US House panel seeks to advance bill to ban assault-style rifles

Committee also looking to allow lawsuits against firearms manufacturers

Representative Greg Steube compares different models of firearms at the House Judiciary Committee meeting in Washington on Wednesday. AP
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A Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives panel on Wednesday began debating legislation to ban certain assault-style rifles such as those used in recent mass shootings, and another bill allowing lawsuits against firearms manufacturers.

The bills face slim odds in the Senate, where they would need at least 10 Republicans allowing them to be brought up for debate. Republicans in the past have rejected similar bills, citing the Second Amendment of the US Constitution dealing with the right to bear arms.

The House Judiciary committee, emboldened by growing public outrage over the criminal use of the rapid-fire weapons and approval last month of a limited gun control bill, was expected to vote on both measures, advancing them towards debate by the full House.

“Will our Republican colleagues choose to defend the weapons of choice for mass murderers?” Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler asked, expressing frustration over a series of gun control measures sought by Democrats that were blocked by congressional Republicans.

Representative Jim Jordan, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, replied that the Democrats' ban would make “millions of guns in the homes of law-abiding citizens” illegal. He advised Democrats to instead seek a repeal of the Constitution's Second Amendment, an arduous process all but certain to fail.

Of the estimated 400 million guns owned in the US, about 5 per cent are thought to be semi-automatic assault-style rifles.

On May 14, 10 people were killed and three wounded when an avowed white supremacist allegedly opened fire at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, using an AR-15 assault-style weapon.

Ten days later, 19 children and two teachers were killed at a school in Uvalde, Texas with what police said was the same kind of weapon.

Separately, seven people celebrating the July 4 holiday in Highland Park, Illinois, were also killed, with dozens wounded at a parade.

These were only the latest in a long string of mass shootings that have killed hundreds of Americans.

The second House Judiciary Committee bill would remove current federal prohibitions against gun and ammunition makers being sued for damages resulting from the unlawful misuse of firearms. Vigorous gun industry lobbying has blocked such a move in the past.

If the panel approves the bills, the full House is likely to pass them. But the legislative effort is unlikely to go much further in the months leading up to midterm elections on November 8, when Republicans are favoured to win a majority in at least one chamber of Congress.

A 10-year ban on assault weapons expired in 2004 and several attempts to bring it back have so far failed.

A 2021 study conducted by Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that the assault weapons ban passed in 1994 resulted in a significant decrease in mass shootings.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday also was focusing on civilians' access to military-style weapons. Highland Park mayor Nancy Rotering was among those giving evidence at the hearing.

Last month, Republicans objected to raising the minimum age for buying semi-automatic assault weapons to 21 from 18.

Updated: July 20, 2022, 5:17 PM