One day before Congress convenes its first hearing on gun violence since the Connecticut school shooting rampage in December, the Senate's top Democrat remained noncommittal Tuesday about bringing a broad gun ban to the chamber floor.
"As I've indicated to you folks, we're going to have votes on all kinds of issues dealing with guns," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters. "And I think everyone would be well advised to read the legislation before they determine how they're going to vote for it."
Mr. Reid said the Senate will take up some sort of measure, but wouldn't disclose whether it will include a ban on military-style semi-automatic rifles, commonly called assault weapons.
Wednesday's hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee already is sparking controversy, with a witness list favorable to gun rights supporters.
Of the five witnesses, two are clear advocates of gun control.
The imbalance irritated Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and sponsor of the assault weapons ban, who said she would hold her own hearing at some point.
Slated to testify Wednesday are Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association; David Kopel, adjunct professor of advanced constitutional law at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law; Gayle Trotter, a lawyer and senior fellow of the conservative Independent Women's Forum; Baltimore Police Chief Jim Johnson, chairman of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence; and retired astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded by a gunman at a constituent event in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011.
Mr. LaPierre has emerged as one of the key gun rights voices after the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and his prepared testimony indicates that he will not back down.
"Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals," his remarks say. "Nor do we believe the government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families."
Mr. LaPierre calls for three specific measures: adding more armed security to schools across the country, the "swift, certain" prosecution of criminals with guns, and reforming the nation's mental health system.
"While we're ready to participate in a meaningful effort to solve these pressing problems, we must respectfully — but honestly and firmly — disagree with some members of this committee, many in the media, and all of the gun control groups on what will keep our kids and our streets safe," he says.
Mr. Kelly, in an email to supporters this week, said he would call for the kinds of gun controls that he said have broad backing.
"Overwhelmingly, you told us that universal background checks and limiting access to high capacity magazines were top priorities — and I'll make sure to address each of those ideas in my opening remarks," he wrote.
Both of those are ideas President Obama also has advocated.
But winning enough support for these proposals to pass Congress will be difficult.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, questioned whether Mr. Reid wants a debate.
"I'm unclear yet as to whether the majority leader wants to bring a gun measure to the floor," Mr. McConnell told reporters. "It'll be up to him to determine whether we see that issue on the floor, up to the Judiciary Committee to determine whether or not we have hearings and go forward. I'm among those who'd be happy to take a look at whatever the majority decides to advance on that subject."
Mr. Reid, who is from Nevada, said he is "going to do everything within my power to bring legislation dealing with gun and violence generally to the floor."
He said the process will be open to whatever amendments senators want to offer.
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