Washington — As soon as the Senate Judiciary committee approved a bill Thursday that would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazine clips, planning began to split the legislation to improve chances some of it would become law.
The panel took the action three months to the day after 20-year-old Adam Lanza used a high-capacity, semi-automatic rifle to massacre 20 children and six members of the staff at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Still, the assault weapons ban isn’t expected to clear a 60-vote hurdle in the Senate that would bring it to the floor.
“The road is uphill,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sponsor of the assault weapons ban. “I fully understand that.”
While the assault weapons ban may falter, there’s hope that another aspect of the bill, a limitation on magazines to 10 rounds, may win Senate approval.
“I don’t think we could get 60 votes to approve an assault weapons ban. I do think we can get 60 votes on a high-capacity magazine ban,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
Feinstein told the Connecticut Mirror she would not be upset if her legislation is cleaved in two. “In fact, we will prepare to split it to divide the question,” she said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Judiciary panel, said he’d “welcome that kind of split.”
Newtown shooter Adam Lanza used high-capacity magazines to shoot 153 rounds, killing 20 first-graders and six educators. He also used an assault weapon, a type of Bushmaster that is among 157 specifically named in the assault weapons bill.
The vote on the assault weapons ban was cast strictly along party lines, 10-8.
But even Democrats on the panel who voted for the bill have misgivings.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he voted for the bill because he felt “it’s a matter of such importance” to get it to the Senate floor.
But Leahy said he had “reservations” about the bill and is not committed to voting for it when it’s considered by the full Senate.
Debate on the assault weapons ban was emotional, and sometimes testy.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, badgered Feinstein, asking “would she consider it constitutional for Congress to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books — and shall not apply for books outside protection of the Bill of Rights? Likewise does she think that the amendment for search and seizures shall apply only to [the] following specified individuals and not to the individuals that Congress has deemed outside the Bill of Rights?”
“I’m not a sixth-grader, Senator,” Feinstein fired back. “Congress is in the business of making the law. The Supreme Court interprets the law.”
Blumenthal said, “For me as well as her (Feinstein) the issue is very personal.”
He dismissed Republican arguments that the assault weapons ban was needed for self-defense. “It is a weapon designed for combat to be as lethal as possible,” Blumenthal said.
With Republican support, the Judiciary Committee has already approved bills that would strengthen the anti-trafficking law and establish new school safety grants. Another bill that would expand background checks for private gun purchases suffered a setback when the chief Republican negotiator, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, backed away.
But gun-control supporters say they haven’t given up on Coburn and hope to sway other Republicans.
The gun-control bills are expected to be considered in the next few weeks by the full Senate.