Lawmakers Unveil Bill to Ban Assault Weapons
Democratic lawmakers were joined by mayors, law enforcement officials and gun violence victims Thursday to introduce the first significant piece of gun control legislation to be put to Congress since the massacre in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead at an elementary school: The "Assault Weapons Ban of 2013," which would ban many so-called assault weapons as well as high-capacity ammunition magazines.
"Today we are introducing legislation that will help end the mass shootings that have devastated countless families and terrorized communities," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who said she is "incensed that our weak gun laws allow these mass killings to be carried out again, and again, and again in this country."
"And the last several years, the massacres were going on more and more," continued Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed and son was injured in 1993 when a man opened fire on a commuter train. "And going through it, I kept saying, 'what's wrong with all of us? How many people have to be killed before we do something?'"
Among the lawmakers present were the two senators from Connecticut as well as members of the House representing Newtown and Aurora, Colo., where a mass shooting took place in a movie theater last July. Victims of gun violence came to the microphone one by one to discuss loved ones killed by gunfire and their experiences in mass shootings.
McCarthy, D-N.Y., said she has "watched the slaughter of so many people and I've met with so many victims over the years, and in Congress nobody wanted to touch the issue."
The bill would reinstate the 1994 assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004, though with some tweaks: The 1994 ban, for example, defined an assault weapon as a gun that had two or more features or cosmetic accessories such as a pistol grip. The 2013 ban will limit those features to one, which Feinstein said would make it harder for assault weapons manufacturers to get around the law. The new bill would also not expire, as the 1994 bill did after 10 years.
Broadly, the legislation would prohibit 158 specifically named military-style firearms along with certain semiautomatic weapons; it would also outlaw ammunition magazines that accept more than 10 rounds. Americans would be able to keep affected weapons if the weapons were already in their possession when the bill was enacted, and exemptions would be made for specific hunting and sporting weapons, as well as antique or disabled weapons. (The new bill would require a background check for grandfathered weapons if they are sold or transferred.)
Ultimately, however, these details are not likely not to matter all that much. That's because there is little chance that the legislation will get through Congress.
Start with the Senate: Democrats control 55 out of 100 votes, and barring a more-significant-than-expected change to the filibuster rule, supporters of the gun control measure would need all of those votes -- plus five Republican votes -- to pass the bill. Those votes don't appear to be there. There is only one Republican in the Senate - Mark Kirk of Illinois - who supports an assault weapons ban. One Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, told the New York Times of an assault weapons ban this week, "I'm not there," and at least four other Democrats have declined to take a position. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has vacillated on even holding a vote on an assault weapons ban, presumably out of concern that the vote could damage vulnerable Democrats ahead of the 2014 election.