Assault weapons ban dropped from Senate bill in setback for Feinstein


McClatchy Newspapers

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s effort to ban assault-style weapons fizzled Tuesday, as Majority Leader Harry Reid did not include the measure in a larger package of legislation to address gun violence.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Feinstein’s bill last week on a party-line vote of 10-8, but it was expected to have little chance of passage in the full chamber, and none at all in the House of Representatives.

The Senate will still vote on the assault weapons ban as a separate amendment.

Feinstein, a senior Democrat and a leader in the fight for tighter gun restrictions, told reporters Tuesday that she was “disappointed,” but later she said that she still considered it significant that her measure would get a vote.

“What Sen. Reid told me is that I would have an opportunity for a vote,” she said on CNN. “I take him at his word.”

It takes 60 votes to get most any bill through the Senate, and no Republican senator has expressed support for Feinstein’s legislation. Some Democrats oppose it, as well, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Separating the assault weapons ban from the other measures could give help give cover to Democrats from Republican-leaning states who face tough re-election campaigns next year, such as Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.

“I think there was a sense that the assault weapons ban would fall by the wayside at some point,” said Robert Spitzer, chairman of the political science department at the State University of New York at Cortland and a gun-control expert.

Reid told reporters Tuesday that he’d counted, at most, 40 votes for the assault weapons ban.

“That’s not 60,” he said. “I am working to put something together that I can get 60 votes to put a bill on the floor. I’m going to do everything I can to do that.”

Feinstein has been pushing for the legislation since December, when 20 children were killed in a rampage at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. The shooter, armed with an assault rifle, also killed six adults before taking his own life.

Such a setback isn’t new to Feinstein. The four-term senator sponsored the original assault weapons ban, which Congress passed in 1994 after multiple attempts. It expired a decade later, and in spite of Feinstein’s pleas, Congress did not renew it.

The National Rifle Association has long fought her campaign to ban assault weapons, and more recently, magazines with more than 10 bullets. The NRA reacted gleefully Tuesday on Twitter:

“Ban on commonly owned semi-automatic rifles dropped from Senate gun control bill!”

“NRA 1 . . . Feinstein 0,” replied one follower.

But Spitzer said Feinstein’s effort may not have entirely failed, “because it prompted and magnified the national debate about the assault weapons issue.”

New York’s legislature has approved tougher gun laws, and other states may soon follow.

Spitzer gave the rest of the legislation, which includes strengthened background checks and a crackdown on trafficking of illegal weapons by “straw” purchasers, a 50-50 chance in the Senate. As for the House, Spitzer said, “We’ll have to see.”

David Lightman of the Washington Bureau contributed.

Email:; Twitter: @tatecurtis

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