White House urges Congress to pass assault weapons ban
The White House is urging Congress to swiftly pass the assault weapons ban that cleared a Senate panel Thursday on a party-line vote.
But it faces tough odds, after today's 10-to-8 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The panel approved the measure after rejecting a series of Republican amendments. The amendments would have exempted victims of sexual abuse, people living along the Southwest border and others from the assault weapons ban.
President Barack Obama made the ban part of the gun curbs he proposed in January, a month after the deadly shootings at a Connecticut elementary school. An assault weapons ban became law in 1994, but Congress failed to renew it.
White House spokesman Jay Carney says Obama acknowledges that his gun control measures face tough odds. But he argues that the measures won't take guns away from law-abiding citizens.
The Democratic-controlled panel rejected the amendment to exempt sex abuse victims by a party-line, 10-8 vote as it debates a bill prohibiting assault weapons.
The amendment's sponsor is Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn. He says letting victims of sexual abuse use weapons would help them protect themselves.
California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein is sponsoring the broader bill to ban assault weapons. She says people can defend themselves just as well with handguns.
Once it reaches the full Senate - probably in April - the measure appears destined for defeat, thanks to opposition by Republicans and some moderate Democrats, as well.
"I'd like to see everybody doing more," bill sponsor Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Wednesday when asked if she'd like more assistance from Obama. "Yes, absolutely, we need help. We have the 800-pound gorilla out there" - a reference to the potent National Rifle Association.
Obama made an assault weapons ban part of the gun curbs he proposed in January, a month after a shooter with an assault rifle killed 20 first-graders and six educators at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. Feinstein and others have argued that such firearms are used in a disproportionate number of mass shootings and shouldn't be available to civilians.
The prohibition has emerged as one of the most controversial of the gun restrictions being considered in Congress. Foes of barring the weapons say law-abiding citizens should not lose their Second Amendment right to own the weapons, which they say are popular for self-defense, hunting and collecting.
Feinstein's bill would also ban large-capacity ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds, which she and her allies say allow shooters to inflict more casualties before pausing to reload, which is when they might be stopped. Adam Lanza, the Newtown gunman, was said to have had 30-round magazines.
The measure's passage by the Judiciary panel has been a foregone conclusion for some time. It will be far more vulnerable in the full Senate, where Democrats are expected to need 60 votes for passage through the 100-member chamber. That is where the NRA and other pro-gun groups are working hard for the ban's defeat.
"We are focused on the next step of the legislative process," Chris W. Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist, said Wednesday.
There are 53 Democrats plus two independents who generally side with them. Republicans seem ready to oppose the ban overwhelmingly, and Feinstein can't count on a half-dozen Democrats from Republican-leaning states who face re-election next year.
The ban also stands little chance of approval in the GOP-controlled House.
Feinstein's bill would ban semi-automatic weapons - guns that fire one round and automatically reload - that can take a detachable magazine and have at least one military feature like a pistol grip.
It specifically bans 157 named weapons. But in an effort to avoid antagonizing those who use them for sports, the measure allows 2,258 rifles and shotguns that are frequently used by hunters.
It also exempts any weapons that are lawfully owned whenever the bill is enacted.
Feinstein was a leader in passage of a 1994 ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Congress failed to renew it when it expired in 2004.
There are no definitive figures on assault weapons or high-capacity ammunition magazines in the U.S., since there are no government registries of firearms and Congress has curbed federal research on guns since the late 1990s.
When the previous assault weapons ban took effect in 1994, there were an estimated 1.5 million assault weapons and at least 25 million large-capacity magazines that were privately owned in the U.S.
Proponents of banning the weapons cite studies showing that once the assault weapons ban took hold, the portion of gun crimes using those firearms dropped by up to 72 percent in six cities surveyed. They also argue that each assault weapon taken off the streets reduces the potential for mass shootings.
Opponents cite studies showing that assault weapons have been used in fewer than 1 in 10 crimes involving firearms and argue that eliminating those weapons would put only a minor dent in gun violence. High-capacity magazines are involved in up to a quarter of gun crimes.
The Judiciary Committee has already approved three other measures expanding the requirement for background checks for gun buyers; toughening federal laws against illegal gun traffickers and those who purchase weapons for people barred from owning them; and increasing aid for school safety.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)