Assault weapons ban could get committee vote Thursday

February 25, 2013

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) stands next to a display of assault weapons during a news conference in January on Capitol Hill. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A proposed ban on military-style assault weapons faces a key test vote as early as Thursday when the committee considering gun control legislation is scheduled to decide  whether to refer the proposal to the full Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee released a list of four bills it plans to consider at a business meeting Thursday morning, but Senate Republicans could use the panel's procedural rules to delay the meeting for a week. As with most Senate proceedings, the list of bills could change -- some might be dropped or others added to the list -- but the Senate is clearly on the verge of beginning the formal process of reviewing legislation introduced in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting.

Whenever the committee meets, it will consider the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), which goes beyond a similar ban that expired in 2004 and covers nearly 160 specific military-style weapons. Among many other specific provisions, the bill also would limit the size of ammunition clips to devices that can hold no more than 10 rounds.

Members of both parties have said they cannot support the ban, believing it goes too far and would infringe on Second Amendment rights. But the panel -- divided between 10 Democrats and eight Republicans -- could eventually refer the bill to the full Senate on a party-line vote.

The committee also plans to consider a bill by its chairman, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), to make gun trafficking a federal crime for the first time. Another measure, by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), would provide up to $50 million in federal funding to schools to help draft new security plans. The Boxer proposal mirrors calls made by the National Rifle Association to put armed guards at every American school. Boxer's bill wouldn't mandate armed guards, but instead provide money for schools to develop new security plans.

Finally, the committee plans to consider a bill by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to expand the nation's gun buyers background check system. What's unclear is what version of the Schumer bill will be considered: An older version introduced in previous congressional sessions, or an updated version that includes bipartisan support. Schumer has been in negotiations with Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in hopes of earning moderate Democratic and Republican support for a plan that could expand background checks to all private firearms sales with limited exemptions. Expanding background checks is seen as one of the most politically viable options for the closely-divided Senate to consider, and enjoys broad support nationwide.

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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