WASHINGTON -- A ban on the production and sale of certain assault weapons will clear a major political hurdle on Thursday, as Democratic lawmakers say they have the votes necessary to move the legislation through the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Once through that committee, however, the measure is likely to hit another, likely insurmountable snag, in the form of the 60-vote threshold in the U.S. Senate, where the bill faces skepticism among moderate Democrats. And that could leave leadership in a bind, as another major component of President Barack Obama's gun policy agenda -- a ban on high-capacity magazines -- is part of the bill.
As of now, Democrats are waxing optimistic about the prospects of moving through Congress various forms of gun policy, which continue to perform well in public opinion polls.
Already, a bill that would strengthen the anti-trafficking law has made it through committee with Republican support. Another bill that would expand background checks for private gun purchases suffered a setback when the chief Republican negotiator, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), backed away at the last minute, concerned over provisions that would require a sales record for transactions. But Coburn explicitly said he wasn't done talking. And even then, aides working on the bill say that there are other Republicans who will back the bill in its final state.
The Assault Weapons Ban, easily the most controversial component of the president's agenda, is a trickier political proposition. In recent days, it's been made clear that the bill has the necessary support to make it through the Judiciary Committee. The chairman of that committee, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), confirmed last week that he would vote yes, albeit with some reservations.
"I have some problems with an overall legislation, but I'm going to go vote for it to get the matter out and [send it to] the floor so it's not just those of us in this room will get a chance to talk about it or act on it but the whole Senate -- all hundred of us," said the Vermont Democrat, who had been coy about his intentions.
The only other Democratic question mark on the committee, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), plans to vote yes as well, his office confirmed to The Huffington Post.
That means that the measure should make it through the committee and to the Senate floor by a 10-to-8 vote (assuming that Republicans on the committee oppose it en masse, as is expected). Lawmakers expect a vote to occur on Thursday, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the bill's sponsor, is tied up with intelligence oversight issues until then.
Once through committee, things get complicated. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), didn't say whether or not Republicans would mount a filibuster of the measure, although it's widely assumed they will. He did, however, suggest that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) might end up deciding to keep the bill off the floor to spare his moderate members -- and himself -- a tough vote.
"While the administration acknowledged that there is much more to be done to enforce existing law, Sen. McConnell’s first test of any new legislation the majority leader decides to bring before the Senate will be on whether or not it infringes on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms," emailed Stewart, with deliberate use of italics.
"That’s dumb," responded Adam Jentelson, a spokesman for Reid. "Reid has said publicly a bunch of times that he’ll make sure the Assault Weapons Ban gets a vote on the floor, irrespective of whether it passed judiciary or not."
The question facing Reid, indeed, isn't whether or not to give the ban a vote, but rather what form the bill should take when it is presented for consideration. If the legislation goes forward as it is, it would also include a ban on high-capacity magazines. Lawmakers and aides are more bullish on that provision getting the necessary support in the Senate than they are about the AWB as a whole. As such, they don't want to risk the provision going down with the entire bill. Reid could seek to strip the measure so that it is considered on its own. Or he could consider a separate piece of legislation to ban high-capacity magazines, authored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), that already exists.
Talks of strategy, Jentelson said, have not gotten that far. Another top Senate aide, meanwhile, said that regardless of which strategic path Reid chooses, the expectation is that he'll move quickly.
"It is a safe assumption to think sooner rather than later on the Senate floor activity," the aide said.
Earlier on HuffPost:
1981: The Attempted Assassination Of President Ronald Reagan
on March 30, 1981, President Reagan and three others were shot and wounded in an assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Reagan's press secretary, Jim Brady, was shot in the head.
1993: The Brady Handgun Violence Act
The Brady Handgun Violence Act of 1993, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, mandated that federally licensed dealers complete comprehensive background checks on individuals before selling them a gun. The legislation was named for James Brady, who was shot during an attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
1994: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, instituted a ban on 19 kinds of assault weapons, including Uzis and AK-47s. The crime bill also banned the possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. (An exemption was made for weapons and magazines manufactured prior to the ban.)
2004: Law Banning Magazines Holding More Than Ten Rounds Of Ammunition Expires
In 2004, ten years after it first became law, Congress allowed a provision banning possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition to expire through a sunset provision. Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke told HuffPost that the expiration of this provision meant that Rep. Gabby Giffords's alleged shooter was able to fire off 20-plus shots without reloading (under the former law he would have had only ten).
2007: The U.S. Court of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Rules In Favor Of Dick Heller
In 2007 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled to allow Dick Heller, a licensed District police officer, to keep a handgun in his home in Washington, D.C. Following that ruling, the defendants petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
2008: The NICS Improvement Amendments Act
Following the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech University, Congress passed legislation to require states provide data on mentally unsound individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, with the aim of halting gun purchases by the mentally ill, and others prohibited from possessing firearms. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush in January of 2008.
2008: Supreme Court Strikes Down D.C. Handgun Ban As Unconstitutional
In June of 2008, the United States Supreme Court upheld the verdict of a lower court ruling the D.C. handgun ban unconstitutional in the landmark case <em>District of Columbia v. Heller</em>.
Gabrielle Giffords And Trayvon Martin Shootings
Gun control advocates had high hopes that reform efforts would have increased momentum in the wake of two tragic events that rocked the nation. In January of 2011, Jared Loughner opened fire at an event held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), killing six and injuring 13, including the congresswoman. Resulting attempts to push gun control legislation <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">proved fruitless</a>, with neither proposal even succeeding in gaining a single GOP co-sponsor. More than a year after that shooting, Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/trayvon-martin" target="_hplink">gunned down</a> by George Zimmerman in an event that some believed would bring increased scrutiny on the nation's Stand Your Ground laws. While there has been increasing discussion over the nature of those statutes, lawmakers were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">quick to concede</a> that they had little faith the event would effectively spur gun control legislation, thanks largely to the National Rifle Association's vast lobbying power. Read more <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">here</a>:
Colorado Movie Theater Shooting
In July of 2012, a heavily armed gunman <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/aurora-shooting-movie-theater-batman_n_1688547.html" target="_hplink">opened fire on theatergoers</a> attending a midnight premiere of the final film of the latest Batman trilogy, killing 12 and wounding scores more. The suspect, James Eagan Holmes, allegedly carried out the act with a number of handguns, as well as an AR-15 assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine. Some lawmakers used the incident, which took place in a state with some of the laxest gun control laws, to bring forth legislation designed to place increased regulations on access to such weapons, but many observers, citing previous experience, were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/batman-shooting_n_1690547.html" target="_hplink">hesitant to say</a> that they would be able to overcome the power of the National Rifle Association and Washington gun lobby.
Sikh Temple Shooting
On August 5, 2012, white supremacist Wade Michael Page opened fire on a Sikhs gathered at a temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six and wounding four more before turning the gun on himself.