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US senator launches bid to ban assault weapons

Published on Dec 17, 2012 6:55 AM
A leading Democratic senator launched a bid on Sunday to ban assault weapons in the wake of a deadly US school shooting, announcing that she will put a bill before Congress on Jan 3. -- PHOTO : AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A leading Democratic senator launched a bid on Sunday to ban assault weapons in the wake of a deadly US school shooting, announcing that she will put a bill before Congress on Jan 3.

Ms Dianne Feinstein, the influential chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she believed President Barack Obama would support her legislation, also aimed at outlawing magazines carrying more than 10 bullets.

"I'm going to introduce in the Senate, and the same bill will be introduced in the House, a bill to ban assault weapons," the California lawmaker told NBC's Meet The Press program.

Ms Feinstein said she would announce the authors of the House of Representatives bill soon and vowed that carefully crafted legislation would be put before Congress on the first day of the new Congress.

"It will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation and the possession. Not retroactively, but prospectively. It will ban the same for big clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets," she said. "There will be a bill."

Asked if Obama, who failed to take steps during his first term to tighten gun controls despite several high-profile shooting tragedies, would throw his support behind the measure, Ms Feinstein replied: "I believe he will."

Adam Lanza, 20, used his mother's legally acquired Bushmaster .223 assault rifle to kill 26 people, including 20 children aged either six or seven, in Friday's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Some of his young victims were riddled with as many as 11 bullets, spawning outrage among many in America at laws that allow guns only really suitable for warfare to be purchased legally by civilians.

With the nation reeling in shock over Friday's bloody carnage, Mr Obama went on TV and wiped away tears as he urged Americans "to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this." A federal ban on assault weapons, which took effect in 1994, expired in 2004 and efforts to revive it have failed. Mr Obama supported restoring the law while running for president in 2008 but has not made it a priority since.

Several key battlegrounds in the November election that saw Mr Obama re-elected to a second term - Ohio and Virginia, for example - have gun-friendly populations that remain wedded to the "right to bear arms" enshrined in the US constitution.

The gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), is well-funded and a powerful player in Washington. It argues that crazy people do crazy things and that clamping down on fundamental American liberties would achieve nothing.

Others point out that, for example, Anders Behring Breivik managed to kill 77 people in Norway, a country with far tighter gun laws than the United States.

Another commonly heard argument among conservatives in America is that guns are inevitable, so the only way to really protect people is to have more weapons in the hands of trained professionals, securing places like schools and shopping malls.

Gun control advocates recoil from such logic and say that regardless it would make sense to ban assault weapons and large capacity magazines.

The sheer horror of this latest tragedy has many saying enough is enough.

"This feels a little bit like a tipping point," ABC News correspondent Liz Marlantes said on Fox News Sunday. "One of the phrases you keep hearing is that people are fed up.

"There seems to be this desire for action... There seems to be a stronger desire for let's find some concrete steps, maybe, that we can take right away, even if they only make a slight difference."

Conservative pundits, speaking on the same show, agreed it was time to look at what might work, but only on things like privacy laws and mental health, not on divisive moves like an assault weapons ban.

Mr David Gregory, host of NBC's Meet The Press, told viewers that not a single pro-gun rights senator had accepted an invitation to appear.

"A note here this morning: We reached out to all 31 pro-gun rights senators in the new Congress to invite them on the programme to share their views on the subject this morning," he said. "We had no takers." Meanwhile, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the fiercest proponents of tighter gun laws, implored Mr Obama to take action.

"It's time for the president, I think, to stand up and lead. And tell this country what we should do," he told Mr Gregory. "His job is not just to be well-meaning. His job is to perform and to protect the American public."

For Ms Feinstein's assault weapons ban to pass the divided Congress, the Republican leadership in the House, and probably the Senate as well, would need to back the bill. Most Republicans in Congress oppose tighter gun laws.