A minimum of six of the 55 senators in the Democratic caucus have voiced opposition to a proposed ban on sales of assault weapons introduced on Thursday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.), which means the ban would be defeated in the U.S. Senate if voted on today. Based on a Bloomberg review of statements and interviews by Democratic lawmakers the measure will fall short of the 51-vote majority needed to pass unless some minds are changed.
The five Democratic senators from traditionally pro-gun states who have expressed skepticism about the bill are Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Independent Senator Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, also said he opposes a ban.
Maine Senator Susan Collins, a Republican who supported similar legislation in 2004, has indicated she is unlikely to back the proposed ban in its current form.
Passage is even more unlikely when considering Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, both Democrats, voted against extending the previous ban when it expired in 2004.
The White House has launched a campaign-style strategy intended to apply political pressure on Democrats that are not yet on board to encourage them to change their position.
Democrats may focus on another part of the Feinstein bill: banning high-capacity magazines. Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, introduced separate legislation on Jan. 22 to ban the manufacture and sale of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
The original ban included 19 types of weapons classified as assault style and expired September 12, 2004. Critics of the 10-year old ban said it was ineffective, while supporters said it reduced gang violence as well as reducing the overall use of assault weapons in crimes. At the time nearly seven in 10 Americans supported the ban, including a number of gun-owners, according to a poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
The 1994 ban signed into law by President Bill Clinton played a part in the election of 2004. Democratic presidential nominee and likely the next U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said President George W. Bush had failed tests of character and leadership by allowing the ban to expire after saying in the 2000 campaign that he would sign an extension of the 10-year ban on the semiautomatic weapons. However, after being elected he did not press Congress to send him such a bill, and its Republican leaders never did. Kerry said at the time that Bush made it easier for terrorists to do their jobs and harder for police to do theirs.