Assault Weapons Debate Back on the Table — Will It Go Anywhere?

Assault Weapons Debate Back on the Table—Will It Go Anywhere?

( – In September 1994, Congress passed, and President Bill Clinton signed the bipartisan Title XI of the Federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The legislation included a landmark ban on assault weapons, prohibiting nine specific categories of pistols, rifles, and shotguns, as well as some features like flash suppressors, folding rifle stocks, and threaded barrels for silencers. The ban expired in 2004, and a GOP-controlled Congress chose not to renew it.

Following a number of mass shootings involving weapons that fell under the 1994 ban, President Joe Biden, who was instrumental in passing the previous ban, has implored Congress to act, admitting that his hands are procedurally tied. It seems the assault weapons debate has reemerged in Congress.

The Debate for a Renewed Assault Weapons Ban

Advocates for reviving the 1994 ban point to a 2022 poll showing that 54% of all voters strongly support banning assault-style weapons. In remarks from Monday, March 27, President Biden said, “We have to do more to protect our schools” to keep them from becoming oppressive environments like prisons.

That same day, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted, “No one should pretend like we can’t choose to end this carnage.” He pointed out that legislators choose to allow it to continue.

Yet, House Democrats in Congress are having trouble even bringing votes for gun legislation in any form. The Hill reported on a possible procedural gambit Democrats might use to bring legislation to the House floor, but parties have become so polarized that finding support and votes to pass it is daunting.

Opponents argue that banning certain weapons won’t stop the massacres or the bloodshed. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) told ABC News, “We’re not going to fix it, criminals are going to be criminals.” He opined crime would continue until individuals experienced a fundamental spiritual shift eliminating hatred from their hearts.

Assault Weapons Bans Internationally

Internationally, several countries have banned assault-style weapons in response to mass shootings. New Zealand instituted reforms in 2019 after an attack at two mosques left 51 dead and more injured. The United Kingdom voted for reforms in 1996 following the massacre of 16 schoolchildren and one adult in Scotland. Australia also changed its laws in 1996 after a gunman murdered 35 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

Australia went a step further, instituting a program to buy back assault weapons and melt them down. The government recovered more than 650,000 assault weapons and required remaining weapons owners to hold “genuine need” licenses and prove certification in weapons safety.

All three countries have seen a drop in gun violence and show a marked reduction per capita compared to the US. The US remains an international outlier, comparatively, because the nation has suffered multiple mass shootings without seriously considering legislative reform.

Given the very close margins in Congress and the traditionally pivotal nature of the gun debate between parties, most legislators on both sides of the aisle seem to think substantive action is unlikely.

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