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March 20, 2013
Editorial: Senate needs to vote on assault weapons. Senators can't duck ban that public supports


(March 20 -- By the Editorial Board)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein will not be deterred from the effort to reinstate, and close loopholes in, the 1994-2004 ban on military-style semi-automatic assault weapons and on large-capacity magazines with more than 10 rounds.

In this, she is on the right side of history and with the American people, who consistently say they support both measures.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved her proposal, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D- Nev., has stripped it out of a package that has now been whittled down to three measures - strengthening federal penalties for trafficking and straw purchases, improving school safety and requiring background checks for nearly all firearm purchases, including at gun shows or through online transactions.

"Right now," Reid told reporters, "her amendment, using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes."

This is telling about the lack of spine in the U.S. Senate and the continuing power of the gun lobby. The most recent polls by Pew Research-USA Today, Quinnipiac and CBS/New York Times in February and March show continuing majority support for a ban on assault rifles and on high-capacity gun clips.

This support has continued even as the mass shootings in Newtown, Milwaukee, Aurora, Seattle, Tucson and elsewhere have faded from the news.

Reid has promised that Feinstein's ban will be voted on as an amendment to the larger package. "What Senator Reid told me was that I would have the opportunity for a vote. I take him at his word," Feinstein said.

Such a vote has to be nonnegotiable. The American people deserve an up-or-down vote on Feinstein's two measures, so they can see, in a recorded vote, which of their representatives voted with the gun lobby on this - as a key piece of information for the 2014 and 2016 elections.

Feinstein understands that the way to dry up the supply of military-style weapons in the hands of criminals is not background checks and anti-trafficking laws alone, but to stop the manufacture of these weapons. Restrictions on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons do not prevent law-abiding citizens from defending themselves or engaging in recreational shooting.

Not to hold a vote on this would, as Sen. Feinstein has said, be a "major betrayal of trust."

Colorado lawmakers passed and Gov. John Hickenlooper has just signed a bill limiting high-capacity magazines to 15 bullets, though a magazine manufacturer, Magpul, has threatened to leave the state. That is the kind of courage we need in the U.S. Senate.

Feinstein points out that the original 1994-2004 ban was done as an amendment. It passed the Senate first and went on to the House, where it also passed.

The Senate should get this to a vote. The American public will be interested to see which lawmakers are in the lap of the gun lobby.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, to introduce legislation on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition devices. Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press

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