Rep. Mike Thompson co-sponsors House gun control bill to address ‘enormous problem’ of assault weapons
The assault rifles carried by young soldiers like Representative Mike Thompson during the Vietnam War were intended for combat, designed to make killing brutally effective.
But semi-automatic variants of these rifles are now flooding the civilian market, with around 20 million in circulation, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. It’s 400,000 since 1994.
AR-15 type guns were used in the five deadliest mass shootings of the past decade. In two recent cases, these guns were obtained legally by the 18-year-old shooters who killed 10 grocery shoppers in Buffalo, New York, and 21 people at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
A new bill co-sponsored by Thompson and two other House Democrats would make such purchases illegal nationwide.
The Protecting Our Children Act, or HR 7910, aims to raise the legal age to purchase semi-automatic assault rifles from 18 to 21 at the federal level, in hopes of stemming shootings mass and other armed violence.
“It’s a huge problem, kids can get their hands on guns,” Thompson said Thursday morning in an interview with Press Democrat ahead of President Joe Biden’s national address on gun violence.
“I don’t think you have to be a researcher at Harvard to know that there have been a number of recent cases where young people have bought guns and then done just terrible things,” Thompson added. “We saw it in Buffalo. We saw it at Uvalde.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York and co-sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, passed through the committee Thursday in a party-line vote. It would also create a grant program to buy back high-capacity gun magazines; establish voluntary safe practices for the storage of firearms; and rely on executive action to ban impact protection devices, used to modify firearms to imitate automatic weapons.
It would also tighten regulations on “ghost guns,” or unnumbered, unregistered firearms that can be purchased online and assembled at home — a “huge problem” for Sonoma County in particular, Thompson noted.
Local law enforcement has seen a dramatic increase in ghost guns apprehended on the streets, sometimes in unrelated arrests.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 25 to 19 to move the bill forward. All Republican panel members voted against the package.
It is unlikely to pass the Senate, with Republicans widely opposed to many of the restrictions included.
Thompson, chair of the House Democrats’ Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, acknowledges the political headwinds. Another bill he has championed for nearly a decade, promoting universal background checks and closing loopholes for unregulated gun purchases, is also stalled in the Senate.
“I’m hopeful that Senate Republicans will have the courage to work on these issues and try to make our communities safer,” Thompson said. “At the same time, I’m ready to be disappointed, because they haven’t shown much courage.”
North Bay Congressman, an army veteran and lifelong hunter, has been fighting for tougher regulations since the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. In the wake of the latest massacres, he considers putting new laws on the books a more pressing cause than ever.
Since the start of 2022, there have been 233 mass shootings in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archives, an independent data collection and research group. One of the latest came on Wednesday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a gunman killed four people at a medical campus before killing himself.
“Gun violence is a real scourge right now, and we need to do everything we can to keep our communities and our children safe,” Thompson said.
During the House debate on Thursday, Republicans argued that the new bill’s provisions would do little to stop mass shootings and would wrongly politicize tragedies.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee, called the bill “political theater.”
“We seriously need to figure out why this keeps happening. Democrats are still committed to restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens rather than trying to figure out why this evil is happening,” Jordan said.
In her interview, Thompson rebutted Republican criticism.
“I think it’s quite sad that someone is suggesting this, especially after the fact that we have just witnessed the deaths of 21 people in Uvalde; we just witnessed the deaths of four people yesterday in Oklahoma,” he said.
A vote of the whole House could take place as early as next week. The bill would then go to the Senate, where a bipartisan group will try to reach a compromise on gun safety legislation.
However, the committee’s GOP representative, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who is a strong gun rights advocate, sought to combat speculation on Wednesday that he would sanction any legislation that some might see as undermining the second amendment.
“It’s not going to happen,” he said. tweeted.
Thompson reiterated that “we’ve been down this road before.”
“I hope the Senate will do its job. I don’t think there’s anybody I represent who thinks we should sit on this issue and do nothing,” Thompson said.