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Democrats Curb Gun Control Goals

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Feinstein was pessimistic Tuesday about the future of her bill to ban assault weapons.

Senior Senate Democrats bluntly acknowledged Tuesday that a proposed federal ban on assault weapons will not become law, bowing to the political calculus that only lesser gun control measures stand a chance of passing Congress, despite three months of emotional national debate since the Connecticut school massacre.

In separate remarks to reporters, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., both said they do not see Feinstein’s far-reaching proposal on assault weapons passing the Senate, let alone the Republican-led House, where opposition to the measure is even stronger.

“I very much regret it. I tried my best, but my best, I guess, wasn’t good enough,” Feinstein, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said of her bill (S 150), which would ban the future production of 157 specific kinds of guns, as well as ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds.

Although Feinstein refused to label her measure “dead”— “I don’t give up,” she said — she sounded an unusually pessimistic note about its chances after conferring with Reid, who informed her that he would not bring the bill to the floor as a stand-alone measure. The Judiciary Committee passed the assault weapons ban on a party line vote on March 14.

Instead, Feinstein said, her legislation will be offered as an amendment to a less ambitious gun control package that is likely to include a committee-passed crackdown on gun traffickers (S 54) and legislation that would provide more funding to improve school security (S 146). A third committee-passed measure, calling for background checks on most gun purchases (S 374), is still being negotiated among a bipartisan group of senators, but also could be included in the underlying gun legislation that reaches the floor.

Reid said he hopes to bring the package to the floor in early April, after the spring recess, and that he is still deciding which bill or bills would make up the base proposal. He said he is evaluating the bills that have passed through the Judiciary Committee and intends to settle on one or more that can attract the 60 votes that would be needed to open the debate.

But he said that Feinstein’s legislation would not be among them.

“Right now, her amendment — using the most optimistic numbers— has less than 40 votes. That’s not 60,” said Reid, who has personally declined to endorse the assault weapons ban and voted against its previous iteration in 1994. “I have to get something on the floor so we can have votes on that issue and the other issues that I’ve talked about, and that’s what I am going to try to do.”

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