Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., unveiled legislation Thursday that would reinstate and considerably expand the expired federal ban on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines.
Opposition from Republicans, the National Rifle Association and potentially some Democrats, however, spells trouble for the measure, which is a central component of President Barack Obama’s plan to address gun violence after the fatal shooting of 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school on Dec. 14.
The two chief sponsors outlined the legislation during a crowded news conference on Capitol Hill, surrounded by law enforcement officers, faith leaders, mayors, survivors of gun violence and other Democratic supporters of the bill, including Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Conference Vice Chairman Charles E. Schumer of New York.
Feinstein said the bill, which she has worked on for more than a year, is a legislative response to mass killings such as the one that took place in Newtown, Conn.
“The common thread in these shootings is that each gunman uses a semi-automatic assault weapon or a large-capacity ammunition magazine,” Feinstein said. She said she was introducing the Senate legislation on Thursday; McCarthy will introduce her bill once the House is back in session, an aide said.
The bill 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. It would also ban rifles, handguns and shotguns that accept detachable magazines and have certain physical characteristics, including a pistol grip or folding stock.
Feinstein said the legislation would simplify the definition of an assault weapon by reducing the number of defining physical characteristics from two to one, making it more difficult for gun manufacturers to design firearms that get around the ban. Unlike the previous assault weapons ban, which Feinstein wrote and was in effect from 1994 to 2004, the new version does not have a sunset date and is intended to stay on the books permanently.
The proposal includes some provisions that represent a significant expansion of the earlier ban and are likely to fan the fears of gun owners that their Second Amendment rights are being compromised.
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.
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