By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives panel on Wednesday was set to advance a bill banning assault-style rifles such as those used in recent mass shootings, and another bill that would allow lawsuits against firearms manufacturers.
The bill faces slim odds in the Senate, where it would need at least 10 Republicans allowing the measure to be brought up for debate. Republicans in the past have rejected similar bills, citing the Second Amendment of the U.S. 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, has scheduled a 10 a.m. ET (1400 GMT) work session to approve the twin measures.
On May 14, 10 people were killed and three wounded when an avowed white supremacist allegedly opened fire at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket, using an AR-15 assault-style weapon. Ten days later, 19 children and two teachers killed at a Uvalde, Texas elementary school with the same kind of weapon, according to police. Seven people celebrating the July 4 holiday in Highland Park, Illinois, were 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 that could be as far as the legislative effort goes in the months leading up to the Nov. 8 midterm elections, when Republicans are favored to win back a majority in at least one chamber of Congress.
“I’m sorry to say that unless they (Senate Republicans) are keeping their feelings confidential, it does not appear encouraging,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin told reporters on Tuesday when asked about prospects in that chamber.
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 1994 assault weapons ban resulted in a significant decrease in mass shootings.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday will also zero in on civilians’ access to military-style assault weapons. Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering will be among those testifying at its hearing.
Last month, Republicans objected even to raising the minimum age for buying semi-automatic assault weapons to 21 from 18.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio)