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Senate Democrats unveil assault weapons ban. Can it win any GOP support?

The assault weapons ban offered by Sen. Feinstein was tougher, in some respects, than the expired 1994 ban, but it also sought to reassure current gun owners: 'No weapon is taken from anyone.'

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Opponents of the assault weapons ban raise questions about its efficacy. A RAND Corporation analysis of research on gun control legislation found, at best, an indirect link between the 10-year assault weapons ban beginning in 1994 and a corresponding drop in the US murder rate. In general, RAND found, crafting gun legislation to impact violence in the United States would be a tall order.

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“The vast number of guns in circulation in the United States — approximately 270 million — raises significant questions,” RAND scholars concluded, “about the time frame over which the nation can reasonably expect new policies to have an effect, the gains that can be achieved in the short run, and the equity of the distribution of burden that any restriction on gun access entails.”

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, however, argues that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms data show the use of assault weapons in crimes fell by two-thirds during the ban compared with the five-year period before it went into effect. Other research suggests a link between an assault weapons ban and a reduction in mass murders, RAND points out.

The assault weapons bill joins other pieces of Obama’s requested changes to the nation’s gun control laws in the 113th Congress.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) of New Jersey reintroduced legislation to require background checks on all gun sales at gun shows, although a law requiring universal background checks for gun purchases as requested by the president remains unwritten.
 
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont offered a bill aimed at stemming “straw purchases,” where a viable buyer purchases a weapon for an ineligible owner, and raising penalties for weapons trafficking in general. Senator Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman, will hold a series of hearings beginning next Wednesday on gun issues.

But even within the Democratic caucus there’s not a firm consensus on which pieces of the president’s legislation to trumpet. Lawmakers such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia, or red-state Democrats facing reelection in 2014 like Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) of Louisiana, have not endorsed the assault weapons proposal.

While Democrats in the House are some of gun control's most steadfast advocates and, like Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York, spoke emotionally on the issue Thursday, the spotlight is on the Senate because the GOP-held House has not signaled it will attempt to pass any of the president's requests.

“Whether it’s going to pass, it’s too early to predict,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D) of Illinois, a co-sponsor of the Senate assault weapons ban.

Speaking outside the often-emotional hearing in which Feinstein unveiled her legislation, Senator Durbin noted that as a member of the US House representing a largely rural Illinois district he was often politically targeted by the NRA.

“I understand the politics of this issue,” Durbin said, “but we are elected to Congress even [to vote] on controversial issues like this, and we have an obligation to our voters and this country to do it.”

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