By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives panel on Wednesday worked toward approving legislation to ban assault-style rifles such as those used in recent mass shootings, and another bill allowing lawsuits against firearms manufacturers.
The bills face staunch Republican opposition within the House panel, as well as slim odds in the Senate, where at least 10 Republicans would be needed to allow them to be brought up for debate. Republicans in the past have rejected similar bills, citing the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution's protections for the right to bear arms.
The House Judiciary Committee action comes amid growing public outrage over the criminal use of the rapid-fire weapons and follows approval last month of a limited gun control bill.
"Will our Republican colleagues choose to defend the weapons of choice for mass murderers?" Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, asked at the start of a long debate.
Representative Jim Jordan, the committee's senior Republican, replied that the Democrats' ban would make "millions of guns in the homes of law-abiding citizens" illegal. He advised Democrats to instead seek a repeal of the Constitution's Second Amendment, an arduous process all but certain to fail.
On May 14, 10 people were killed and three wounded when an avowed white supremacist allegedly opened fire at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket, using an AR-15 assault-style weapon. Ten days later, 19 children and two teachers were killed at a Uvalde, Texas elementary school with the same kind of weapon, according to police. Seven people celebrating the July 4 holiday in Highland Park, Illinois, were killed, with dozens wounded at a parade.
These were only the latest in a series of mass shootings that have killed hundreds of Americans.
Supporters of the ban point to aggressive industry marketing of a weapon capable of killing and injuring scores of people within minutes.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin has singled out a new type of AR-15 -- one called the "JR-15" that is marketed for children. It "looks, feels and operates just like Mom and Dad's gun," according to Wee-1 Tactical Co.
Defenders of the rifle argue its safety points, including a tamper-resistant trigger lock that can be operated only by adults. But gun control proponents note the gun's packaging showcasing skulls sucking on pacifiers.
"This gun is yet another part of the gun industry’s mission to market to children, who are more likely to die by firearms than any other cause of death," said Shannon Watts, founder of the gun control group Moms Demand Action.
The second Judiciary Committee bill would lift federal prohibitions against gun and ammunition makers being sued for damages resulting from the unlawful misuse of firearms.
A 10-year ban on assault weapons expired in 2004 and several attempts to bring it back have so far failed.
A 2021 study by Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that the 1994 assault weapons ban resulted in a significant decrease in mass shootings.
Last month, Republicans objected to raising the minimum age for buying semi-automatic assault weapons to 21 from 18.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis)