Sen. Diane Feinstein looks down at her notes.
(Photo : Reuters)
Supporters of a new ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines focused on national shootings, new and old, as they made their case for the new gun control laws Thursday in Congress.
The author of the bill, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, began her impassioned plea for stricter gun laws by ticking off a who's who list of tragedies: "Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Tucson. Oak Creek. The common thread in these shootings is each gunman used a semiautomatic assault weapon or large-capacity ammunition magazine."
Feinstein's new proposal seeks to address both issues. The bill would ban the sale or import of around 150 types of "military style" assault weapons, including the kinds of firearms used by shooters in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., and would prohibit ammunition-feeding devices holding more than 10 rounds.
The bill would be a landmark win for staunch advocates of gun control; unlike a 1994 ban that expired after about a decade, Feinstein's law would be permanent.
The law also includes a concession for 2,200 types of rifles used by hunters and sportsmen, a fact, which Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, tried to play up to assuage fears that those weapons would be confiscated.
"None of us want to take away the hunting rifle that Uncle Tommy gave you when you were 14 years old," Schumer said. "We don't want to do that. Nor do we want to take away a sidearm that a small-business owner feels he or she needs in a dangerous neighborhood."
Two Democratic senators from Connecticut, where 27 people -- including 20 children -- lost their lives to a man brandishing an assault rifle with a high-capacity magazine, portrayed the law in a personal light.
Struggling to maintain his composure, Sen. Richard Blumenthal attempted to relate what he saw at the Sandy Hook firehouse that fateful day.
"I came there as a public official, but what I saw was through the eyes of a parent," Blumenthal said. "And I will never forget the sights and sounds of that day as parents emerged from that firehouse learning that their 5- and 6-year-old children would not be coming home."
Sen. Chris Murphy said the city of Newtown is still wrestling with how to move on from the tragedy. Kids in the area now have special words -- "safe words" -- to use when they get involved in conversations about the shooting and wish to stop.
"It's not just the families who grieve; it's the trauma that just washes over these communities like waves in the weeks and months afterwards," Murphy said.
For its part, the National Rifle Association has signaled it would remain in fierce opposition to any attempt to pass stricter gun control laws. On the NRA's website a statement argues Congress should spend less time "curtailing the Constitution" and more time "prosecuting criminals or fixing our broken mental health system."
"The American people know gun bans don't work and we are confident Congress will reject Senator Feinstein's wrong-headed approach," the NRA statement said.
As for Feinstein, she told reporters she's unsure of what will happen next.
"This is really an uphill road. If anyone asks today, 'Can you win this?' The answer is we don't know. It's so uphill," she said.
The American people need to speak up and lean on Congress, she insisted.