The US House of Representatives passed a sweeping gun control bill in response to the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, that would raise the minimum age to purchase semi-automatic rifles and ban the sale of high-capacity magazines.
The bill, which was passed mostly along party lines, has almost no chance of becoming law as politicians in Congress's upper chamber continue discussions on more modest proposals. But the House vote will give Democrats a chance to show US voters where they stand on gun control policies.
“We can’t save every life, but my God, shouldn’t we try?” asked Veronica Escobar, a Democratic representative from Texas.
“America, we hear you and today in the House, we are taking the action you are demanding.
“Take note of who is with you and who is not.”
Wednesday night's vote came after members of Congress heard gut-wrenching testimony from the shooting victims and family members, including 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo, who described the horrific scenes of a teenage gunman murdering her teacher and classmates at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
“[The gunman] told my teacher 'goodnight' and shot her in the head,” Miah told a House panel in pre-recorded statement.
“And then he shot some of my classmates and the white board.”
Previous efforts by Congress to pass meaningful gun legislation have failed in the past, but the recent killing of 19 children and two teachers at the Texas primary school has prompted renewed efforts from both parties to act.
“It’s sickening, it’s sickening that our children are forced to live in this constant fear,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The House bill also includes provisions for increased gun storage devices and creates penalties for those who breach safe storage requirements. It also bans “bump stock” devices and “ghost guns” that can be assembled without serial numbers.
Ms Pelosi said the House vote would “make history by making progress”. But it’s unclear where the House measure will go after Wednesday’s vote, given that Republicans were adamant in their opposition.
In the Senate, a bipartisan group of senators are seeking to strike a deal on gun legislation that would strengthen school security, improve mental health resources and enact “red flag” laws to keep firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others.
Chris Murphy, the US senator leading Democratic efforts in negotiations, said his aim was to pass the legislation before the Senate's July 4 recess.
“We need to move expeditiously. But this would be a big, historic deal and we need to get it right. That's my priority,” Mr Murphy said.
The bill would need the support of at least 10 Republicans to pass in the divided Senate and become law.
Members of Congress, including House Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican leader Mitch McConnell, have signalled that they could reach an agreement by week's end.
News agencies contributed to this report