On a party-line vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) proposed assault weapons ban, setting the stage for a bruising floor fight. None of the four amendments offered today — all by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), who said he would reserve others for the floor — were approved. Feinstein took the opportunity to make an impassioned plea for an end to the kind of street violence that she saw as the mayor of San Francisco. “I thought it would end with the Texas bell tower, but it hasn’t…and these weapons become the weapon of choice. Why allow them?”
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) returned to his own talking points, that rifles are rarely used in homicides and that there are instances in which a law-abiding citizen may require more than ten bullets for self-defense.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) struck a meditative chord in response: “It may be a small percentage, but the tragedies we have witnessed remind us that we cannot sit idly by.”
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) retaliated by asserting that rifle homicides are now half as common as they were when the first assault weapons ban expired in 2004. “If the passion in this room were directed at reducing violent crime” in a more systematic manner, real progress could be made. “When our rights are popular, we do not need them,” he declared, defending the sanctity of constitutional liberties. Yet Democrats on the committee have frequently cited Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s statement in his District of Columbia v. Heller majority opinion that, “We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’”
Senator Cornyn (R-TX) offered amendments to create exceptions to the ban for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors and residents of border counties, whom he argued face immense security threats from paramilitary cartels. Last week he attempted to add an exception for military veterans. All of these amendments failed.
However, the bill does include an exception for retired police officers, added after police personnel expressed concern over being disarmed. “The whole point of this bill is to reduce overtime the supply, possession, and transmission of military-style weapons,” Feinstein said. “In the crafting of the bill, we obviously made certain compromises, we made certain changes, and that was one we made.”
Cornyn argued the assault weapons ban is a distraction, and that Congress should focus on, for instance, patching holes in the background check system or improving enforcement. “The bill does nothing to deal with the lack of effective enforcement of current gun laws,” he said. “There is almost a zero-percent chance of getting prosecuted by this Department of Justice.”