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House passes package of gun control bills in response to Buffalo and Uvalde shootings

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Washington — The Democratic-led House on Wednesday passed legislation to tighten the nation’s gun laws, as lawmakers in both chambers mount a response to a pair of mass shootings in New York and Texas that jolted the nation.

The legislation passed mainly along party lines 223-204, with five Republicans joining all but two of the Democrats. The lower chamber on Thursday also approved 224-202 legislation that would allow family members and law enforcement to obtain an extreme risk protection order from a federal court to temporarily remove access to firearms to those deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Called the “Protecting Our Kids Act,” the broader gun control legislation is a package of eight bills that cleared the House Judiciary Committee along party lines last week. The House’s action comes after members of the Oversight and Reform Committee heard heart-wrenching testimony from a fourth grader who survived the Robb Elementary shooting, as well as from people who lost loved ones in the mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York.

“It was an assault on the culture of our country that our children would not be able to go to school without fear or concern about their safety,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in remarks on the House floor as lawmakers gathered to debate the bill. “Our children are, as President Kennedy said, our greatest resource and our best hope for the future. They are our precious treasure, and everything we do is for the children, and for the children we must stop this gun violence in our country and restore their confidence in their safety wherever they may be. So we’re on a crusade for the children and sadly now, by the children.”

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House Republican leaders urged their members to vote against the measure, arguing it is a “reactionary package” composed of proposals that violate Americans’ Second Amendment rights and hinders their ability to protect themselves.

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Despite GOP opposition, the legislation still passed the House, though it is unlikely to win approval by the 50-50 Senate, where 60 votes are needed for bills to overcome a filibuster and advance. In the upper chamber, a bipartisan group of senators have been working on a more tailored plan to curb gun violence, and negotiators are aiming to reach consensus on a measure by the end of the week. At least 10 senators huddled Wednesday to discuss gun reforms.

Still, Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut who is one of the leading negotiators, said Tuesday during an event at a gun violence memorial on the National Mall that the House bill will put pressure on the Senate to “do the right thing.”

While senators continue working to reach common ground on legislation to reform firearms laws, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her Democratic colleagues in a letter Tuesday that the “urgent” package includes provisions that will “save lives and give hope.”

She requested all Democrats be present on the House floor for the two hours of debate leading up to the vote in a show of support for the survivors of gun violence and those who have been killed.

Swiftly moved by lawmakers following the massacres at a grocery store in Buffalo and an elementary school in Uvalde which together claimed the lives of 31 adults and children, the Protecting Our Kids Act would raise the minimum age to purchase a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21 years old and ban large-capacity magazines. The legislation also incentivizes safe storage of firearms and establishes requirements regulating storage of guns on residential premises, and builds on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ regulatory ban on bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to fire more rapidly. 

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In response to the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, President Joe Biden has pressured Congress to send legislation to his desk strengthening federal gun laws. In an address to the nation last week, the president repeatedly declared “enough” as he mourned the lives lost to gun violence.

“How much carnage are we willing to accept? How many more innocent American lives must be taken before we say enough? Enough,” the president said.

Biden, as he has done before, called for lawmakers to reinstate the 1994 ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, which has since expired, strengthen background checks, and enact safe-storage and red-flag laws. He also pushed Congress to repeal the immunity that shields gun manufacturers from liability.

But many of those proposals are unlikely to gain traction among Republicans in the Senate, and members involved in the negotiations have instead been discussing a narrow plan that included more funding for mental health resources, expanding background checks and incentivizing states to enact red-flag laws.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday that members are “hoping to actually get an outcome that will make a difference in the areas of mental health, school safety and things that are related to the incidents that occurred in Texas and Buffalo.”

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Jack Turman contributed to this report.

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