After all the national hand-wringing in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, Senate Democrats dropped the assault weapons ban from the gun control legislation that will be presented to the Senate, making the passage of an assault weapons ban increasingly unlikely.
The fine line being walked by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada illustrates how precarious a path any gun control legislation will have in a Congress still afraid of retaliation from the National Rifle Association, even if a majority of Americans, according to polls, support some kind of limit on what type of weapons can be purchased and by whom.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chief sponsor of the ban, revealed Tuesday that her bill won’t be part of the legislation to come out of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Senate will begin debating in April after a two-week recess. Clearly Reid has determined that gun control legislation has a better chance of moving forward without the assault weapons ban. Feinstein said Reid told her she can introduce the ban as an amendment to the full bill. In this way, he can make good on his promise to hold an up-or-down vote on the ban before the full Senate.
The Senate would then hold a separate vote on the amendment to limit the size of ammunition clips, Feinstein told reporters.
But Reid admitted the Feinstein amendment has no chance of passing the Senate.
“Right now her amendment, using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes. I — that’s not 60,” Reid said. “I have to get something on the floor so we can have votes on that issue and the other issues that I’ve talked about. And that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
“Obviously I was disappointed,” Feinstein said.
“The enemies on this are very powerful, I’ve known that all my life,” Feinstein added, referring to the National Rifle Association. “But I’m confident this bill would be constitutional.”
Feinstein’s bill, backed by the White House and gun control advocates around the country, would ban almost 160 specific semiautomatic weapons and rifles and assorted military-style parts and also limit the size of ammunition clips to 10 rounds, banning larger rounds used in some of the more recent mass shootings. There are 22 other Senate Democratic co-sponsors, including Feinstein.
“I think we have growing momentum on our side,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “Newtown was a call to action and I think we’ve made tremendous progress. Three-plus months ago, this issue was politically untouchable. This time is different.”
Blumenthal said advocates for the ban would keep lobbying the lawmakers in their home states. “They have been very compelling when I’ve seen them talk to my colleagues,” he said. “I’ve had families visit Washington and talk to a number of my colleagues privately. It’s been very, very powerful.”
It is expected that Reid would focus his efforts on expanding the gun background check program, which has a better chance of passing.