Sen. Dianne Feinstein: ‘You can’t sit back and just let the gun organizations call public policy’

January 16, 2013

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has a message for anyone who thinks it might be too politically risky to consider an assault weapons ban: I'm going to try anyway.

The senator plans to introduce legislation Jan. 24 that would reinstate a federal ban on assault weapons -- a prohibition she successfully steered through Congress in 1993, only to watch it expire in 2004 with little fanfare.

In an interview Wednesday shortly after President Obama announced his plans on gun control, Feinstein said she was disappointed with the recent comments by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, who told a Nevada television station over the weekend that, given today's polarized political environment, it might be futile to try to move an assault weapons ban through Congress.

"I've spoken to Senator Reid about it," Feinstein said Wednesday, but she declined to share details of the conversation. "I know it’s an uphill battle, but that doesn’t mean that on principle or conscience we shouldn’t do it," she said. "You have to try, you can’t sit back and just let the gun organizations call public policy."

(Reid (D-Nev.) issued a statement Wednesday saying that he is committed "to ensuring that the Senate will consider legislation that addresses gun violence and other aspects of violence in our society early this year" and added later that "all options should be on the table moving forward.")

Expressing confidence that an assault weapons ban could succeed, Feinstein cited a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week that found that 58 percent of Americans support renewing the assault weapons ban and 39 percent oppose it. But, she acknowledged, the biggest difference between today and 1993 is the "very polarized right wing" that might fight to block the bill.

A longtime member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feinstein spoke about gun technology and said that one of the difficulties in drafting the ban is finding ways to outsmart gun manufacturers who might find loopholes in the law and design their weapons to take advantage of that.

"The trick is to do it in a prudent way that works, and that’s difficult to do," she said. "And the trick also is to do it in a way that stops the manufacture, sale and transfer but doesn’t remove weapons from people, but encourages those weapons to be the product of people who’ve had their background checks, who are law-abiding and have their trigger locks."

In writing the bill, Feinstein said, she also has to sound out moderate Democrats and Republicans who might be on the fence about her legislation. She said she has several meetings scheduled with those colleagues next week.

And what will she tell them?

"You have to look at these incidents in total. You have to care about what happens to the country if these incidents continue," she said. "Call to mind Aurora, the shooting in Connecticut, Virginia Tech. I think they’ve had a huge impact on the conscience of this nation. And I think people are going through a period of second thoughts on guns. To line up little children and mow them down with a weapon of war that was easily available to you should not happen in America."

Feinstein noted that she will introduce the ban in the Senate the same day that House Democrats put it before the chamber at the other end of the U.S. Capitol.

"That doesn’t mean we can’t make changes; it doesn’t mean that I’m not open to change," she said. "We are. It’s a beginning of a most difficult path."

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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