Assault weapons ban to be dropped from Senate gun bill

WASHINGTON – An assault weapons ban will not be included in a package of gun safety legislation that will come to the Senate floor, the measure’s champion, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said Tuesday.

The California Democrat said her party’s leaders told her that her legislation, approved last week in the Senate Judiciary Committee in a party-line vote, could be offered as an amendment to the larger bill.


Feinstein expressed disappointment that her attempt to revive the 1994 ban was dropped to clear the way for other measures. “I very much regret it. I tried my best. But my best, I guess, wasn’t good enough,” Feinstein said before heading into the Senate Democrats’ strategy luncheon.

Feinstein’s bill would prohibit the sale, import and manufacture of more than 150 weapons and ban ammunition magazines that can accept more than 10 rounds. People who already legally own assault weapons – 3.5 million to 4 million, by one estimate – would be allowed to keep them. Sale of existing weapons would require buyers to undergo background checks.

Spurred by the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the Senate Judiciary Committee passed four gun bills. In addition to Feinstein’s assault weapons ban, the committee moved bills to expand background checks for gun buyers, crack down on gun trafficking and allocate money to improve school safety. The assault weapons ban was always seen as the most politically challenging of the recommendations produced by the Obama administration.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he was taking a pragmatic view of which measures could attract the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate and move to the House. “Her amendment, using the most optimistic numbers, has 40 votes,” he said.

The other three bills will be rolled into one bill, which could put pressure on Republicans and conservative Democrats to get on board. That bill has not been crafted yet, because senators are waiting on a possible bipartisan compromise on the background check measure.

On the floor, senators would probably have a chance to vote on an amendment that would add both a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and then on another amendment that would add just the limits on magazine size.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who opposes stricter gun control, said he was not surprised Reid would drop the assault weapons ban, saying it was “primarily focused on cosmetics, not on function.”

“I also think as a political matter that Sen. Reid’s loath to have a bunch of red-state Democrats running in [2014] have to vote on that. That explains the strategy,” Cornyn, a former chairman of the Senate Republican campaign committee, said.

Feinstein vowed not to give up, even floating – but immediately dismissing – the idea of placing a hold on a broader gun bill that doesn’t include the assault weapons ban. She blamed her bill’s troubles in part on the political and financial power of the main gun lobby, the National Rifle Assn.

“America has to stand up,” she said. “I can’t fight the NRA. The NRA spends unlimited sums, backed by the gun manufacturers, who are craven in my view. And I don’t know what else to do other than the best we can in drafting a bill in asking for support and in enabling something to pass in the Senate.”

Staff writers Melanie Mason and Richard Simon contributed to this report.

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