The House of Representatives voted to pass a ban on assault weapons on Friday evening amid an intraparty dispute about additional funding for police.
The House voted 217 to 213 with all but five Democrats and just two Republicans voting for it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had told colleagues in a letter on Friday that the House would vote on legislation that same day.
The move came as a surprise to some Democrats like Representative Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, who is running in a tough re-election race.
“I mean, I think just based on everything that’s gone on and the sort of conversation on the Hill since Uvalde,” she said in reference to the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde Texas in May where a gunman shot and killed 19 children and two adults. “I’m surprised I didn’t know this morning that it was coming up.”
The vote comes just weeks after a shooting in Highland Park, Illinois where Robert Crimo is accused of shooting and killing seven people and injuring more with an AR-15-style rifle.
“When we did this in the ’90s, it was hard, but it happened and it saves lives and I’m looking forward to the passage of one when I talked about it on the floor this afternoon,” Ms Pelosi told reporters on Friday afternoon before the vote and expressed confidence that it would pass.
Representative Susie Lee of Nevada said that it the bill was important, “because we need to prevent preventable deaths”.
“We got to do it,” she said.
“Well, you know, this is important though, because crime is you know, they’re prevalent all over,” Representative Maxine Waters of California said.
But it also came as many Democrats hoped to have a vote on increased police funding.
“I’m very disappointed,” Ms Slotkin told The Independent. “And that was part of the deal.”
Representative Abigail Spanberger, a moderate Democrat from Virginia who is running in a tough re-election campaign against former police officer Yesli Vega, had been negotiating with Rep Joyce Beatty, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, to include measures that focus on police accountability.
“So we’re continuing towards a place where we should be expecting about a suite of a couple of different builds that are really important to communities across the country,” Ms Spanberger told reporters before the vote. At the same time, she emphasised the need to pass the assault weapons ban.
“I think that what we saw in the notion that we’ve been looking at how to keep communities safe by production stoppage of assault style rifles, you know, that’s an element of keeping community safe,” she said. “When someone is armed with an assault style rifle like that creates major problems for the police officers responding to whatever tragedy is unfolding.”
Ms Beatty noted that despite concerns, every member of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for the rule to allow the vote. The vote also comes as many activists – including survivors of the shootings in Parkland, Florida and Uvalde, Texas – have advocated for an assault weapons ban.
“No one is going to like everything, but I am so proud of my members and the leadership that we have, and so confident because of what we deliver in the past, against all of our personnel, all the pressure, we will be able to deliver a package that will keep all of our communities safe,” Ms Beatty told reporters.
But progressives balked at the idea of having to vote on the police legislation when they felt cut out of it.
“I just think whenever people are trying to get stuff done last minute that hasn’t been properly vetted, there’s going to be more questions about the competing bills, there’s multiple bills that are out,” Rep Mark Pocan told The Independent. “And, you know … we should give it the proper vetting process that we do virtually every other bill.”
But Representative Stephanie Murphy, a moderate Democrat, criticised progressives.
“I’m always frustrated with people who don’t believe in supporting law enforcement,” she said.