As Survivors of Gun Violence Demand Action, House Passes Bill Doomed in the Senate
WASHINGTON — The House voted almost along party lines on Wednesday to ban the sale of semiautomatic weapons to those under 21 and the sale of large-capacity magazines. Congress to end gun violence.
The vote on a massive weapons package came two weeks and a day after a gunman massacred 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Hours earlier, parents of one of the children who died there and an 11-year-old who survived addressed a house committee to take the issue home.
Though the bill passed 223 to 204, it doesn’t stand a chance in the evenly divided Senate, where solid Republican opposition means it can’t draw the 60 votes it takes to break a filibuster and move forward.
Wednesday’s vote only underscored the persistent gun control policies in Congress, where all but five Republicans voted against Democrats’ comprehensive legislation, leaving talks over a compromise unresolved.
Among a small group of Republicans and Democrats, two parties continued to negotiate in the Senate about more modest measures that could potentially gain sufficient support. But a key player, Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, warned there were “bottlenecks everywhere.”
The fragile discussions in the Senate and the divided result in the House were grim reminders of the political obstacles that have thwarted previous attempts at gun control on Capitol Hill. They were also a shocking contrast to the raw and urgent pleas of people traumatized by gun violence unfolding in a nearby committee room.
“We are committed to a ban on high-capacity assault rifles and magazines,” Kimberly Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter, Lexi, was murdered in Uvalde last month, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee during a hearing on gun violence. Her voice trembled as she recounted the last time she saw her daughter and the panicked moments before learning Lexi was dead, Mrs. Rubio used her own fresh pain to call to action.
“We understand for some reason, for some people — for people with money, for people who fund political campaigns — that guns are more important than children,” she said. “So right now we are asking for progress.”
Ms Rubio, who spoke remotely to her husband who was quietly crying next to her, was joined during the hearing by Dr. Roy Guerrero, the only pediatrician in the small town of Uvalde, testified in tragically vivid detail about what the AR-15 used in the massacre had done to the bodies of fourth-graders. He appeared in person on Capitol Hill, berating lawmakers for failing to act against the rising wave of gun violence in America.
“We’re bleeding out,” he told the committee, “and you’re not here.”
dr. Guerrero recalled seeing two children in the emergency room “whose bodies had been pulverized by bullets fired at them, decapitated, whose flesh had been torn apart, the only clue to their identity being the blood spattered cartoon attire was still up to them.”
Miah Cerrillo, a fourth-grader who survived the massacre by covering herself in a classmate’s blood and pretending to be dead, shared her ordeal in a pre-recorded video, scrapping plans to appear in person.
“He shot my friend who was sitting next to me,” she said of the gunman, softly and with little apparent emotion. “And I thought he would come back to the room.”
Miah’s father, who personally appeared at the hearing on behalf of his daughter, left the room in tears.
Democrats hosting the session cited the tragic first-person accounts as a call to action.
“No citizen needs an assault rifle, and the Second Amendment does not protect the right to possess a weapon of war,” said New York Democrat Carolyn B. Maloney Representative and chair of the committee. “It’s time we banned assault rifles from our streets, from our communities, from our homes.”
Zeneta Everhart, whose son Zaire Goodman was injured 10 days earlier in a racist massacre in Buffalo the tragedy of Uvaldesaid lawmakers who continued to do nothing in the face of mass shootings should be voted out.
“Let me paint a picture for you: My son Zaire has a hole in the right side of his neck, two on his back and another on his left leg, caused by an exploding bullet from an AR-15,” she said, adding “I want you to imagine that exact scenario for one of your kids. This shouldn’t be your story or mine.”
But the hearing soon turned into a partisan back and forth, with Democrats calling for gun control measures and Republicans rioting against them. Even while it was underway, Republican leaders gathered votes against Democrats’ weapons package, distributing guidelines noting that the National Rifle Association would consider member votes in its future candidate ratings and approvals.
“The majority wants to make it harder for all law-abiding Americans to protect themselves while failing to address the causes behind these mass shootings,” Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise, the Republican whip, said in a warning sent to all members of the Republican Conference. . He dismissed the bill as “reactionary” and argued that constitutional rights should not depend on age.
And in the courtroom, as lawmakers turned to a panel of experts, the entrenched emotion of the witnesses personally affected by gun violence quickly gave way to the familiar rhythm of political point and counterpoint, with little evidence that the testimony reflected the views of the even a single Republican.
“Evil acts do not transcend constitutional rights,” Georgia Republican Representative Andrew Clyde said, arguing that gunless school zone signs were part of the problem and the solution was to harden schools.
“Pointless mass shootings are perpetrated by unstable, deranged loners with mental illness,” said Texas Republican Representative Pat Fallon. “More firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens makes us all safer.” He also called for greater safety on school campuses.
The hearing and voting were scheduled after the Uvalde and Buffalo attacks brought the issue of gun violence to the forefront in Washington, where years of efforts to introduce gun restrictions in the wake of mass shootings have failed amid Republican opposition.
Less than two weeks before the Texas elementary school shooting, a gunman opened fire at a Buffalo supermarket, killing 10 black people in one of the deadliest racist massacres in recent US history. Both shootings were carried out by 18-year-old gunmen using legally purchased AR-15-type weapons.
Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin said Republican opponents of measures to limit such weapons were putting forward a “completely wrong view of the Second Amendment.”
“Take responsibility for your irresponsible position,” he bellowed from across the House to Republicans.
Representative Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas, drew on the testimony of Dr. Guerrero and asked his colleagues to “imagine for a second that a shooter with an AR-15 enters your child’s school” and “put a hole the size of a basketball in their chest, or have their heads decapitated from their bodies.”
“Ask yourself what you would ask of the people who represent you,” said Mr Castro. “Would their thoughts and prayers be good enough for you if that happened to your child? Would they worry about their primaries, okay for you?”
Republicans said they wanted to protect children too, but limiting guns wouldn’t.
“The speaker started by saying that this bill is about protecting our children,” said Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “That’s important — it certainly is. But this bill isn’t doing it. What this bill is doing is taking away Second Amendment rights, God-given rights, protected by our Constitution, from law-abiding American citizens.”
Two Democrats, Representatives Jared Golden of Maine and Kurt Schrader of Oregon, joined Republicans in opposing the bill. Five Republicans—all but one who left Congress this year—supported it: Representatives Fred Upton of Michigan, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Chris Jacobs of New York, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.
In the Senate, negotiators were still reaching for a two-pronged deal that could break the stalemate. On Wednesday, a group of Republicans and Democrats working on a limited number of gun measures gathered for their first face-to-face meeting.
The group, led by Connecticut Democrat Senator Christopher S. Murphy, and Mr. Cornyn, is weighing proposals to expand mental health resources, funding for school safety and allocate money to encourage states to pass so-called red flag laws that allow weapons to be taken from dangerous people. They also discuss that juvenile files may be included in background checks for potential buyers of weapons under the age of 21.
Emily Cochrane reporting contributed.