WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday declared politically dead the effort to ban military-style assault weapons, a setback for President Barack Obama and gun-control advocates who are pushing the Senate to move quickly on bills to limit gun violence.
Reid is preparing to move ahead with debate on a series of gun-control proposals when the Senate returns from a two-week Easter recess in early April. Although he has vowed to hold votes on measures introduced after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, in December, Reid said Tuesday the proposed assault-weapons ban isn’t holding up against Senate rules that require at least 60 votes to end debate and move to final passage.
The proposed ban, “using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes. That’s not 60,” Reid said.
Still up for consideration are three other bills approved last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee: bipartisan legislation to make gun trafficking a federal crime, a bipartisan measure to expand a Justice Department grant program that provides funding for school security and a proposal to expand the nation’s gun background check program.
Reid is working to determine whether to merge the three remaining bills into one comprehensive package, or to hold separate votes on each measure, said aides familiar with ongoing negotiations. The decision will be based on whether one or all of the bills receive sufficient support to ensure final passage, they said.
The assault-weapons ban is the most ambitious and controversial proposal backed by Obama. Introduced by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the bill would ban almost 160 specific semi-automatic weapons and rifles and assorted military-style parts and also limit the size of ammunition clips to 10 rounds, banning larger rounds used in some of the more recent and brazen mass shootings. The ban has 22 other Senate Democratic cosponsors, including Feinstein.
Feinstein said Reid has assured her that the assault-weapons ban will earn an up-or-down vote in the full Senate, probably as an amendment to one of the other bills under consideration. A separate up-or-down vote can then be held on the ammunition clip proposal, she said.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday that Senate Democrats’ decision is not a setback for Obama’s gun-control efforts. He said that the bill can still be brought up as an amendment and that there should still be a concerted effort to pass it.
“We’re going to work on this. We’re going to find the votes,” McDonough said. “And it deserves a vote and let’s see if we can get it done.”
Still unresolved is whether Democrats can secure GOP support for expanding the gun background-check program. Sen. Charles Schumer is working with other Democrats to find potential GOP cosponsors for a revised bill that would permit exceptions for firearm exchanges between family members or close friends.
But talks have been hampered by disagreements about whether to establish a record-keeping system for noncommercial gun transactions.