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Feinstein, McCarthy Unveil Strengthened Assault Weapons Ban

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Feinstein said she was introducing Senate legislation regarding assault weapons Thursday.

Most prominently, the bill addresses the millions of semi-automatic guns and large-capacity ammunition magazines that are already in private owners’ possession today. It would require background checks on all such firearms if they are sold or transferred— including from one private citizen to another — and it would ban the future sale of large-capacity magazines even if those magazines are currently in their owners’ hands legally. It would impose a “safe storage requirement” for firearms currently in existence, and it includes a voluntary gun-buyback program designed to encourage gun owners to turn over their firearms in exchange for money provided through a Justice Department grant program.

“We have learned from the [original] bill,” Feinstein said.

Lukewarm Democratic Support

The legislation is seen as the toughest of the president’s gun control measures for proponents to try to pass in a politically divided Congress, and there were immediate signs Thursday of those challenges.

Hours after Feinstein and McCarthy unveiled the proposal, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, issued a statement saying he looks “forward to helping lead the fight to defeat this bill.”

“Washington politicians shouldn’t be taking advantage of recent tragedy to try to push an aggressive gun control agenda,” Cruz said. “This proposal would have done nothing to prevent the terrible murders in Newtown, but it would limit the constitutional liberties of law-abiding citizens.”

Cruz’s comments came a day after Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said during an event at the Ripon Society, a Republican think tank, that an assault weapons ban would not be an effective response to gun violence and would “give people a false sense of security.”

Democrats from gun-friendly states also took a cautious approach Thursday, which suggests that the measure will have enough problems finding sufficient votes in the Senate, let alone in the House.

“I’m not ready to sign up for anything,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who has a top rating from the NRA and faces re-election in 2014, added: “I’m going to listen to Montanans and make my decision.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who did not attend Thursday’s news conference, has shown only tepid support for the assault weapons proposal. He told a Nevada television station Jan. 11 that he sees little chance of the measure becoming law due to likely opposition in the House. Reid may choose not to force some of his members into a difficult vote if the legislation stands no chance of passing the House.

Influence Battle

The NRA has vowed to fight Obama’s gun initiatives forcefully, and it released a survey Thursday refuting assertions by Democrats that many NRA members would support steps such as an assault weapons ban.

The survey the group issued found that 89 percent of NRA members “oppose banning semi-automatic firearms,” which it said are wrongly characterized as “assault rifles.”

Several speakers at Feinstein’s news conference acknowledged that a bruising lobbying battle with the NRA is likely, but they expressed confidence that they could outmaneuver pro-gun rights advocates by appealing directly to Americans who have seen too many mass shootings.

“I believe the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby,” said the Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the Washington National Cathedral.

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