5:44pm

Wed March 20, 2013
Law

Assault Weapons Ban Not Expected To Make It Out Of Congress

Originally published on Wed March 20, 2013 6:43 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

We've been examining gun violence this week, as gun control legislation is making its way through Congress. Political reality has taken hold after the strong rhetoric that followed the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Back in December, some Democratic lawmakers vowed to ban military style assault rifles and large capacity magazines. But those bans have not gained enough support, even among Democrats, to move forward in Congress.

NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Three weeks ago today, in tearful testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, construction worker Neil Heslin identified the weapon used to kill his only child, six -year-old Jesse Lewis.

NEIL HESLIN: A Bushmaster was brought into an elementary school, Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and killed 20 students and six educators. I just can't believe that that could happen.

WELNA: At the time, Heslin got assurances from Connecticut's senior senator, Democrat Richard Blumenthal that Congress would act to curb gun violence.

SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: This time it's different. This time we will do something. The reason it's different is that Newtown changed America.

WELNA: But Newtown apparently has not changed Congress, at least not enough for the ban on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines, approved by the judiciary panel to be part of a firearms bill coming before the Senate next month.

California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein is that ban's lead sponsor. She says Majority Leader Harry Reid told her this week there will be no assault weapons ban in the bill he brings to the floor.

SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN: He indicated that we would have a separate vote, but we would not be part of any package, if there is such a thing.

WELNA: Feinstein is clearly upset that the assault weapons ban won't be part of a larger bill on gun legislation.

FEINSTEIN: People say, well, are you disappointed. Obviously I'm disappointed.

WELNA: Majority Leader Reid says he sympathizes with Feinstein but insists his job is to bring a gun bill to the Senate that can get the 60 votes needed to move forward.

SENATOR HARRY REID: Dianne has worked so hard on this. She understands, going back to the day she found the mayor dead in his office, having been killed. How strongly she feels about that, I know that. But right now, her amendment using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes - that's not 60.

WELNA: The assault weapons ban has 22 co-sponsors, all Democrats. But South Carolina GOP Senator Lindsey Graham says it's not just Republican opposition that's apparently doomed that ban.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: The truth is that there's just not the votes to pass the assault weapons ban. I mean, there are more than a handful of Democrats that would vote against it, so there's just not the votes.

WELNA: Especially from Democratic senators facing tough reelection bids next year. Arkansas's Mark Pryor is one of them.

SENATOR MARK PRYOR: I'm going to oppose Senator Feinstein's assault weapons ban. I just think people in Arkansas don't want that. And also, I have concerns about how effective it'll be. So I'm not going to support it.

WELNA: Some Democrats want legislation expanding background checks for gun sales to be the gun bill the Senate takes up. They're hoping Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn would endorse that measure, to garner bipartisan support. But Coburn remains wary of any gun measure that requires more record-keeping.

SENATOR TOM COBURN: I got into this to prevent - for the crime from ever happening, not to create a record that makes a law-abiding citizen liable because they can't produce a record.

WELNA: In fact, measures cracking down on gun trafficking and funding more school security, stand the best chance of winning Senate approval. Even they may have a tough time, though, clearing the GOP-controlled House.

David Welna, NPR news, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.