Feinstein on assault weapons ban: "No weapon is taken from anyone"

Democrats lay out the new version of legislation that would ban 158 types of assault weapons

By Jillian Rayfield
Published January 24, 2013 5:51PM (EST)

In a press conference Thursday, Democrats unveiled a new version of the assault weapons ban that they will introduce into the House and Senate, which includes a ban on 158 specifically named military-style firearms.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who sponsored the Senate version of the bill and who worked on the assault weapons ban from the '90s that expired in 2004, said in her remarks that this will be a "tough battle," but she is "incensed that our weak gun laws allow these mass killings to be carried out again and again and again in this country."

"The common thread in these shootings is that each gunman used a semi-automatic assault weapon" or a large-capacity magazine, Feinstein said.

The legislation specifically prohibits 158 types of military-grade firearms, as well as other semi-automatic rifles, handguns and shotguns that can have a detachable magazine and have at least one military characteristic. As Feinstein explained, the 1994 version of the law had a two-characteristic test for a weapon to be banned, but that was "too easy to work around."

Feinstein also emphasized that the ban will not affect weapons for hunting and sporting, and protects "2,200 specifically named weapons used for hunting or sporting purposes. They are, by make and model, exempted from the legislation." She added: "No weapon is taken from anyone. The purpose is to dry up the supply of these weapons over time. Therefore there is no sunset on this bill."

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., who will introduce the House version, and whose husband was killed in a shooting on the Long Island Railroad in 1993, said in the press conference that "this battle has been a very lonely battle for many, many years.

"Some people will say this bill won't work. Let me tell you why it will work. Because if you don't have these guns and the large magazines on the shelves, those who have done these horrific killings wouldn't be able to go to a gun store and just buy them. They don't have the background to look to the black market," she said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., brought up the shooting of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., and how "even that incident did not move us to act."

"We have one basic question that is being asked today that I hope we can answer: What does it take? What does it take to move a nation? What does it take to move a Congress?" he asked.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who used to represent the district that encompasses Newtown, said in his remarks that "kids would be alive today in Newtown, Conn., if the law that we're proposing today were in place." He pointed to data that showed a two-thirds drop in gun violence during the time the old law was in place,  and that "the first assault weapons ban, even with its warts, worked."

As CBS points out, the ban faces long odds, even in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where a number of senators from gun-friendly states are vulnerable in the upcoming 2014 elections:

Start with the Senate: Democrats control 55 out of 100 votes, and barring a more-significant-than-expected change to the filibuster rule, supporters of the gun control measure would need all of those votes -- plus five Republican votes -- to pass the bill. Those votes don't appear to be there. There is only one Republican in the Senate - Mark Kirk of Illinois - who supports an assault weapons ban. One Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, told the New York Times of an assault weapons ban this week, "I'm not there," and at least four other Democrats have declined to take a position. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has vacillated on even holding a vote on an assault weapons ban, presumably out of concern that the vote could damage vulnerable Democrats ahead of the 2014 election.

Jillian Rayfield

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at jrayfield@salon.com.

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