The National Rifle Association attacked California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s gun-control proposal on Thursday — blasting it as a “wrong-headed approach” to addressing the nation’s gun violence in light of the Connecticut school shootings last month.
“Senator Feinstein has been trying to ban guns from law-abiding citizens for decades,” the association, founded in 1871 and based in Fairfax, Va., said in a statement. “It's disappointing but not surprising that she is once again focused on curtailing the Constitution instead of prosecuting criminals or fixing our broken mental-health system.
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“The American people know gun bans do not work and we are confident Congress will reject Senator Feinstein's wrong-headed approach.”
Flanked by displays of 10 assault weapons at a Capitol Hill news conference, Feinstein introduced legislation that prohibits the sale, transfer, manufacture and importation of assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines.
The bill, she said, protects 2,200 "specifically-named weapons used for hunting or sporting purposes.”
“They are by make and model exempted from the legislation,” Feinstein said, according to Reuters. “Finally, the bill subjects existing or grandfathered weapons to a background check in the event the weapon is sold or transferred.”
The Feinstein bill, however, does ban more than 150 other types of weapons, including handguns and shotguns.
The legislation is expected to face a tough battle in Congress, with Republicans — most of whom are closely allied with the NRA — strongly opposed to any gun legislation that infringes upon Second Amendment rights.
House GOP leaders also said they won’t consider any gun legislation until the Senate takes action.
Earlier this week, Democratic Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York introduced plans to make gun trafficking and straw purchases a federal crime, The Washington Post reports.
Meanwhile, Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey again introduced a bill to close a loophole in federal law that permits gun buyers to purchase weapons without a federal background check from private gun dealers and to ban high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, The Post reports.
Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has reversed his stance on the issue, now saying that he is prepared to bring some kind of gun legislation to a floor vote. The Nevada congressman said last week that an assault-weapons ban could not pass the Senate.
Still, Feinstein acknowledged on Thursday that her bill would be a tough sell to the Congress.
“This is a tough battle,” she said. “Our weak gun laws allow these mass killings to be carried out again, [and] again and again. Massacres have taken place in businesses, law practices, malls, movie theaters and especially schools. These massacres don't seem to stop.”
Referencing Reid’s comments, she added: “Look, I just said it's uphill. Clearly it wasn't helpful. He has a right to say it. That doesn't mean he's always right.”
Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the only Democrat with an A-plus rating from the NRA, said that the nation must look at how existing laws can be strengthened before Congress tackles more stringent ones.
“Recent tragedies have shaken all of us, and everyone wants to do their part to protect our children and communities from violence of all kinds,” he told US News & World Report. “Enforcing the laws we already have on the books is good first step — and it's clear more needs to be done to address access to mental-health care.
“Before passing new laws, we need a thoughtful debate that respects responsible, law-abiding gun owners — instead of a one-size-fits-all directive from Washington.”
Next week, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its first of several hearings on gun violence in light of the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were killed.
Feinstein said on Thursday that the thread running through all of the school shootings — from Newtown to Columbine — is that the gunmen used semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines, US News reports.
“Newtown made a difference,’’ said Democratic New York Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, co-sponsor of the Feinstein bill in the House, who attended the news conference. Her husband was killed and son was wounded by a gunman on a Long Island train in 1993.
“People of America said: ‘How could this happen? How could this happen to our children?’”
Feinstein’s bill is modeled after California’s tough assault weapons ban, but it would close a loophole in the state’s law, the Los Angeles Times reports. It would ban assault weapons that have a device – a so-called bullet button, for instance – that could be used to swiftly reload the weapons with multiple rounds of ammunition.
Gun control has long been a personal issue for Feinstein, who became San Francisco’s mayor in 1978 after Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were shot to death in City Hall, the Times reports.
Shortly after she arrived on Capitol Hill, she took up the issue after a 1993 shooting rampage in a San Francisco office building that left eight people dead and six wounded, according to the Times.
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In 1994, Feinstein overcame the opposition of the NRA to win passage of the landmark assault-weapons ban that expired a decade later, the Times reports. She sought a renewal that year, but both Republicans and Democrats opposed it, the Times reports.
At the news conference, Feinstein was surrounded by the display of 10 assault weapons.
“These are all weapons in evidence,” Feinstein said, The Daily Caller reports. “It is all legal. They are under guard at the present time.”
When asked where exactly the weapons came from, she responded: “I’m not going to say. They’re weapons in evidence.”
Her office later told ABC News that Feinstein worked with U.S. Capitol Police and Washington Metro Police to ensure the display of weapons, which were cordoned off, complied with the rules.
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