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The Gun Safety Measures Congress Is Considering

  • The House will soon vote on a package of gun safety measures called the “Protecting Our Children Act.”
  • The package would raise the purchasing age for semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21.
  • Negotiations are ongoing in the Senate on several measures, including expanded background checks.

The recent spate of deadly shootings has pushed Congress once again to try to take action on a host of gun-safety measures.

The House will in the coming days vote on an expansive gun-control package called the “Protecting Our Children Act.” And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also said there will soon be a hearing on legislation to ban “assault weapons.” More limited bipartisan measures are under negotiation in the 50-50 Senate, where anti-gun-control Republicans are likely to block more aggressive action.

“Saving our children can and must be a unifying mission for our nation,” Pelosi wrote in a letter Thursday to Democrats. “To all those in the Congress who would stand in the way of saving lives: your political survival is insignificant compared to the survival of our children.”

The action follows mass shootings last month that killed 10 mostly Black people in a racist rampage at a Buffalo, New York supermarket, and 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. On Wednesday, five people were killed on the campus of a Tulsa, Oklahoma hospital, including the gunman who shot himself.

Pelosi noted that House Democrats have already passed legislation to expand background checks for gun sales. The Senate has not taken up the legislation. The latest package of bills coming from the House also faces tough prospects in the evenly-divided Senate, but Democrats are still pushing them in part to put their Republican colleagues on the record for opposing gun safety measures.

Here’s a look at the measures under consideration and what’s ahead:

Raising the purchase age for semi-automatic rifles to 21

The House will vote next week on the Protecting Our Children Act package, which would raise the purchasing age for semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, limit access to high-capacity magazines, and ban bump stocks for civilian use. Bump stocks use the recoil of a semiautomatic firearm to rapidly pull the trigger and mimic fully automatic firing. 

Purchases of ghost guns, or homemade guns that are assembled from parts, would be subjected to existing firearm regulations and new federal offenses would be established for gun trafficking and straw purchasers.

Another measure in the package would create criminal penalties for violating requirements for the residential storage of firearms.

‘Red Flag’ bill to remove firearms from people who pose a danger to themselves and others

The House will also vote next week on the Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, a  federal “Red Flag” legislation that would allow family members and law enforcement to seek a court order to temporarily remove access to firearms for those who pose a danger to themselves or others. It would also encourage states to enact their own “extreme risk” laws. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia currently have extreme risk protection orders in place.

The legislation is proposed by Rep. Lucy McBath, a Georgia Democrat who lost her son to gun violence, and Rep. Salud Carbajal, a California Democrat, whose sister took her own life with a gun.

Lindsey Graham, a former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, introduced similar legislation in the past, saying “it seeks to balance the Second Amendment rights of the individual with concerns from law enforcement and family members about those who may be experiencing a mental health crisis.”


Creating an Amber-alert style notification for mass shootings 

In her letter to colleagues, Pelosi said the House will also consider legislation to create an “AMBER Alert-style notification” in the event of a mass shooting.

This bill — dubbed the Active Shooter Alert Act — introduced by Reps. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, and Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, will be brought to the floor “in the weeks ahead,” she said.

“I’ve talked to my law enforcement at home in Michigan and they support this,” Upton said in a statement. “It’s a way that they can be there to respond to the scene and get innocent people out of the area to safety.

Rep. David Cicilline at Judiciary Committee gun safety markup

Rep. David N. Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrats speaks during a House Judiciary Committee mark up hearing on gun safety measures on June 02, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

‘Assault weapons’ ban

Pelosi said the House will “soon” hold a hearing on legislation to ban “assault weapons,” or military-style weapons that Congress banned in 1994. Congress allowed the ban to expire a decade later, in 2004.

Pelosi said the ban “was proven to save lives and one that the American people support today.” During the time of the ban, some researchers have found, gun massacres dropped by as much 37% but rose by 183% in the decade after the prohibition expired.

Senate negotiations

Two overlapping bipartisan groups of senators are discussing measures that include red flag laws, expanding background checks, school safety measures, and mental health resources.

Sen. Chris Murphy, the Connecticut Democrat who pleaded with his colleagues to do something after the Uvalde shooting, is at the helm of the negotiations. 

In a Fox News op-ed, Murphy, a leading gun-control advocate since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newton, Connecticut, wrote on Wednesday that he acknowledges that he will need to accept a smaller set of reforms than he would prefer to find common ground. 

“My desire is simple – to find a way for Republicans and Democrats to come together around a small but meaningful set of changes to our nation’s gun laws, along with major investments in mental health, that will make it less likely that another Sandy Hook or Uvalde ever happens again,” he wrote.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled he’s willing to work with Democrats on gun safety legislation but has not said which measure he’d endorse.

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