Sparks fly at assault-weapons ban hearing on Capitol Hill, ex-cop vows she would 'not comply'

A former police officer made a bold proclamation during a congressional hearing Wednesday regarding a proposed assault-weapons ban: she would not comply.

Dianna Muller, who served in the Tulsa Police Department for 22 years and is the founder of gun advocacy group The DC Project, was among the witnesses at the House Judiciary Committee hearing. The session on an otherwise contentious issue flew largely under the radar amid the Trump-Ukraine controversy and Democrats' impeachment push. But reflecting the gun control divide in the country -- amid a spate of deadly mass shootings that prompted renewed calls for strict laws -- Muller said that such a ban would force lawful gun owners to either give up their arms or become criminals.

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"Please don't legislate the 150 million people just like me into being criminals. It has happened. You've already done it," Muller said, referring to the Trump administration's ban on bump stocks, the devices that use a semi-automatic weapon's recoil to make it rapidly fire like an automatic. "I was a bump stock owner, and I had to make a decision: do I become a felon, or do I comply?"

Should the government pass an assault-weapons ban, Muller declared, "I will not comply."

Muller and others at the hearing focused on the practicality of a ban, pointing out what they claimed were mainly "cosmetic" differences between weapons such as the AR-15 and standard semi-automatic hunting rifles. This issue was also raised by Heritage Foundation senior legal policy analyst Amy Swearer when Rep.Jim  Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., went down the line of witnesses asking if they believed hunting rifles should be banned if they are semi-automatic.

Swearer said no, stating that there was no difference in the mechanics or function of an "assault weapon" or a semi-automatic hunting rifle. Dayton, Ohio Mayor Nan Whaley, who recalled the recent mass shooting in her city, did not give a definitive answer to Sensenbrenner's question, nor did Dr. Alejandro Rios Tovar, a trauma surgeon who treated victims of the attack in El Paso, Texas. Charlottesville, Va., Chief of Police RaShall Brackney indicated she was in favor of a ban on "any weapon that could be used to hunt individuals."

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., countered the idea of a hunting rifle ban by referring to his assault-weapon ban bill. Cicilline said that more than 200 weapons are exempt from the bill, so there is really no issue of eliminating hunting rifles.

Swearer also testified against the idea that law-abiding citizens have no need for weapons like AR-15s, recalling how her mother, a gun novice, had difficulty accurately firing a handgun at a shooting range, but was much more effective when she used an AR-15.

"As I read the Second Amendment, it doesn't say the right to bear arms shall not be infringed unless the gun has scary features," Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said.

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Swearer also noted that some features like barrel shrouds enhance the safety of a weapon for its user. But David Chipman, senior policy adviser at the Giffords Law Center, raised a counterpoint noting that a barrel shroud could allow a shooter to get a better grip on a weapon "in a way that would increase your ability to spray fire and kill more people" without burning their hand.

One feature that was a concern for House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is the ability for some weapons to be used with high-capacity magazines that allow users to fire dozens of rounds without reloading.

Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Violence Policy Center, testified in agreement with Nadler that a ban on such magazines, along with a clear definition of "assault weapon" that would eliminate loopholes under the 1994 crime law, would be effective.

Congress and the Trump administration have been in talks for weeks regarding possible gun legislation, but discussion of taking away guns that are currently legal has led to criticism from both parties. After 2020 Democratic hopeful Beto O'Rourke declared during a debate, "Hell yes, we are going to take your AR-15, AK-47," Cicilline said, "That message doesn't help." President Trump said that O'Rourke was making it "much harder" to reach a deal on gun legislation with that sort of rhetoric.

Trump's focus when it comes to gun control has mainly been on background checks. The White House was also circulating a one-page document on Capitol Hill detailing a possible gun background-check proposal that would require private sellers – not just licensed vendors – to conduct background checks for all advertised sales, though Attorney General Bill Barr said Trump has not yet made a “firm decision” on what he ultimately will support.

An August USA Today poll showed that most American voters support increased background checks, with 85 percent of Republican voters supporting background checks for all gun sales. Presently, only federally licensed vendors are required to conduct background checks, allowing private individuals to sell without them under what has been referred to as the "gun show loophole."

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White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley told Fox News last week that he expected an announcement on new gun legislation “very soon.” Gidley said Trump wanted to make sure that any new laws would address actual problems and not just be “feel-good legislation.”

But the Democrats' impeachment push could complicate matters. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had resisted impeachment, announced Tuesday that an impeachment inquiry would be launched. Reflecting how policy debates could take a back seat, Pelosi said in private meetings with lawmakers that Trump called her to discuss gun legislation, but she soon changed the subject to his phone call with the Ukrainian president in which they discussed investigating Joe Biden, which stoked the latest calls for impeachment.