WASHINGTON -- An assault weapons ban won't be in the gun-control legislation Democrats bring to the Senate floor next month, a decision that means the ban's chances of survival are all but hopeless now.
The ban is the most controversial firearms restriction that President Barack Obama and other Democrats have pressed for since an assault-type weapon was used in the December massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Rejection by Congress would be a major victory for the National Rifle Association and its supporters and a setback for Obama and the provision's sponsor, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
In a tactical decision, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) concluded that including the prohibition in the gun bill would jeopardize the chances for passage of any firearms legislation at all, taking away votes that would be needed to overcome Republican attempts to block the Senate from even taking up the issue.
"I very much regret it," Feinstein said yesterday of the choice Reid told her he had made. "I tried my best. But my best, I guess, wasn't good enough."
Feinstein's proposal to prohibit military-style weapons will still get a vote as an amendment to the gun legislation that Democrats debate. But she is all but certain to need 60 votes from the 100-member Senate to move such contested legislation, and she faces solid Republican opposition as well as some likely defections from Democrats.
Reid told reporters that, "using the most optimistic numbers," there were fewer than 40 votes for Feinstein's ban. The chamber has 53 Democrats and two independents who usually back them. "I'm not going to try to put something on the floor that won't succeed. I want something that will succeed. I think the worst of all worlds would be to bring something to the floor and it dies there," Reid said.
Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son Daniel was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, said he hoped an assault weapons ban would pass eventually. "We're still very happy with the progress that's been made," he said. "Hopefully what is stripped away will return as an amendment."
Two new state laws to limit ammunition magazines and expand required background checks are to be signed today by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in Colorado, where a movie theater in Aurora was the site of a mass shooting last year.