US House OKs gun reform bill, law unlikely

·4-min read

A wide-ranging gun control bill has passed the US House following recent mass shootings in New York and Texas.

The bill would raise the age limit for purchasing a semi-automatic rifle and prohibit the sale of ammunition magazines with a capacity of more than 15 rounds.

Legislation passed by a mostly party-line vote of 223-204.

It has almost no chance of becoming law as the Senate pursues negotiations focused on improving mental health programs, bolstering school security and enhancing background checks.

But the House bill does allow Democratic MPs a chance to frame for voters in November where they stand on policies polls show are widely supported.

"We can't save every life, but my God, shouldn't we try? America we hear you and today in the House we are taking the action you are demanding," said Texas Democrat Veronica Escobar.

The push comes after a House committee heard heart-wrenching testimony from recent shooting victims and family members, including 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo, who covered herself with a dead classmate's blood to avoid being shot at the Uvalde primary school in Texas.

The seemingly never-ending cycle of mass shootings in the United States has rarely stirred Congress to act.

But the shooting of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde has revived efforts in a way that has politicians from both major parties talking about the need to respond.

"It's sickening. It's sickening that our children are forced to live in this constant fear," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Pelosi said the House vote would "make history by making progress" but it remains unclear where the House measure will go after Wednesday's vote, given Republicans were adamant in their opposition.

"The answer is not to destroy the Second Amendment, but that is exactly where the Democrats want to go," Ohio Republican Jim Jordan said.

The Second Amendment enshrines in the US constitution an individual's right to bear arms.

The work to find common ground is mostly taking place in the Senate, where support from 10 Republicans will be needed to get a bill signed into law.

Nearly a dozen Democratic and Republican senators met privately for an hour on Wednesday in the hope of reaching a framework for compromise legislation by the end of the week.

Participants said more conversations were needed about a plan that is expected to propose modest steps.

The House bill stitches together a variety of proposal Democrats had introduced before the recent mass shootings.

The suspects in the incidents in Uvalde and Buffalo, New York, were both 18, authorities say, when they bought the semi-automatic weapons used in the attacks.

The bill would increase the minimum age to buy such weapons to 21.

"A person under 21 cannot buy a Budweiser. We should not let a person under 21 buy an AR-15 weapon of war," California Democrat Ted Lieu said.

Republicans have noted that a US appeals court ruling last month found California's ban on the sale of semiautomatic weapons to adults under 21 was unconstitutional.

"This is unconstitutional and it's immoral. Why is it immoral? Because we're telling 18, 19 and 20-year-olds to register for the draft. You can go die for your country. We expect you to defend us, but we're not going to give you the tools to defend yourself and your family," said Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie.

The House bill also includes incentives designed to increase the use of safe gun storage devises and creates penalties for violating safe storage requirements, providing for a fine and imprisonment of up to five years if a gun is not properly stored and is subsequently used by a minor to injure or kill themselves or another individual.

It builds on executive actions banning fast-action 'bump stock' devices and 'ghost guns' that are assembled without serial numbers.

The House is also expected to approve a bill on Thursday to allow families, police and others to ask federal courts to order the removal of firearms from people who are believed to be at extreme risk of harming themselves or others.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia currently have such "red flag laws".

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