WASHINGTON ― The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a package of gun control bills that, among other things, would raise the age requirement for most rifle sales from 18 to 21.
Rather than becoming law, the legislation will land on the growing pile of House-passed bills that the Senate ignores. That pile already includes a recent measure to require criminal background checks for all firearm sales.
But the Senate has been busier than usual in the wake of horrific mass murders in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, in which teenage gunmen legally purchased assault rifles to slaughter more than 30 people, including 19 children in an elementary school.
Since last week, a bipartisan group of senators has been privately negotiating a compromise gun bill that would make modest changes to the criminal background check system, boost funding for mental health services and encourage states to enact “red flag” laws allowing police to take guns from people who pose an imminent threat.
Senators involved in the negotiations say they’ve also considered raising the age requirement for buying rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21, but that it’s unlikely enough Republicans will support the change for it to be included in a final compromise.
Federal law prohibits licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to people younger than 21, but allows rifle and shotgun sales to anyone over 18.
In addition to raising the rifle age to 21, the House package would ban high-capacity magazines, require parents to lock up their firearms at home and prohibit firearm purchases on behalf of third parties.
“There is no question that children ― and that’s what they are ― should not be buying AR-15s before they are 21,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said during floor debate before Wednesday’s vote, referring to the type of gun the recent mass shooters used.
“It has been proven that the male brain has not developed to a certain point to be trusted at that time with that type of weapon,” Cohen said. “Those are weapons of war.”
The legislation passed mostly along partisan lines, with Democrats in support and a handful of members switching sides on some provisions.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania who has long supported a higher age requirement for rifle purchases, was one of 10 Republicans who voted in favor of that provision. He told HuffPost before the vote that high-profile mass shootings are “overwhelmingly done by men under the age of 21.”
The House omitted an assault weapon ban from Wednesday’s slate of legislation, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said the House would soon hold hearings on such a bill.
Dr. Roy Guerrero, a pediatrician from Uvalde, testified before a House committee earlier on Wednesday that the victims he saw after last month’s shooting had been “so pulverized by the bullets fired at them” that they were recognizable only by their clothes.
“Innocent children all over the country today are dead because laws and policy allows people to buy weapons before they’re legally even old enough to buy a pack of beer,” Guerrero said.
Even though a higher age requirement would have prevented several high-profile mass shooters from buying their weapons in the manner that they did, Republicans have brushed off the proposal as overly burdening Second Amendment rights.
“You might have put a speed bump in front of this one kid,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) told HuffPost. “Does that mean that you change the rules for tens of millions of others?”