Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who introduced sweeping legislation Thursday that would ban more than 150 kinds of so-called assault weapons, acknowledged Sunday the push for new gun-controls faces long odds in Congress —but she insists the public supports the new restrictions.
"I think I can get it passed because the American people are very much for it," the California Democrat said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "I think what happens is that you have one group, namely the National Rifle Association, that has such a pronounced view that dominates the arena. But we have the United States Conference of Mayors. We have the major city chiefs. We have the largest police organization in the world supporting us. We have individual chiefs and sheriffs. We have pediatricians, trauma room surgeons, teachers — you name it, all the way down. We have the clergy."
Mrs. Feinstein, who has emerged as Congress' chief proponent of new gun restrictions in the wake of last month's school shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn., is looking to rally support for legislation that some lawmakers have already indicated is dead on arrival.
At least six of the 55 senators in the Democratic caucus have expressed skepticism or outright opposition to a ban, Bloomberg News reported last week — meaning the Feinstein bill currently lacks the 51 votes needed to pass the Senate, let alone withstand a filibuster.
Mrs. Feinstein said last week that she is "all for" her legislation going through regular order — unlike in 1994, when her ban on the weapons was an amendment to a crime bill on the Senate floor.
"It'll have hearings. We will listen to people. If there are ways we can make it better, if there are problems somebody sees with a weapon that's exempted or whatever it is, we can make that change," she said.
But she said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has assured her she would be able to introduce the measure as an amendment on the floor if necessary. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, will hold the committee's first hearing on gun violence of the year on Wednesday.
"I will do it on the floor if it's not in [a] bill," Mrs. Feinstein said last week. "I am not going to quit."
While Mrs. Feinstein has taken a hard-line on the assault-weapons ban in the Senate, there have been signals the White House may be willing to negotiate.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who has been President Obama's point man on the issue, said during a recent public online chat that so-called assault weapons were less important to him than putting restrictions on high-capacity magazines.
Mrs. Feinstein's measure caps their capacity at 10 rounds of ammunition.
Mr. Biden also stressed the importance of background checks and mental health treatment after huddling with administration officials and lawmakers in Richmond on Friday.
But White House press secretary Jay Carney maintained the administration will push for an all-of-the-above approach.
"The president supports renewal of the assault-weapons ban," he said. "He supports addressing or limiting the magazine capacity of ammunition —the capacity of ammunition clips. He supports — well, as you know, the legislative action that he made clear he supported even before he put forward the comprehensive set of proposals last week."
Mr. Obama himself has been very careful to couch his support for gun controls with reaffirming his belief in citizens' Second Amendment rights.
"Part of being able to move this forward is understanding the reality of guns in urban areas are very different from the realities of guns in rural areas," he said in an interview with The New Republic. "So it's trying to bridge those gaps that I think is going to be part of the biggest task over the next several months. And that means that advocates of gun control have to do a little more listening than they do sometimes."
Whatever the Senate manages to pass will undoubtedly face an even steeper climb getting through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin warned Sunday that the country should not revisit policies that have not worked in the past. Mrs. Feinstein's original assault-weapons ban expired in 2004.
"Well, I think the question of whether or not a criminal is getting a gun is a question we need to look at," Mr. Ryan said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "That's what the background-check issue is all about. And I think we need to look into making sure that there aren't big loopholes where a person can illegally purchase a firearm. But I also think we need to look beyond just recycling failed policies of the past."
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, argued that assault weapons don't get to "the root of the problem."
"Doing a so-called assault-weapons ban is going after a symptom," she said on "Face the Nation." "And, as teachers have said to me, 'Don't focus on whatever is the weapon; get to the root cause. Look at some of these mental health issues. Look at some of these drugs that are involved in this. Look at some of the violence that is permeating this society.' Teachers, parents are all saying, you know, 'You need to drill down on this a little deeper, be a little bit more thoughtful on it.'"
This article is based in part of wire service reports.
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