On July 29, the US House of Representatives passed an assault weapons ban, the first successful vote of its kind in almost 30 years. But it was almost derailed by disagreement over some Democratic leaders’ last-minute scheme to tie the ban to an increase in spending on police.
The ban passed 217-213, with the vote split roughly along party lines. The bill would make illegal the sale, manufacture, transfer, possession or import of certain semiautomatic weapons and high capacity magazines. It exempts any firearms lawfully possessed before enactment of the ban, while preventing new ones being made.
Congress is currently racing to approve a suite of spending bills to make President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget a reality. The new fiscal year begins October 1, and on August 8 Congress will go on recess for one month.
The Biden administration has just released its “Safer America Plan,” which explains his spending priorities for addressing crime and violence. As Filter reported, it includes funding to hire an additional 100,000 cops nationwide, as well as funding for non-police community interventions. Biden’s plan also proposed an assault weapons ban.
As HuffPost reported, House Democratic leaders unsuccessfully tried to force a vote that tied the assault weapons ban to two police funding measures. On July 28, Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chair Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) promised the caucus the House would not vote on police funding for another several weeks, to allow more time to strengthen measures to hold officers accountable for wrongdoing.
“Many of us could not in good conscience support legislation that would increase police funding without implementing substantial accountability measures.”
Some members took the chance to go home to their districts. Then that night, Beatty struck a deal with Representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), to schedule a vote the following day that would tie two police funding bills to the assault weapons ban. (Gottheimer is a conservative-leaning Democrat who opposes taxing the rich, while Spanberger blamed “Defund the Police” for Democrats’ poor 2020 House election results.)
The move left some CBC members feeling blindsided, including Reps. Mondaire Jones (D-NY), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), who planned in response to join with some progressive lawmakers to block the vote. Ultimately, the Democratic leadership folded and agreed to separate the three bills, after which the House passe the assault weapons ban.
“Leadership allowed the House to vote on the assault weapons ban separately from the police funding bill,” Representative Watson Coleman told Filter. “I’m grateful for the hard work of my colleagues in the Congressional Progressive Caucus [CPC] and Congressional Black Caucus, who fought to make this happen.”
“My colleagues in the Progressive Caucus and Black Caucus opposed the coupling of these two bills,” she continued. “Many of us could not in good conscience support legislation that would increase police funding without implementing substantial accountability measures.”
“Their opposition has stalled the movement of these bills, but they will likely move soon in a package.”
However, some advocates predict that House Democratic leadership will now seek another path to advance police funding increases, including through the COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) program, through attachments to other spending bills.
“Their [CBC and CPC] opposition has stalled the movement of these bills, but they will likely move soon in a package,” Maritza Perez, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of Federal Affairs, told Filter.
“They will not be standalone at this point because that would require they go through regular order,” she continued. “There is no leverage or appetite to pass standalone policing bills right now.”
Not going through “regular order” means Congress would push these bills without giving members full time to debate and amend them.
However, further action on police funding is unlikely to happen immediately. Watson Coleman confirmed to Filter that there is “no deadline” on the police legislation, and that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to take it up again in September.
The police funding increase that Biden wants is still likely, but progressive lawmakers should get time to pursue their wish for this to be paired with significant police accountability measures—including a national registry of police misconduct, and a federal ban on “no-knock” warrants.
For now, the fact that they were able to stand up to their leaders, preventing a gun control measure being held hostage to juice more federal dollars for local police departments, is a small hopeful sign.
Photograph by RaymondClarkeImages via Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0
The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, previously received a restricted grant from the Drug Policy Alliance to support a Drug War Journalism Diversity Fellowship.