This week Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) introduced an assault weapons ban in the U.S. House. The bill boasts a mass of co-sponsors: 167 so far, not counting Cicilline himself.
Cicilline's bill joins a similar piece of legislation introduced in the Senate by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) last year. Feinstein's bill has 26 co-sponsors (Congress.gov counts 27, but one of those is former Minnesota Democratic senator Al Franken, who resigned earlier this year), including three Democrats who have signed on since the school shooting this month in Parkland, Fla.
Both measures would ban sales of semiautomatic rifles with certain military-style features, such as pistol grips and flash suppressors. The measures would also outlaw the sale of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Neither bill would require current gun owners to give up any of their weapons.
All told, the two assault weapons bans before Congress are sponsored or co-sponsored by 195 lawmakers. But none of those lawmakers is Republican. Despite a recent shift in the national conversation around mass shootings, and tentative signals of support for an assault weapons ban from several Republican lawmakers, no GOP lawmakers have yet offered a full-throated endorsement of a specific piece of legislation on assault weapons.
Many Democrats have only just recently embraced these proposals. The Cicilline bill introduced this week has the highest number of co-sponsors of any assault weapons ban legislation introduced since Congress let the previous ban lapse in 2004. The 167 co-sponsors are more than double the number of House Democrats who signed on to a similar measure in 2013, after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which led to the deaths of 20 children and six educators.
Among the notable co-sponsors of Cicilline's bill is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is co-sponsoring an assault weapons ban for the first time since the original federal ban lapsed. Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill noted that Pelosi rarely co-sponsors individuals' bills but that she “has always supported the ban and was part of the whip team that successfully worked to pass the original legislation in the 1990s.”
Republican lawmakers have said recently that they support such a ban in theory. Last week Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) wrote a New York Times op-ed titled “I’m Republican. I Appreciate Assault Weapons. And I Support a Ban.” According to Brad Stewart, a spokesman for Mast, “We're looking at a number of different bills that have been introduced, including the Cicilline bill, to see if they fit the standards outlined by Rep. Mast in the New York Times.”
Similarly, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) told the New York Times that “no military-type weapon should be in civilian hands.” He added that “I do not support selling these arms” and that “we have to work to make this a reality.”
Curbelo spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez said that “the Congressman and our staff are reviewing the language and discussing the topic of a ban with stakeholders to ensure the legislative definition will not only be effective to keep Americans safe, but also protect their Second Amendment rights.”
Research by University of Massachusetts Boston firearm expert Louis Klarevas found that gun massacres involving six or more deaths fell sharply during the last assault weapons ban from 1994 to 2004, and spiked by an even greater amount after the ban's lapse.
A number of polls conducted since the Parkland shooting have found growing public support for such a ban. A Quinnipiac poll found that 67 percent of Americans, including 43 percent of Republicans, favored an assault weapons ban, the highest share since the school shooting in Newtown.
Similarly, a CNN poll found that 57 percent of Americans favored “a ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of rifles capable of semiautomatic fire, such as the AR-15,” including 34 percent of Republicans.
In yet another sign of the political ground-shifting on this issue, Dick's Sporting Goods announced Wednesday that it would no longer sell assault weapons like the one used in the Parkland shooting.
But as the co-sponsorship numbers illustrate, the chances of any assault weapons ban passing in the current Congress appear virtually nonexistent. On Tuesday, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) poured cold water on the idea of any such restriction, telling reporters that “we shouldn't be banning guns for law-abiding citizens.”