Assault Weapons Ban Not Part of US Senate Bill

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is interviewed by reporters.

WASHINGTON -- A proposed assault weapons ban likely won't become law in the U.S., now that the most controversial part of President Barack Obama's proposed gun safety measures won't be part of a bill the Senate plans to debate next month.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided that it won't be part of the gun control bill, the ban's sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said Tuesday.

An assault-type weapon was used in the December shooting at a Connecticut school that left 28 dead and revived gun control as a top issue in Washington. Obama proposed several gun safety measures a month later in response. He has called the day of the shooting the worst of his presidency.

By taking the assault weapons ban out of the initial package the Senate considers, Obama's fellow Democrats hope to win the strongest possible vote for the overall legislation.

Feinstein said she will be able to offer her ban on the military-style firearms as an amendment. She is all but certain to need 60 votes from the 100-member Senate to prevail, but she faces solid Republican opposition and likely defections from some moderate Democrats. There are 53 Democrats in the Senate, plus two independents who usually vote with them.

"I very much regret it," Feinstein told reporters of Reid's decision. "I tried my best."

Reid said he wanted to bring a gun bill to the full Senate that would have enough support to overcome any Republican attempts to prevent debate from even starting. Many Republicans are supported by or sympathize with the National Rifle Association, the country's top gun-lobby organization.

The NRA has criticized Obama's gun safety proposals and instead has said more of the "good guys" need to be armed. The group has strong support from Americans who stand by the constitutional right to bear firearms, though opponents argue that the country's founding fathers more than two centuries ago couldn't have imagined the sophistication of today's guns.

Having a separate vote on assault weapons might free moderate Democratic senators facing re-election next year in Republican-leaning states to vote against the assault weapons measure, but then support the remaining overall package of gun curbs.

Gun control supporters consider a strong Senate vote important because the Republican-run House of Representatives has shown little enthusiasm for most of Obama's proposals.

Feinstein said Reid told her there will be two votes.

One would be on her assault weapons ban, which also includes a ban on ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The second would just be on prohibiting the high-capacity magazine clips.

Many Democrats think the ban on large-capacity magazines has a better chance of getting more support.

Other measures under consideration in the Senate would expand required federal background checks for firearms buyers, increase federal penalties for illegal gun trafficking and increase money for school safety.

Gun purchases have jumped since the Connecticut shootings, which killed six adults and 20 children ages 6 and 7. Gunman Adam Lanza, who used a high-powered rifle legally purchased by his mother, also killed his mother and himself.

Gun permits have jumped in the community where the shooting occurred. Newtown in recent years has issued about 130 gun permits a year. Police say the town received 79 permit applications in the three months since the Dec. 14 massacre, well over double the normal pace.

Nationally, the FBI conducted more background checks for firearm sales and permits to carry guns the week following the shooting than it has in any other one-week period since 1998. The second-highest week for background checks came mid-January as Obama announced his plans to curb gun violence.

-- Associated Press writers Alan Fram and John Christofferson contributed.

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