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Democrats abandon proposed assault weapons ban

Published time: March 19, 2013 23:07
Reuters / Joshua Lott

Reuters / Joshua Lott

With the US Senate set to mull new gun legislation this April, a proposed ban on assault weapons will no longer be up for debate, the proposal's sponsors say. As a result, the ban is almost surely off the table for inclusion in a new law.

California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who promoted the ban, told the press that Nevada's Harry Reid made the concession with a view to avoiding Republican sabotage. Leaving out the assault weapons ban, she reasoned, would prevent the debate on gun control from being blocked by Republicans before it even began.

"I very much regret it," Feinstein, who wrote the 1994 assault weapons ban that expired ten years later, said of the decision. "I tried my best."

Instead of debating a ban on military-style weapons up front, Feinstein will propose the measure as an amendment once legislation is in order. The ban could be on thin ice as it faces near-certain rejection from Republicans across the board as well as some Democrats.  

A ban would need 60 votes to even be in the running for legislative action.

The Senate is home to 53 Democrats, as well as two independents who can be relied upon to vote to the left. But even "Using the most optimistic numbers," Reid said, the ban would receive fewer than 40 votes.

"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 to something to the floor and it dies there," Reid said.

In order to get support, Feinstein says, the Senate will first vote on assault weapons in general - including a ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. After that, a vote on high-capacity magazines would be taken to the floor.

A discussion on banning military-style weapons for civilian purchase in the US started up after years of dormancy following the December 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. In January US President Barack Obama publicly commented on such a ban in response to the Sandy Hook attack.

Restricting gun ownership and use is a majorly controversial issue in the US, where many believe the country's constitution provides full protection of gun ownership, no matter what the style, under the law.

However, the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved four gun control measures in March 2013 alone, including the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The other two would see the expansion of federal background checks on individuals purchasing weapons, make punishments for illegal weapons trafficking more severe and up funding for school safety.