By Susan Ferrechio
Chief Congressional Correspondent
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has significantly weakened gun control legislation, stripping a provision that would have banned assault-style weapons and high-capacity gun clips.
The move will make it easier for the Senate to pass a milder gun control bill that deals mostly with controlling who can purchase a gun. It also spares red-state Senate Democrats running in 2014 from having to vote on a bill that could cost them re-election.
"An assault weapons ban was always a poison bill that was great for the White House to talk about but politically damaging for those vulnerable Democrats representing red states to support," Ron Bonjean, a Republican political strategist and former House and Senate leadership aide, told The Washington Examiner.
The Senate will vote on a gun control bill measure in April, but it won't include a proposal authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would have made it illegal to purchase military-style assault weapons and gun clips that can hold more than 10 rounds.
Feinstein announced the provision in the weeks following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, standing with shooting victims and law enforcement agents near a wall displaying some of the 157 assault-style weapons she hoped to make illegal. Feinstein's measure cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee last week with the support of the panel's Democratic majority, but no Republicans voted for it. Beyond the committee, some Democrats from pro-gun states were against it.
Reid told Feinstein there was not enough support to pass the weapons and gun clip ban in the full Senate, where 60 votes are required to stop a filibuster. Democrats control 55 votes.
Feinstein's measure, "using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes," Reid said Tuesday. "That's not 60. I have to get something on the floor so we can have votes on that issue and the other issues that I've talked about. And that's what I'm going to try to do."
The Senate, Reid said, will most likely vote on the bill "sometime after Easter." That bill would likely widen background checks, increase federal funds for school security and raise penalties for gun trafficking.
Feinstein's gun control and gun clip provisions may be voted on separately as amendments, lawmakers said. The amendments would have little chance of passing but would at least make it possible for Congress to pass the more moderate gun control legislation by not attaching it to Feinstein's proposal.
Feinstein told reporters she is disappointed, but the move did not surprise political strategists, who note that even President Obama has suggested in recent weeks that a ban on assault weapons would be politically impossible.
Reid, a gun owner from one of the most pro-gun states in the nation, always refrained from a pledge to put the assault weapons ban on the Senate floor, even in the days following the Sandy Hook shooting.
"Reid has never been a fan of the assault weapons ban," said Jon Ralston, a political commentator and columnist based in Las Vegas.
"Not only does this move dovetail with Reid's own beliefs on gun control," Ralston said, "but it allows Democrats to vote on something that most people support, even in red states, and it allows them to vote against things viewed unfavorably by their constituents."