U.S. House Democrats proposed a ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines to try to curb mass shootings.
Democrats today also called for background checks for almost all gun buyers and for requiring states to include more information in the national criminal background database.
“We need to pass background-check legislation that makes sure that everybody who buys a firearm” is examined “to make sure they are not a criminal, to make sure they are not dangerously mentally ill,” said California Representative Mike Thompson, who led a House Democratic task force on gun violence.
The lawmakers announced the proposals today at a private Democratic policy retreat in Leesburg, Virginia.
The measures mirror what President Barack Obama proposed in response to the Dec. 14 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 children and six adults were killed. Obama asked Congress to outlaw the sale of assault weapons, ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and require background checks for all gun buyers.
Assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines “don’t have any place in our streets and our communities,” Thompson said.
“As a hunter and gun owner I believe we should protect law-abiding individuals’ Second Amendment right to own firearms,” Thompson said. “As a father and grandfather, I also believe that we have a responsibility to make our schools, neighborhoods and communities safe.”
Some of the recommendations aren’t likely to advance in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Some Republican lawmakers have been skeptical about enacting new gun laws, and Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has expressed no urgency about moving forward with gun legislation.
“We can’t relive what just happened in Newtown,” Thompson said today.
Polls show a majority of Americans support the president’s proposals, especially expanded background checks for gun purchasers. More than nine in 10 U.S. voters, including those who own firearms, favor background checks for all gun buyers, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.
Other proposals made since the Connecticut shootings were approved by a majority of respondents in the poll. A ban on assault weapons was supported by 56 percent of respondents compared with 39 percent who oppose it, and a ban on the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines was backed by 56 percent of respondents compared with 40 percent against.
The Democrats’ proposals face resistance from the National Rifle Association, which opposes a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and doesn’t back universal background checks. The Democratic plan would allow an exception in cases of gifts between family members and temporary loans for sporting purposes, according to Thompson.
Earlier this week, Obama said he would keep pressuring Congress to revive a federal assault-weapon ban, which expired in 2004, while saying that he saw a consensus emerging on universal background checks. Through a mix of 23 executive actions and additional legislative proposals, Obama is seeking the most ambitious changes on gun control in decades.
In a statement, the NRA said the House Democratic proposal would “ban millions of commonly owned semiautomatic firearms and magazines” as well as “common hunting and sport-shooting ammunition.”
Chris W. Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, said Congress should “focus its energies on the things that will actually keep our families and communities safer -- prosecuting criminals who misuse firearms; securing our schools; and fixing the broken mental-health system that keeps dangerously ill people on the street.”
In the Senate, a bipartisan measure to expand community mental-health center access was introduced in response to the shootings in Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado, where a gunman killed 12 people in a crowded movie theater last year.
At a 10-year cost of $1 billion, the measure would allow mental-health centers that provide 24-hour emergency service and meet other care requirements to get Medicaid reimbursement for treating uninsured patients.
Mentally ill people “have problems they don’t know how to deal with” and sometimes “deal with them in a tragic way,” Missouri Republican Roy Blunt told reporters.
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