Assault weapons ban shelved: Strong reactions pour in

The exclusion of the assault-weapons ban from gun-control legislation could improve the likelihood of the package passing. But Sen. Dianne Feinstein is among those unhappy with the decision.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in February. Senator Feinstein, the sponsor of a proposed assault-weapons ban, says Senate majority leader Harry Reid has told her that the ban will not be part of the initial gun-control measure the Senate will debate in April.

A tactical decision by Senate majority leader Harry Reid to exclude a ban on assault weapons from gun-control legislation has sparked reaction among politicians and media outlets.

The exclusion of the hotly debated measure could improve the likelihood of passing the gun-control package, which includes stronger background checks, harsher punishments for gun trafficking, and funding for school safety enhancements.

"I think the worst of all worlds would be to bring something to the floor and it dies there," Senator Reid told reporters Tuesday. "People are deserving of votes on their issues they feel so strongly about."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California did not hide her disappointment in the decision.

“This is very important to me. And I’m not going to lay down and play dead,” she told CNN Tuesday. “It’s aimed to protect children, to protect schools and malls.... Not to give me a vote on this would be a major betrayal of trust, as I would see it.”

Senator Feinstein’s bill would ban more than 150 specific assault-style weapons, and last week it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with a 10-to-8, party line vote. Reid said that the bill does not have enough support in the Senate, with fewer than 40 votes.

Feinstein cites broad public support for the measure: Sixty percent of Americans would vote for a law that would “reinstate and strengthen the ban on assault weapons that was in place from 1994 to 2004,” according to a January Gallup poll. And 55 percent of Americans favor a ban on assault-style weapons, a Pew Research Center poll from the same month showed.

“America has to stand up,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I can't fight the NRA. The NRA spends unlimited sums, backed by the gun manufacturers, who are craven in my view.”

The exclusion of the assault-weapons ban was inevitable because of the influence of the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturers in Washington, D.C., says editorial board of New Jersey's Star-Ledger newspaper.

“Somewhere, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA is smiling,” the editorial board wrote.

In Forbes, Abram Brown points to the increase in gun sales in the aftermath of the Connecticut shooting as a sign of the gun lobby’s strength.

“The gun legislation that the Senate will consider next month represents a victory for the firearm industry,” he writes for Forbes. “It will lack an assault weapons ban, which would limit hundreds of thousands of firearms sold each year, leaving gun-makers free to profit from the tremendous increase in demand brought by the fear of harsh anti-gun laws.”

Mike Fifer, CEO of gun manufacturer Sturm, Ruger & Co., acknowledged this on a conference call with analysts, Mr. Brown reports. “We have been basically selling every single thing we make,” Mr. Fifer said on the call.

But gun control is still one of Feinstein’s highest priorities. She authored the 1994 assault-weapons ban, which expired in 2004 because Congress did not reauthorize it.  

One question being asked is how effective a ban on assault weapons would be in curbing gun violence.

“Whether or not the assault weapons ban would make any difference is an open question,” political commentator David Horsey writes in the Los Angeles Times.  “Even if it were law, it would not affect the 3.5 to 4 million military-type rifles that are already in private hands. Still, Feinstein and numerous military leaders and police chiefs argue it is patently crazy that such powerful weapons are so easily available.”

The political reality, Mr. Horsey said, is that gun-control legislation will not pass Congress without the support of the NRA – or at least greater bipartisan support.

“The assault weapons ban was always an uphill battle this session," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) of Connecticut said in a statement. "As we have known all along, we face a marathon effort and not a sprint."

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