Venturing away from the sweet spot, Schumer pushes a ‘hard’ assault weapons ban

Schumer at a press conference for the new assault weapons ban. ()
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Sen. Chuck Schumer joined his longtime partner in gun-control advocacy, California senator Dianne Feinstein, to introduce a new ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines at a press conference in Washington today, despite his public doubts about whether such a bill can actually pass.

"Assault weapons were designed for and should be used on our battlefields, not on our streets, and some don't get that," Schumer said.

Feinstein and Schumer, back when he was a member of the House representing Brooklyn, teamed up to pass the original ban as part of a larger crime bill in 1994. They were joined today by mayors, police chiefs, and several members of Congress, including Long Island congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed in the Long Island Railroad shooting, who said her fight for gun control" has a been a very lonely battle for many many years."

Schumer argued, as he has many times in recent weeks, that the Supreme Court's decision protecting the Second Amendment in the Heller case should put gun owners at ease, and allow for a more reasonable discussion on the question of assault weapons and extended magazine clips.

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"There is no inalienable right to own and operate 100-round clips on AR-15 assault rifles," Schumer said, after promising not to take away the hand-me-down rifle from "Uncle Tommy" (the uncle's name varies in Schumer's telling), and the "sidearm" a small-business owner might need to protect himself.

The previous assault weapons ban has been criticized as ineffectual, after manufacturers and gun owners figured out ways to avoid the requirement that a gun must have two additional accessories to be covered by the prohibition. The new ban would reduce that to one, and Schumer, who argues the previous bill did save lives, said the "new and improved bill will save many, many more."

Schumer doesn't ordinarily involve himself in symbolic fights for bills he doesn't think will pass, but he's taking a hopeful posture on this one.

He's focused his own efforts in the weeks since the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on expanding background checks for gun purchases, which he's called the "sweet spot" for actually enacting legislation.

Last week, Schumer said limiting magazine size had a "decent amount of support," and that the assault weapons ban would be "tough."

This morning, the New York Times reported that some of the Democratic senators who initially expressed support for new gun laws, particularly West Virginia's Joe Manchin, have softened on actually passing legislation (though Manchin did give a nod to background checks). And the Washington Post reported that the president's ambitious gun control proposals could drive a wedge between the administraton and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who drew high praise from the National Rifle Association in 2010 for his longtime support of the Second Amendment.

"Will it be hard?" Schumer asked in his remarks today. "Sure. We owe it to our constituents and our country to try."