First House Republican backs renewed assault weapons ban

Rep. Peter King has broken with party leadership on gun violence prevention measures before

New York GOP Rep. Peter King said he thinks his support of a ban on assault weapons could provide political cover to Republicans and Democrats in GOP-leaning districts that haven’t supported it. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

New York Rep. Peter King is the first Republican in Congress to back a renewed federal ban on assault rifles.

The development reflects calls for action on Capitol Hill after gunmen armed with assault weapons killed scores of people in California, Texas and Ohio in the span of a few days. 

“I think the assault weapons ban is timely now, especially in view of the shooting in El Paso and Dayton,” King told the New York Daily News.

The assault weapons ban, HR 1296, would outlaw semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices, with exceptions for the police and securely stored “grandfathered” assault weapons. Two hundred Democrats have cosponsored the bill. 

The weapons were banned by the 1994 crime bill that King and 45 other Republicans voted to support, including Reps. Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey and Fred Upton of Michigan. The ban expired 10 years later and Congress did not renew it. 

The 14-term congressman told the newspaper his backing the bill could encourage other Republicans to support the measure and encourage some Democrats in Republican-leaning districts to do the same.

“It might give cover to some other Republicans, it might give some incentive to Democrats,” he said.

King has broken with party leadership on gun violence prevention measures before. He cosponsored HR 8, which would expand background checks to firearm transfers that passed the House earlier this year. That bill has languished in the Senate under Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Former Democratic opponent Liuba Grechen Shirley, who unsuccessfully challenged King in the 2nd District in 2018, has been critical of the Republican on the issues of gun violence and mass shootings. She participated in a forum in June alongside a Moms Demand Action volunteer. They called on King to hold a town hall

President Donald Trump downplayed the proposed assault weapons ban earlier this month, saying “there’s no political appetite, probably, from the standpoint of legislature.”

Republicans have indicated they might back other legislation to address gun violence, namely federal grants to encourage states to adopt “red flag” laws, which allow courts to take firearms away from people suspected of being a danger to the public.

[Democrats line up three gun bills in early House Judiciary return

Trump voiced support for expanded background checks and “red flag” laws in the days following the mass killings earlier this month. 

But the president dampened the possibility of any bill passing the Republican-controlled Senate Sunday.

“I said the other night in New Hampshire; we had an incredible evening — I said: It’s the people that pull the trigger.  It’s not the gun that pulls the trigger,” Trump said, a paraphrase of a longtime National Rifle Association slogan. 

The president's about-face followed closed-door meetings with NRA President Wayne LaPierre and other opponents of gun safety legislation, the New York Times reported

Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, the lead sponsor of the assault weapons ban, criticized Trump for his ties to the NRA and called the Republican Party  “a wholly owned subsidiary of the gun lobby” in an interview with CNN Monday. 

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., announced the panel will hold a hearing on “military-style assault weapons” on September 25.

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