The gun lobby can hold their fire on a key element of proposed gun control legislation after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) pulled an assault weapons ban from the bill.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), whose political career was forged during the turmoil of the 1978 assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk while she was on the board, was more than a little perturbed when her proposal was removed from the broad package.
“You'd think the Congress would listen, but they clearly listen to the National Rifle Assn.,” Feinstein said after Reid’s decision. The majority leader’s decision comes one week after Feinstein recounted at a Senate hearing her experience during the City Hall shootings—trying to find the pulse of a dying Milk and putting her finger through a bullet hole.
Reid said he needed 60 votes on the larger package to get past a Republican filibuster and the assault weapon ban was a deal killer. Reid said he didn’t think he could get 40 votes in support of it, much less 60, and suggested it could be brought up later as an amendment for a vote on the Senate floor.
Feinstein’s proposal was similar to a law she helped pass in 1994, but which failed to win reapproval 10 years later. It would have banned high-capacity ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds, and more than 150 weapons, including the one used in the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults. The bill would have banned firearms with “thumbhole stocks” and “bullet buttons” and expanded the definition of an assault weapon. More than 900 specific weapons used for hunting or sport would have been exempted and those who already owned assault weapons would be allowed to keep them.
Supporters of gun control hope that by removing arguably the most aggressive of the bill’s measures, passage of a law with background checks for gun purchases and other restrictions would have a better chance of passage. However, support for background checks in the Senate floundered earlier in the month when bipartisan discussions broke down.
Even a watered-down bill, heavy on educational programs and school safety features, would face a tortuous path through Congress. Reid is a longtime supporter of gun rights and is aware that a number of Democratic senators in Republican-leaning states would probably have a difficult time defending a “yes” vote on gun control in the 2014 elections.
Even if a bill emerges from the Senate, Feinstein said, “Then we face the wonderful House of Representatives,” which is controlled by Republicans and heavily influenced by the National Rifle Association.