WASHINGTON -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) delivered a strong pitch on Sunday for her recently introduced bill to ban the sale of military-style assault weapons, appearing on multiple media outlets to make the case. But she also acknowledged that passing such a bill through Congress would be "an uphill fight" and "the hardest of the hard."
Nevertheless, "we do have support" Feinstein told CNN "State of the Union" host Candy Crowley, cautioning that the bill should not be mistaken for a hopeless cause. Feinstein's bill, which was unveiled on Thursday, also includes provisions for universal background checks on gun purchases and a ban on the sale of high capacity magazines.
Speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," Feinstein said public support for gun control measures would be the key to passing any ban on assault weapons. "I think I can get it passed because the American people are very much for it," she told host Bob Schieffer, citing recent polls that show majority support for such a ban.
Feinstein faces very different odds in Congress, however, where an overwhelming majority of Republicans and some conservative Democrats oppose an assault weapons ban. Even if it were to pass the majority-Democratic Senate, the ban would be nearly impossible to push through the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. Speaking later on the same program, Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) said "an assault [weapons] ban is not the answer to help keep people safe."
Feinstein told CNN she had assurances from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that the ban would, at the very least, get a chance to be put to a vote in the Senate. "If assault weapons is left out of [a broad Senate gun control bill] ... I've been assured by the majority leader I'll be able to do it as an amendment on the (Senate) floor," she said.
In both interviews Feinstein was harshly critical of the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), the nation's largest gun rights lobby, telling Schieffer, "the NRA has become an institution of gun manufacturers." A significant number of NRA board members are gun industry executives, and the organization regularly teams up with gun companies to help draw new markets into the shooting sports.
Earlier this week, the NRA called Feinstein's approach "wrong-headed" in a press release, and accused the veteran lawmaker of being "focused on curtailing the Constitution instead of prosecuting criminals or fixing our broken mental health system." NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre is scheduled to testify before Congress this week, and Feinstein said she was still deciding what she would ask him.
Feinstein's proposal is the most ambitious to emerge from Congress in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre last month, but it's not the only one.
New Jersey Democrat Sen. Frank Lautenberg introduced a ban on high-capacity magazines earlier this month, and President Obama also proposed a sweeping set of violence prevention measures in mid-January, including 23 executive orders, which he promptly signed.
But in what may have been an indication of the administration's priorities, late last week Vice President Joe Biden told an online chat that he is "much less concerned" with banning assault weapons than he is with limiting high-capacity magazines.
There were indications elsewhere on the Sunday talk show circuit that some elements of gun control legislation might be able to garner bipartisan support. Republican Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) remained cautiously open to expanded background checks, including potentially closing the so-called "gun show loophole," which allows private firearms dealers to sell weapons at gun shows without a background check.
"We need to look at … the question of whether or not a criminal is getting a gun. That's what the background check issue is all about," Ryan told NBC host David Gregory. "I think we need to look into making sure there aren't big loopholes where a person can illegally purchase a firearm."