Democrats pushed an assault- weapons ban through a Senate committee Thursday and toward its likely doom on the Senate floor, after an emotion-laden debate that underscored the deep feelings the issue stokes on both sides.
Three months after 26 children and educators were gunned down in Newtown, Conn., the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the measure on a party-line 10-8 vote. The bill also would bar ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds.
Thursday’s vote marked the fourth gun-control measure the committee has approved in a week and shifted the spotlight to the full Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he will decide soon how to bring the measures to the chamber, where debate is expected next month.
“Americans are looking to us for solutions and for action,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. He said that despite gun-rights advocates’ claims, the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms is not at risk, but “lives are at risk” unless lawmakers can figure out how to keep firearms away from dangerous people.
The other bills would require federal background checks to more would-be gun buyers, make it easier for authorities to prosecute illegal gun traffickers and boost school safety aid.
In a written statement, President Barack Obama thanked senators “for taking another step forward in our common effort to help reduce gun violence” and said Congress should vote on all the proposals. He said assault weapons “are designed for the battlefield, and they have no place on our streets, in our schools, or threatening our law enforcement officers.”
Barring assault weapons was part of Obama’s plan for reducing gun violence. But banning the high-powered weapons has encountered strong opposition from congressional Republicans and elicited little enthusiasm among moderate Democratic senators up for re-election next year in GOP-leaning states in the West and South.
The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and her supporters say the ban would help eliminate the type of firearms and magazines that have been used with deadly effect at Newtown and many other recent mass shootings.