National

Senate committee debates assault weapons ban as House gears up for vote

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the wake of another mass shooting at an Indiana mall over the weekend and the massacre at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, IL earlier this month, members of Congress are again debating gun reform.

The focus this time is on an assault weapons ban.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) showed the faces of two children who survived the Highland Park shooting in his home state.

“Aiden lost both of his parents,” said Durbin about the two-year-old boy who was shieled by his dad during the gunfire. “This other photo is Cooper Roberts, eight-years-old… A bullet severed his spinal cord.”

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Police say the suspected shooter used a high-powered rifle to kill seven people and hurt dozens more in the holiday massacre.

“Less than a minute was all it took for a person with an assault weapon to shoot 83 rounds into a crowd forever changing so many lives,” said Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering.

“As a Senator representing Aiden, I refuse to let my colleagues ignore how a weapon of war forever changed this little boy’s life,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

The debate comes less than a month after Congress passed a bipartisan gun safety measure – the most significant gun safety law passed in decades.

That law ramps up the background check requirements for people age 18-21 looking to buy a gun and it requires more gun sellers to register as federally licensed firearm dealers, among other changes.

Republicans argue the push for an assault weapons ban goes too far and infringes on the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

“These bans would be ineffective and not consistent with the right of self-defense,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

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Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who played a key role in crafting the bipartisan gun safety law that recently passed, said the assault weapons ban would not be effective.

“I believe the second amendment and good public policy are not mutually exclusive and that’s what we tried to do in the bipartisan Safer Communities Act,” said Cornyn.  “One thing I am unwilling to do is to erode the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.”

Republicans and gun rights advocates instead called for increased funding for threat assessment and prevention services and mental health resources.

“You can’t pass laws to solve the human condition of violence or evil,” said Philip Smith, President of the National African American Gun Association. “We must look at the root cause of these shootings.”

The House is working to advance a bill calling for an assault weapons ban but it is not expected to pass in the Senate.