Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said vulnerable Senate Democratic incumbents could be the key to preventing an assault weapons ban from passing this year.
In an interview on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers”set to air Sunday, Grassley acknowledged that support for such a ban remains strong in some quarters of the Democratic Party, but he said he believes the electoral politics make it a difficult prospect at best.
“I feel that an outright ban would have a difficult time passing the [Republican run] House of Representatives, so that would keep it from becoming law,” Grassley said. “But when you have five, six, maybe even seven Democratic senators from rural areas, that come from Second Amendment states ... I think that is a tough go in the Unites States Senate.”
Twenty-one Democratic Senators face reelection in 2014, including several from rural areas, such as Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Udall of Colorado, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Max Baucus of Montana, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Mark Warner of Virginia.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein has introduced legislation that would ban the future sale, transfer, manufacture and importation of 157 specific kinds of semi-automatic guns and impose the same restrictions on ammunition magazines that contain more than 10 rounds. Her bill would also ban rifles, handguns and shotguns that accept detachable magazines and have certain physical characteristics, including a pistol grip or folding stock. The California Democrat helped put in place the 10-year assault weapons ban which expired in 2004.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who backs the ban, said it’s too early to tell what can pass, but he said Democrats intend to push for the ban and the president’s recommendations.
“We are going to try hard on every piece of the president’s package and the package that various Senators have,” Schumer said. “It’s too early to tell where the votes are for each one.”
Grassley, who is the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and who opposes such a ban, said in the C-SPAN interview, “banning guns doesn’t prevent killing.”
He noted that the massacre in Columbine, Colo., happened while the previous assault weapons ban was in place. He also took issue with deciding what types of guns to ban.
It’s “difficult to justify that somehow you ban some guns and not others,” Grassley said. “When you look the whole picture it just makes it very difficult to say you ban these guns and that is somehow going to stop these killings.”
Grassley said he supports updating the National Instant Criminal Background Check System with mental health information. The NCIS is currently incomplete where mental health records are concerned.
“Its something we definitely have to deal with,” Grassley said, adding that an updated database could have helped prevent shootings at Virginia Tech and in Tucson, Ariz. — where former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot — and Aurora, Colo.
But Grassley said he doesn’t see a need for increased background checks, even at gun shows.
“Probably there are not enough background checks,” Grassley said. “But when you get into a one-on-one sale — as opposed to a business that is in that, full time in that — and some friend wants to sell to another friend, I don’t think I want to go that far.”
He noted gun show sales are typically one-on-one sales, and he stressed that federally licensed gun dealers at the shows already must use NCIS to check backgrounds.
The Judiciary panel will also be dealing with changes to immigration policy this year, but Grassely said he wasn’t asked to be part of the bipartisan group of eight senators currently working immigration legislation. That group includes Schumer, who chairs Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security.
“I supposed I could have volunteered,” Grassley said. But he added that as the ranking member of the full panel,”I think I have to be a person that is an honest broker and particularly a leader among Republicans.”
Still, the Iowa lawmaker said Republicans in the group, such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, are right to try to resolve the issue, but he warned that pursuing policy changes would not necessarily change the attitudes of Latino voters toward the GOP.
“I think Sen. McCain is right, but also I think he is a little naïve to think that Hispanic people, [once] we pass an immigration bill, all of a sudden are going to vote Republican,” Grassley said. “I think its part of the reason they didn’t vote Republican in the last election, but I also think that we have not spoken to them.”
Grassley added that the GOP has done little outreach and has not been inclusive regarding Latinos voters.
“We felt like we didn’t have to worry too much about minority groups,” he continued. “I think to pander to them through an immigration bill, even if we are successful, its not going to get the job done.”
He said he believes that Latinos would be a natural fit in the GOP tent as they are “family-oriented, religion-oriented, they have a good work ethic, all things conservative Republicans say they stand for and hopefully do stand for.”
Grassley said he thinks immigration changes are contingent on whether a pathway to citizenship is put in place only after the border is deemed to be secure. That condition is a key compromise included in the bipartisan group’s principles.
Grassley, who has served in the Senate since 1981, is up for re-election in 2016 and he said he has no plans to retire.
“My plans right now are to do things that it takes to be re-elected,” Grassley said.