Feinstein seeks public's help to pass assault weapons ban through Congress

11:56 PM, Jan 24, 2013   |    comments
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California
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By Raju Chebium,
Gannett Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Thursday proposed banning 157 makes and models of military-style assault rifles, pistols, shotguns and semi-automatic weapons, and appealed to the public to get her bill through Congress.

The California Democrat's legislation also would outlaw firearms with fixed ammunition clips that can hold more than 10 rounds and ban civilian weapons that differ only slightly from military models meant only for combat.

MORE: Read description of bill

The Feinstein bill, co-sponsored by California Sen. Barbara Boxer and 13 other Democrats, would exempt 2,258 makes and models of hunting and sporting rifles.

The author of a 1994 assault weapons ban -- which expired in 2004 -- acknowledged that her new bill faces tough odds in Congress.

Feinstein told a Capitol Hill news conference that it will pass "if America rises up, if people care enough."

"Call every member of the House, call every member of the Senate and say, 'We have had enough. These weapons do not belong on the streets of our towns, of our cities, in our schools, in our malls, in our workplaces, in our movie theaters,'" Feinstein said to an audience that included victims of gun violence, relatives of mass-shooting victims, and police officers who favor the ban.

"Enough is enough. We can win this. But it depends on America and it depends on the courage of Americans," she said.

The bill has a better chance of passing the Democratic-majority Senate than the Republican-controlled House.

The National Rifle Association, which views any gun measure as a violation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, rejected Feinstein's bill.

"Sen. Feinstein has been trying to ban guns from law-abiding citizens for decades. It's disappointing but not surprising that she is once again focused on curtailing the Constitution instead of prosecuting criminals or fixing our broken mental health system," the NRA said. "The American people know gun bans do not work and we are confident Congress will reject Sen. Feinstein's wrong-headed approach."

The NRA Member Councils of California refused comment, referring inquiries to the powerful gun lobby's headquarters in Fairfax, Va. The California Rifle & Pistol Association didn't immediately return a telephone message.

Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin said he supports the proposed ban because it would keep dangerous assault weapons away from killers who are intent on mayhem. Perpetrators of recent mass shootings have used some of the "exotic" makes and models covered under the bill, he said.

What Feinstein's bill wouldn't cover are the weapons of choice in violence-plagued communities, he said.

The weapons that show up in Salinas' gang-ridden streets "are the run-of-the-mill pistols that you would see in any typical firearms retailer anywhere in America," McMillin said.

Along with passing Feinstein's bill, Congress should tax ammunition at, say, $1 per bullet, to drive the cost above what many common criminals can afford, he said. Such a tax would preserve the Second Amendment right and generate money to hire police officers and pay for mental-health services, he said.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris praised Feinstein's bill as the right thing to do.

"Sen. Feinstein's renewed call to reactivate the federal assault weapons ban and to ban high-capacity magazines is in the best interest of public safety, " Harris said in a statement. "These weapons of war are too often used to take innocent lives and do not belong on our streets. I was proud to stand with Sen. Feinstein when she fought to restore the ban in 2004, and I am proud to stand with her again today."

Unlike the federal ban, which expired in 2004, California retains its ban on military-style assault weapons. The state is considered to have the nation's strongest gun-control laws.

Gun-control advocates say the death of 20 children and six teachers and staff members in last month's Connecticut school shooting galvanized the effort to reinstitute an assault weapons ban and enact a broader set of measures to curb mass shootings. Whether that's enough to break through resistance by the NRA and its congressional allies is unclear.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., is sponsoring the House version of the Feinstein bill.

Separately, Vice President Joe Biden is heading the White House's gun violence task force, which plans to announce its recommendations in the coming weeks.

A group of House Democrats, led by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, is working on a broad package of proposals aimed at reducing gun violence.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who has long worked with Feinstein on gun matters, praised the Californian for introducing an "updated, smart and more robust" version of her original proposal to ban assault weapons.

Schumer, who like Feinstein is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision that reaffirmed the right to bear arms also said Congress could impose a "reasonable limitation" on that right.

Feinstein's proposal is just such a reasonable limitation, and people don't have the "inalienable right" to own assault weapons, Schumer said, though he acknowledged the difficulty in getting a majority of Congress to agree.

"Will it be hard? For sure," he said. "We owe it to our constituents and our country to try."

Gannett Washington Bureau

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