Why Congress Won’t Ban Assault Weapons

Parents who only recently buried their children and others across the country continue to push for a federal assault-weapons ban. The push comes after AR-15-style rifles were used in mass shootings.

However, the Democratic-led Congress isn’t seriously considering any proposal banning assault weapons. While thousands of Americans have walked in March for Our Lives rallies across the country, a national ban on the sale of assault weapons has lost popularity.

According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 45% oppose the ban, while half of the registered voters favor it. The numbers demonstrate the lowest level of support since the same survey was conducted in 2013.

“I would love to have an assault-weapons ban. Nobody should be running around with an AR-15. However, I’m very clear also in the need — and the urgent need — to enact some kind of legislation that will provide more gun safety than we have now. And I have to say it’s a pretty low bar, but we need to at least get to that point,” said Senator Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii).

An assault-weapons ban was not included in the recently passed the Democratic-controlled House gun-control package. The vote was held hours after the mother of Lexi Rubio, a 10-year-old victim of the Uvalde, Texas, school massacre, spoke before a congressional hearing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif)., has not committed to bringing legislation to the floor for a full House vote but has promised a separate hearing on an assault-weapons ban. Meanwhile, Washington Democrats have shifted focus from banning AR-15s to raising the minimum age for purchasing them to 21. The gunmen in both Uvalde and Buffalo purchased their weapons shortly after reaching 18.

Focus on raising the minimum age to purchase

The poll shows that Americans support raising the minimum legal age to buy any gun to 21 by 74% to 24%. The gun-control package passed by the House was along party lines. It included provisions to ban high-capacity magazines and raise the minimum age for buying semiautomatic rifles, including AR-15s, from 18 to 21.

Bipartisan talks in the Senate have primarily focused on boosting funds for school security, mental health programs, providing federal grants to encourage red-flag laws in states, and making juvenile records accessible for background checks.

Some Senate Republicans have voiced they may be open to raising the federal minimum purchase age for assault weapons. However, the lead Republican negotiator in the Senate, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, said it doesn’t yet have the 60 votes needed in the Senate. “I’m not saying that could never happen. But right now, I don’t see it,” said Cornyn.

Seven states have already raised the minimum wage to 21, including Hawaii, California, Illinois, Washington, Florida, Vermont, and New York. Many states did so after 17 students were killed by a 19-year-old attacker armed with an AR-15 at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.

Republican Rick Scott, then-Governor of Florida, signed the state’s bill only weeks after the shooting. Scott, now a senator, said he opposes any federal legislation, preferring to allow states to decide whether to raise the purchase age.

However, the state bans have prompted challenges in the courts. A federal appeals court panel threw out California’s ban in May by a 2-1 ruling, saying it violated the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Alan Gottlieb, the founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, said his organization would challenge any federal law in court. His foundation worked on the California case.

A spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, Amy Hunter, said the group strongly opposes any attempts to raise the age limit. “To prohibit young adults from purchasing firearms would be to contend that these individuals are law-abiding and responsible enough to defend their country and enforce the law but cannot be trusted to follow the law,” she said.