1:03 pm Mar. 20, 2013
Sen. Chuck Schumer left it to Sen. Dianne Feinstein to eulogize the assault weapons ban, which all but died yesterday afternoon when Majority Leader Harry Reid told Feinstein he won't be including it in a broader package of gun reforms.
Schumer and Feinstein have been longtime partners in pushing for more gun restrictions, and Schumer took a hopeful tack at her press conference pushing for the new ban back in January. But even then, Schumer conceded it would be a "hard" bill to move, and instead he's focused his own time trying to expand background checks, where he saw a "sweet spot" for bipartisan compromise.
Separating out the assault weapons ban—the bill is likely to get its own vote, as an amendment—keeps it from dragging down the rest of the gun bill, which, in theory at least, should help the chances of other measures backed by Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has found some bipartisan support for her anti-gun trafficking measure.
But there's no guarantee that Schumer's background checks will be part of the final bill, either.
Talks with Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn fell apart earlier this month, which leaves Schumer's bill wihout a solidly pro-gun Republican signed on. Schumer's hope was that Coburn, an outspoken supporter of gun rights with an A rating from the National Rifle Association, could provide cover for other pro-gun Republicans to back the bill.
But while Coburn seemed to support the idea of background checks for private gun sales, he objected to the idea that any records should be kept of those checks.
Those objections were echoed by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley at a Judiciary Committee hearing last week, when Grassley suggested that such legislation would inevitably lead to a federal gun registry, and then, perhaps, the widespread confiscation of guns by the federal government.
"Mass shootings would continue to occur despite universal background checks," read Grassley's prepared remarks to the committee. "Criminals will continue to steal guns and buy them illegally to circumvent the requirements. When that happens, we will be back here debating whether gun registration is needed. And when registration fails, then the next step is gun confiscation."
The fate of the background check could be decided in the upcoming recess, when Schumer will have two weeks to canvass for additional support while senators are away from the Washington spotlight.
Without a legitimately pro-gun senator on board, Schumer and Reid will be forced to consider whether the background checks would help or hinder a broader gun bill.
Several moderate Republicans would probably support a compromise deal that included background checks, but there's no guarantee that will be enough to pass a broad bill, since Democrats are likely to lose a few votes from some in their own caucus, particularly those up for re-election in right-leaning states in 2014.
Democrats could always bring a weak bill to the floor, but even that's a gamble, since there's also a nightmare scenario in which a weak gun bill comes to the floor and Republicans essentially turn the table on it by attaching pro-gun amendments, which then pass the Senate with the help of some of those pro-gun Democrats and subsequently meet a receptive audience in the Republican-controlled House.
Whether Democrats can limit the number of potential amendments is one of the big procedural questions hanging over the bill.
The Democratic leadership is expected to make gun control one of its first orders of business when it returns in April.