A proposed ban on assault weapons like the one used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre last year has been removed from a broader gun control package, with Democrats conceding it would not get through US Congress.
The move by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid does not kill the proposal outright. However, separating it from three other measures being strongly pushed by US President Barack Obama’s Democrats leaves it to wither in the highly partisan Congress.
Reid said the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, proposed in the wake of December’s mass murder of 20 school children and six staff in Newtown, Connecticut, did not have the votes to pass.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein had tabled the ban and it had won support from many in her party, but not from enough fellow senators to pass the 100-member chamber.
Controversial bills need 60 votes to ensure that they are not derailed by a filibuster, a parliamentary maneuver to prevent them coming to a vote.
Democrats, who hold 55 Senate seats, had sought Republican support for four measures, including that background checks be required for all gun sales, which they hoped to cobble together into one bill.
The other three measures have a chance of winning some Republican support and have somewhat better odds of getting through both houses of Congress.
The assault weapons ban, backed by the White House, passed out of committee last week on a strict party-line vote.
It still could be voted on separately and while that would be expected to fail, Feinstein was standing firm about demanding Reid allow her such a vote.
“I’m not going to lay down and play dead,” she said on CNN. “I think the American people have said in every single public poll that they support this kind of legislation.”
Not allowing her a floor vote on her measure “would be a major betrayal of trust,” she said.
However, the ban’s lukewarm support among Democrats was “the handwriting on the wall,” Republican Senator James Inhofe said.
Inhofe said he now believed “zero” bills tightening gun laws would pass Congress this year.
“Some could pass the Senate, but not the House,” he said.
Democratic Representative Mike Thompson, who chairs the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, said Feinstein “knew all along it was going to be an extremely heavy lift.”
The Feinstein measure would have prohibited the manufacture, import and sale of 157 models of assault weapons, including the one used at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
It would have been a reprisal of her 1994 assault weapons ban, which only squeaked through Congress because it included a sunset provision that caused it to expire in 2004.
In part, Feinstein blamed her bill’s woes on the money and political power of the main US pro-gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA).
“America has to stand up,” she said. “I can’t fight the NRA. The NRA spends unlimited sums, backed by the gun manufacturers, who are craven in my view.”