Responding to a recent wave of mass shootings, the House of Representatives passed a bill raising the age to purchase semiautomatic rifles to 21, requiring safe firearms storage, while seeking to crack down on illicit firearm trafficking.
The House passed the Protecting Our Kids Act on a 223-204 vote Wednesday that fell mostly on party lines. Congressional Democrats who swiftly assembled the package earlier this month say it will reduce gun violence. Five Republicans crossed over to support the legislation, which would be the most significant gun control measure passed by Congress in nearly two decades. However, it faces uncertainty in the Senate.
Speaking on the House floor, Representative Jerry Nadler referenced the recent elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
“Who will be able to tell their constituents that they stood with them and not with the gun lobby?” said Nadler. “Americans are watching. They are begging us to protect them and their loved ones from gun violence, who among us will answer their call?”
The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Nadler, earlier this month passed the legislation, considered in an emergency session, on a 25-19 party line vote.
The legislation creates new federal offenses for selling or manufacturing large-capacity magazines and using “straw” purchasers for gun trafficking. So-called “bump stocks,” devices used to make semiautomatic rifles fire in rapid succession, would be banned by the legislation. Also banned would be “ghost guns,” firearms assembled at home that law enforcement have difficulty tracking.
While the bill stops short of banning semiautomatic rifles called for by gun control advocates, it raises the age of purchase to 21. Proponents of the provision have cited that gunmen in recent mass shootings were under the age of 21. The bill also creates penalties for gunowners who don’t use proper storage or safety devices to keep firearms out of the hands of minors.
During the floor debate, House Republicans blasted the bill, calling it an unworkable, unconstitutional overreach.
“This could turn millions of illegal guns into contraband and law abiding gun owners into felons,” Minnesota Representative Michelle Fischbach said on the floor. “[The bill] is another reminder that Democrats fundamentally have no respect for the Second Amendment rights.”
Fischbach said the safe-storage requirements violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Tracing requirements would also mean multiple parts of the same gun would need their own serial number.
Saying, “it is not the guns, it is the people,” Florida Representative Kat Cammack said the bill does nothing to address the country’s mental health crisis and could leave domestic violence victims defenseless.
The legislation faces difficulty in the evenly split Senate, where Republicans have signaled some willingness to consider the issue.
Texas Senator John Cornyn, a Republican negotiator on gun control in the Senate, on Wednesday posted a video of a speech on the status of the talks that included few specifics. He identified mental health as a major factor behind mass shootings and evaluating security at schools.
While he expressed optimism the talks would produce a bill, he pushed back against “artificial deadlines” for votes on any legislation.
Newsweek reached out to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for comment.