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Lawmakers clash over Constitution, gun rights in heated House hearing

Democrat and Republican lawmakers clashed during an intense markup of a gun control bill Thursday, as House Judiciary Committee members debated different facets of the issue including the constitutionality of measures proposed by Democrats.

The bill, known as the Protecting Our Kids Act, calls for raising the legal limit to purchase firearms from 18 to 21, restricting certain transfers of firearms and ensuring traceability, as well as imposing requirements on the storage of guns in the home. Republicans pointed to constitutional problems with the bill, while Democrats accused them of hiding behind an excuse.

“[W]e’ve heard these same tired arguments that somehow we can’t do this because the Constitution prohibits it. That is … not true,” Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., charged. “The Supreme Court of the United States has said time and time again the Second Amendment is not absolute, that Congress and states have the ability – and I would say the responsibility – to ensure that there are appropriate restrictions both on age, on places where you can bring firearms, on the kind of firearms you can possess.”

“So don’t let our Republican colleagues hide behind this claim that, ‘Oh, we’d love to do something. We really know this is a serious problem. We extend our thoughts and prayers and we would do more. But, you know, the Second Amendment prohibits it.’” Cicilline added. “That is not true.”

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Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., however, argued what it is true that the bill has constitutional problems, starting with raising the age limit. Bishop pointed to the Ninth Circuit case of Jones v. Bonta, where the court said last month that a California ban on selling center-fire semiautomatic weapons to people ages 18 to 20 was unconstitutional.

“It goes through this long analysis of the history of the Second Amendment and says those rights to self-defense at the core of the Second Amendment, that 18- to 20-year-olds are covered by that right,” Bishop said, noting that he believes the same goes for “every other right in the Bill of Rights.”

Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., speaks at a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 22, 2020. 

Regarding home storage restrictions, Bishop argued that the Supreme Court case of District of Columbia v. Heller, which recognized the right to possess a gun in one’s home for self-defense, plainly prohibits them.

“But there’s a willingness to just ram through this package and the answer is we don’t have any patience for you if you’re objecting,” Bishop said. “The voices are raised, the accusations are made, Republicans are complicit. I can tell you this, and let me be clear: You are not going to bully your way into stripping Americans of fundamental rights.”

Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., demonstrates assembling his handgun as he speaks remotely during a House Judiciary Committee mark up hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on June 2, 2022 in Washington. 

Cicilline countered that while Bishop’s argument against the age limit change was based on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, he was relying on the Supreme Court’s position that the Second Amendment is not absolute, with the higher court taking precedence.

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Later in the hearing, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., pointed to a different problem with the Democrats’ bill, which is the same problem that hurt the Gun Free School Zone Act, which prohibited the carrying of guns near schools. The Supreme Court had initially ruled in 1995 that the law was outside the scope of Congress’s powers, leading to an amendment that said it only applied to guns that had moved in or had an impact on interstate commerce.

Massie noted that while some of the provisions in the current bill included that specification to make sure they fell under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, others did not.

 

“If actually two of the bill say it only applies to firearms involved in interstate commerce, does that mean the other four are unconstitutional?” Massie asked. “It actually means all six are unconstitutional and they’re trying to save two of them with the provision that killed the Gun Free School Zone Act in 1995.”

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