Photo: TOM BRENNER / NYT
Three days after one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, 22 Democratic senators on Wednesday proposed a national ban on military-style weapons of the sort the Texas shooter deployed to massacre 26 people in a church on Sunday.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both of Connecticut, were the lead co-sponsors along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
“Connecticut’s ban was a model for us in drafting this,” Blumenthal said in an interview.
The measure would ban the sale, manufacture and importation of affected new guns, but would not confiscate those already legally in the hands of owners. It covers broad classes of semiautomatic firearms including most versions of the AR-15, which the Texas shooter used, and which has been used in several mass shootings. The bill would also ban high-capacity magazines, which are also already banned in Connecticut.
“Weapons of war have no place in our communities,” Blumenthal said in a written release. He defended Connecticut’s 1993 ban on military-style weapons in the state Supreme Court.
“These killing machines have no purpose for self-defense or hunting and they must remain on the battlefield where they belong — not in our churches, schools and theaters,” he added in the release.
Murphy, who led a senate filibuster favoring gun control in 2016, added, “It’s not a coincidence that these guns are used in virtually every mass shooting. Copycat killers are watching the lethal efficiency of these killing machines and choosing them to carry out their own mass murder. As a recent Trump nominee to the Department of Defense said, it’s ‘insane’ that civilians are allowed to buy these weapons.”
The bill would affect semiautomatic weapons, which fire a round with each pull of the trigger, and have at least one military-style characteristic, such as a pistol grip or a flash suppressor, and have detachable ammunition magazines. It would also ban magazines of more than 10 rounds. The list of banned guns includes 205 by name, and it would exempt some 2,200 guns by name, which don’t fit the characteristics and are used for hunting, target-shooting or personal defense.
With Republicans in the majority in both chambers in Congress and President Donald Trump, who has opposed most gun controls since his 2016 campaign, the ban faces a nearly impossible hurdle for passage this year or next year.
Opponents say the problem is not the firearms but rather the mental health system and other issues. They point out that millions of military-style weapons are already in circulation and that having “black rifles” in the hands of civilians – such as the man who shot the Texas shooter — can thwart attacks.
“Certainly it’s an uphill battle,” Blumenthal said. But he added, “It’s more than a symbolic bill because it keeps alive the real possibility that we can stop these killing machines.”
Connecticut’s 1993 ban was tightened in 2013 after the Sandy Hook tragedy, and it’s the tighter version that the 22 senators modeled in the current bill. Supporters call it an “assault weapons” ban but the firearms community considers assault weapons to be only those that are fully automatic, which are already banned nationally and are used legally only by law enforcement and the military.