John Bresnahan at Politico reports:
The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a hugely controversial ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, but the measure faces nearly certain defeat on the Senate floor.
The proposal, authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), bans 157 different models of assault weapons, as well as magazines containing more than 10 bullets.
The vote was 10 to 8, with all Democrats supporting it and all Republicans opposed.
The Senate now faces a floor fight in coming weeks over Democrats’ push to dramatically alter U.S. gun laws for the first time in two decades. While the Feinstein assault weapons ban is unlikely to overcome GOP opposition and get a vote — as well as concerns from red state Democrats up for reelection in 2014 — Democrats and the White House will continue their drive to enact universal background checks on all gun sales.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, acknowledged that the assault weapons ban will have a hard time overcoming opposition.
“It’s pretty clear the other side is locked in opposition [to assault weapons ban.] — [I] don’t see us getting 60 votes,” Whitehouse said, referring to the necessary bar to pass the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other top Democrats, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, will now try to craft one package out of the Feinstein proposal and other gun-related bills. The Judiciary Committee has previously approved a gun-trafficking bill that expands federal sanctions for “straw purchasers” of guns, as well as a universal background checks proposal. The panel also approved an additional $40 million for school safety programs.
Reid told POLITICO he spoke with Feinstein and said “he tried to understand” why she included a limitation of high-capacity magazines in her proposal, saying he believed they should be “two separate things.” But Reid would not say if he believed the Feinstein bill should move as part of the base guns bill on the floor, saying he needed to talk in more detail with Leahy.
Yet gun-control advocates hailed today’s vote as a victory, even if the bill faces a bleak outlook.
“There are plenty of weapons out there,” Feinstein said during Thursday’s hearing. “The whole point of this bill is to reduce over time the supply, purchase and transfer of military type weapons.”
Feinstein got into a tense exchange with GOP Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), who pointedly challenged her on whether the bill complied with the Second Amendment or would be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I am not a sixth grader,” Feinstein bristled. “Congress is in the business of making the law. The Supreme Court interprets the law. If they strike down the law, they strike down the law.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), whose state saw the death of 20 children in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in mid-December, said such weapons are”primarily for criminal purposes” and it was “simply appropriate” to ban them.
But Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the second-highest Republican in the Senate, said he “must strongly oppose” the Feinstein proposal and echoed the GOP position — backed by the powerful National Rifle Association — that the measure was overly broad and failed to address the problem of the “seriously mentally deranged” getting guns.
Cornyn said the assault weapons ban “jeopardizes the self-defense rights of law-abiding citizens while doing nothing to address the real problem.”
Cornyn also said the proposal would effectively ban “the majority of handguns” sold in the country because it prohibits the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips. Cornyn offered several amendment to revise the Feinstein proposal, but they were defeated by Democrats.
“What’s happening here with all these amendments in effort to nip it and tuck it and create all these exceptions,” Feinstein said.
Cornyn, though, did suggest he might support a potential bipartisan compromise on universal background checks if a deal can be reached when the gun bill comes to the Senate floor in coming weeks. Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) are searching for GOP backers for that legislation after talks with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) broke down.