US & Canada

Assault weapons ban narrowly approved by Senate panel

Dianne Feinstein explains the dangers of automatic assault weapons during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 27 February 2013
Image caption California Senator Dianne Feinstein describes the AR-15, the weapon used in a school shooting that killed 26 in Connecticut in December

A sharply split US Senate panel has passed a bill to ban assault weapons, but the measure is viewed as unlikely to go much further in Congress.

The Senate judiciary committee approved the ban, similar to one that expired in 2004, on a 10-8 party-line vote.

The narrow margin underlines the uphill battle faced by the White House drive for new gun regulations, after a school massacre that killed 26 in December.

Polls show a majority of Americans back a ban on assault weapons.


The bill's sponsor, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, says such guns have been used in too many mass shootings.

But opponents say the measure would violate the Second Amendment, the clause in the US Constitution that refers to the right of citizens "to keep and bear arms".

Critics also argue it would hamper the ability of citizens to defend themselves from criminals with illegal guns.

The same Senate committee has already approved expanding the requirement for background checks on gun buyers, increasing penalties for gun traffickers and boosting aid for school safety.

Thursday's measure would ban the sale of 157 kinds of semi-automatic weapons, guns that automatically reload, and large-capacity ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds.

But it allows 2,258 rifles and shotguns that are frequently used by hunters and does not include weapons already lawfully owned.

Ms Feinstein said such exemptions would leave Americans with more than enough weapons to defend themselves.

"Do they need a bazooka?" she asked at the hearing. "I don't think so."

However, even with those concessions the proposal is viewed as dead on arrival in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.

It is also seen as highly unlikely to pass the US Senate. Democrats hold a 55-45 edge in that chamber, but President Barack Obama's party may need 60 votes to pass the measure.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionTeachers in Texas improve their shooting skills

And not all Democratic votes are assured, given intense lobbying from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other pro-gun groups.

Many senators from states with strong gun traditions fear that backing such a ban could cost them re-election.

Senator Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the judiciary committee, told Reuters news agency he did not think the proposal could win more than 50 votes.

"We are focused on the next step of the legislative process," Chris Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist, said on Wednesday.