Grim prospects for an assault weapons ban

Democrats are downplaying the chances an assault weapons ban will make it through Congress

Published February 4, 2013 10:52PM (EST)

It's increasingly likely that an assault weapons ban won't have the steam to make it through Congress, and top Democrats are slowly backing away from the prospect.

As part of his proposals in the wake of the Newtown school shootings, Obama called for an assault weapons ban, a ban on high-capacity magazines and an expansion of the background check system. Speaking in Minnesota today, President Obama reiterated his support for these proposals, but emphasized the importance of universal background checks.

The New York Times reports:

At the event, Mr. Obama declared “universal background checks” to be supported by the “vast majority of Americans” and called for quick passage in Congress of legislation expanding their reach. “There’s no reason why we can’t get that done,” he told the gathering of law enforcement officials.

But the president set a different political standard for a potential assault weapons ban, saying only that it “deserves a vote in Congress because weapons of war have no place on our streets.”

White House aides again said Monday that the president was pushing for all three measures, along with changes to the nation’s mental health system. But top lawmakers in Congress and gun control advocacy organizations appear nervous about the political chances of an assault weapons ban and eager to push for a better background check system.

Obama's remarks followed some tepid support for an assault weapons ban by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who was asked on ABC's "This Week" if he supports the legislation proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. He demurred:  "Oh, I don't know. I frankly -- and she knows I haven't read her amendment. I didn't vote for the assault weapons last time because it didn't make sense, but I'll take a look at it."

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., also acknowledged that it would be hard to push it through: "I support the assault weapons ban. I think right now it is probably the toughest part of this conversation."

Add to that the latest rumblings that the Senate may exclude the ban from its roll-out of a gun control package. On Monday, a report by the Wall Street Journal cited an unnamed Reid aide who said that Senate Dems are likely to move forward with a bill that includes most of Obama's proposed gun control measures, but not an assault weapons ban. From the Journal:

But the strategy outline also reflects a growing sense within Democratic ranks that some of the president's most ambitious goals—particularly the call for new bans on certain types of military-style guns often described as assault weapons—may be unrealistic, the Reid aide said.

The goal is to get the bill to the Senate floor next month, at which point lawmakers could then seek to amend the legislation by adding a ban on certain semiautomatic weapons or other provisions, the aide said.

Sam Stein from Huffington Post reports further on the procedural machinations, noting that though the ban will get a vote, "the purpose of that vote will be in part to facilitate its demise":

If the bill emerges from the Judiciary Committee without an assault weapons ban in it, then Reid will allow for the ban to be introduced as an amendment on the Senate floor. If the bill emerges from the Judiciary Committee with an assault weapons ban in it, the expectation is that Reid will allow for a vote to strip it out. Leadership prefers the former, as it would give more conservative Democrats the chance to publicly say they beat back the ban. If the latter were to take place, it would put Reid in an uncomfortable position of allowing for the procedural axing of a measure that remains popular in the party.

By Jillian Rayfield

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

MORE FROM Jillian Rayfield

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Assault Weapons Ban Barack Obama Gun Control Gun Violence Minnesota Universal Background Checks