A proposed ban on sales of assault weapons would be defeated in the U.S. Senate today unless some members changed their current views, based on a Bloomberg review of recent lawmaker statements and interviews.
At least six of the 55 senators who caucus with Democrats have recently expressed skepticism or outright opposition to a ban, the review found. That means Democrats wouldn’t have a simple 51-vote majority to pass the measure, let alone the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster to bring it to a floor vote.
A ban on the military-style weapons is among the legislative goals President Barack Obama outlined in his recommendations to Congress on curbing gun violence. Yesterday, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California introduced legislation to outlaw such sales during a news conference where survivors of past shootings, some of them with bullets still lodged in their bodies, urged its passage.
At that event, Feinstein said it’s unclear whether the fight is winnable. “We don’t know, it’s so uphill,” she said. “It depends on the courage of Americans.”
The five Democratic senators from traditionally pro-gun states who have recently expressed skepticism about the bill are Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Independent Senator Angus King of Maine, who is caucusing with Democrats, also said he opposes a ban.
Maine Senator Susan Collins, a Republican who supported similar legislation in 2004, has indicated she is unlikely to back the proposed ban.
The new legislation prohibits the sale or transfer of 158 of the most commonly owned military-style assault weapons. It exempts all assault weapons legally possessed prior to passage of the law and excludes more than 2,200 hunting and sporting rifles.
Baucus, in a Jan. 16 statement, said that “before passing new laws, we need a thoughtful debate that respects responsible, law-abiding gun owners in Montana instead of a one-size-fits-all directive from Washington.”
“The answer isn’t simply in limiting guns,” said Andrea Helling, a spokeswoman for Tester. The senator also told the Missoulian newspaper that an assault weapons ban wouldn’t have stopped the shootings in Newtown.
Begich said he was “not interested” in a ban, during a Jan. 10 conference call with reporters. “I don’t believe that we need to pile on new laws and suddenly that solves all the problems,” he said. Manchin told CNN on Jan. 13 that the debate can’t be “about guns and guns only and a ‘‘stand-alone ban’’ will ‘‘not go anywhere.’’
Two freshmen also expressed skepticism about an assault weapons ban.
‘‘There isn’t any amount of gun regulation or gun executive orders that will solve the problem of identifying people who could potentially do this and making sure they get the help and their families get the help so they don’t do this,” Heitkamp told North Dakota’s KXMB-TV and KXMC-TV Jan. 15.
Scott Ogden, a spokesman for King, said the senator “remains skeptical” about an assault weapons ban, though he was waiting for more details. And Collins is concerned that the proposed legislation is “far broader in the kinds of rifles that would be banned than was the case in the law in effect between 1994 and 2004,” said her spokesman, Kevin Kelley.
Further dimming prospects for the assault weapon ban, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, both Democrats, voted against extending a previous ban in 2004. Neither has made any public statements since Newtown indicating that they will change their positions.
Feinstein is hoping survivor testimonials, along with the images of the 20 slain children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, most of them 6-year-olds, will push these Democrats to reconsider their opposition.
“The message to Democrats is, ‘See what your silence does?’ There will be more of these. These won’t end,” Feinstein told reporters.
“It’s been event after event after event, and what’s new to this are the schools,” she said. “If just reading the list of beautiful names and looking into the eyes of some of the pictures of the children slain doesn’t do something to the conscience of America, nothing I can say or do will.”
The tally suggests Democrats may focus their efforts on another major goal: banning high-capacity magazines that have been used in many of the shooting massacres over the past decade to fire off numerous bullets in a matter of seconds.
Feinstein’s legislation also includes a high-capacity magazine ban, and Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, introduced legislation on Jan. 22 to ban the manufacture and sale of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds.
In the Tucson, Arizona, shooting two years ago that severely injured former RepresentativeGabrielle Giffords, of Arizona, Jared Lee Loughner fired 31 bullets in 15 seconds from a Glock 19 pistol. He was tackled while reloading. Shooter James Holmes used a 100-round magazine to kill 12 and wound 58 in July 2012 at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater.
Some of these lawmakers did express support for a ban on high-capacity magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, and increased background checks.
“Congress must act to implement magazine capacity restrictions,” King spokesman Ogden said in a statement. King is also “generally supportive of expanded background checks,” he added. Collins “supports a reasonable limitation on the number of rounds of ammunition in a magazine,” spokesman Kelley said.
Yesterday Vice President Joe Biden, who led the president’s panel that issued recommendations for curbing gun violence, downplayed the debate over what constitutes an assault weapon and said it’s more important to limit ammunition capacity.
“I’m much less concerned, quite frankly, about what you call an assault weapon ban than I am about magazines and the number of rounds that can be held in a magazine,” Biden said.
Other proposals also may draw more support. Manchin told a West Virginia radio interviewer Jan. 24 that he was working with senators of both parties to require most gun purchasers, including those at gun shows, to undergo checks.
“If you’re going to be a gun owner, you should have a background check and be able to pass a background check,” he said. Exceptions should be made in cases where a gun is transferred from one family member to another, and when the owner is getting a gun to use at a sporting event.
Manchin said private sellers at gun shows have an “unfair advantage” because they don’t have to perform background checks while a licensed dealer does.
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