Gun Safety Bill in Senate Will Exclude Assault Weapons Ban

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WASHINGTON -- The Senate next month will consider a bill to increase the penalties for people who buy and sell illegal guns, a measure greatly reduced in scope and reach from the gun safety agenda sought by President Obama.

The bill will not include the reinstatement of an assault weapons ban, championed by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who met the measure's demise with anger and despondency.

"I tried my best," said Ms. Feinstein, who added that Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, had informed her this week that her measure would not be included in the main legislation that is expected to surface when the Senate returns after the Easter recess. "My best I guess wasn't good enough."

For 10 minutes, Ms. Feinstein held forth on her rage and disappointment. "How many assault weapons do you need circulating?" she asked, noting that her bill, which had almost no chance of ever having a hearing in the House, exempted many weapons. "To have these mass killings is such a blight on everything that America stands for."

The underlying gun safety bill may be expanded to include enhanced background checks for gun buyers, but Mr. Reid is weighing the relative merits of bringing a measure to the floor that for now has limited support from Republican members.

Though the reinstatement of an assault weapons ban will not be in the bill, Mr. Reid will allow it, as well as a separate measure that would limit the size of magazines, to be offered as an amendment, Ms. Feinstein said.

"I have said I want people to have the ability to vote on" various gun measures, Mr. Reid said Tuesday. "My job is to find one of those that I can bring to the floor." Mr. Reid said that while he felt sympathy for Ms. Feinstein, her bill had far fewer than the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster.

Four pieces of gun legislation -- including the assault weapons ban -- passed the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month, and each may end up being voted on in some form.

Mr. Reid will introduce a measure that has ample bipartisan support, the one that would make the already illegal practice of buying a gun for someone else who is legally barred from having one -- known as a straw purchase -- a felony and increase penalties for the crime.

But a bill that is limited to stemming straw purchasing is all but certain to enrage groups that have been seeking broader legislation that would make it more difficult for criminals and mentally ill people to obtain firearms and limit the size of magazines.

Should Mr. Reid consider only that measure, it is very likely that senators who favor gun rights will offer numerous amendments, many of them likely to pass the full Senate, essentially turning a bill designed to strengthen gun regulations into one that enhances gun rights.

It is almost certain that Mr. Reid will at least add a provision that would renew a grant program to help schools improve security, but even that is not a sure thing because of the country's fiscal constraints.

Mr. Reid must also weigh whether to add a provision that would extend background checks to private sale of guns, a measure that would exempt family members and some others from those checks. While that idea has broad support among Democrats and some Republicans, many oppose it because it would require the same record-keeping that is already done by gun stores in sales made within their walls.

As it stands, the assault weapons ban will probably still receive a vote as an amendment to an underlying package, as will a separate measure that would limit magazine sizes to 10 rounds.

"The enemies on this are very powerful," Ms. Feinstein said, referring to the National Rifle Association. "I've known that all my life." She added that while she was within her rights to put a hold on the entire bill, "I'm not going to do that," because she would like to see some changes to gun laws actually pass on the Senate floor. House leaders have spent almost no time pondering gun legislation, and are waiting to see what the Senate does.

nation

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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