsor, stressed the need for action following the recent shootings.

"The plague of gun violence devastating American communities—the families in Uvalde and Buffalo are today joined by those grieving in Tulsa—must end," he tweeted, referencing the mass shooting at an upstate New York supermarket last month. "Today, I'm leading @HouseJudiciary as we take up my gun reform bill, the Protecting Our Kids Act."

He continued, "The Protecting Our Kids Act is one of Congress' most comprehensive efforts in decades to stop the wave of gun violence rippling across our country. We can't become numb to this endless, preventable pattern of bloodshed. We must act."

During the session, several Republicans described the package as a rush job and a potential infringement of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. But some Democrats said such gun reform has been long needed.

"It is timely," Representative Madeleine Dean, who appeared on the verge of tears during her remarks, said of the package. "In fact, we've all been clamoring for this kind of legislation for a very, very long time."

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee also stressed the need for future legislation on assault weapons. She called a ban on such firearms a "necessity."

The Democratic-controlled House could vote on the package as early as next week, but the measure may face a roadblock in the evenly divided Senate.

Newsweek reached out to Democrats and Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee for comment.