Congressional Democrats are reintroducing legislation to ban assault weapons but the measure faces long odds even after last month's mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
The measure unveiled Thursday is authored by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who wrote the original assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 when Congress refused to renew it under pressure from the National Rifle Association.
"If anyone asks today 'Can you win this?,' we don't know, it's so uphill,'' Feinstein said. She said it only would happen if voters got behind the measures and called on their lawmakers to act
Nearly a dozen different kinds of high-powered weapons were displayed at the news conference that would be banned by the bill, including the kind of Bushmaster used in the Connecticut shooting.
“There is one great hope out there, and that is you.” Feinstein said. “Because you are stronger than the gun lobby. You are stronger than the gun manufacturers. But only if you stand up, if America rises up, if people care enough to call every member of the House and every member of the Senate and say we have had enough. These weapons do not belong on the streets of our towns, our cities, in our schools, in our malls, in our workplaces, in our movie theaters. Enough is enough.”
The assault weapons ban in particular is seen as unlikely to make it through Congress, because of opposition by majority Republicans in the House and concerns from moderate Democrats in the Senate. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has cast doubt on its prospects. Some advocacy groups are focusing their attention instead on expanding background checks, which is seen as more doable politically.
Feinstein said those Democrats with concerns about the legislation needed to ask themselves what their silence would mean.
"Sandy Hook is more eloquent testimony than any of us could possibly give,'' Feinstein said. "If members of this body are so insensitive to what happened to those small bodies from that Bushmaster when it all becomes known, America is hopeless.''
An assault weapons ban is among the measures supported by President Barack Obama, who unveiled a package of gun safety proposals last week.
But because of concerns among moderate Democrats it's seen as a heavy lift in Congress, with measures such as beefed-up background checks more likely to pass.
There's disagreement about the effectiveness of the original assault weapons ban.
There is debate about its effectiveness during the years it was in effect, in part because of loopholes that allowed gun manufacturers to work around it. Feinstein's new version is more comprehensive in defining what kinds of weapons are banned.
The NRA responded that the new bill would infringe on the Constitutional right to bear arms and that instead the focus should be on prosecuting criminals and improving the country's mental health system. "The American people know gun bans do not work, and we are confident Congress will reject Sen. Feinstein's wrong-headed approach,'' the NRA said in a statement.