After a couple of false starts, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill Thursday that would ban assault weapons, restrict the size of ammunition clips and require universal background checks on gun sales.
On a party line vote of 10-8, the Democratic-led panel approved a bill to renew a ban similar to one that expired in 2004. The measure would also limit high-capacity ammunition clips to 10 bullets.
Still, the committee’s passage of the bill, along with three other measures that previously cleared the panel, demonstrated momentum by lawmakers who have sought new gun regulations after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
The president thanked the committee for approving the bill, saying in a statement that the weapons “are designed for the battlefield and have no place on our streets, in our schools or threatening our law enforcement officers.”
The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, says such guns have been used in too many mass shootings.
“I think a lot of my passion comes from just what I’ve seen on the streets of cities in this country,” she said.
But opponents say the measure would violate the Second Amendment, the clause in the US Constitution that refers to the right of citizens “to keep and bear arms”.
Feinstein’s critics, including the National Rifle Association, say that such laws do little to deter crime and infringe on the liberties of gun owners.
But Feinstein, who once trained to use a gun to protect herself, said she has seen too many killings.
She became mayor of San Francisco after two of her colleagues were slain, and there have been others: shootings that took place at universities, office towers, movie theaters and elementary schools, as well as violence directed at police officers.
Thursday’s measure would ban the sale of 157 kinds of semi-automatic weapons, guns that automatically reload, and large-capacity ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds.
But it allows 2,258 rifles and shotguns that are frequently used by hunters and does not include weapons already lawfully owned.
“It exempts 2,271 weapons,” Feinstein said. “Isn’t that enough for the people in the United States? Do they need a bazooka?”
This week, the panel passed a measure that would expand the background checks to private gun sales, and another measure to renew a grant program to help schools improve security, the NY Times reports.
Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, offered amendments to the bill that would have created exemptions from the ban for female victims of violent crimes, those who had received a protection order, and residents near the Southwest border and in rural areas. Those amendments all failed.
Many senators from states with strong gun traditions fear that backing such a ban could cost them re-election.
Senator Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the judiciary committee, told Reuters news agency he did not think the proposal could win more than 50 votes.
“We are focused on the next step of the legislative process,” Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, said on Wednesday.