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U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) speaks next to a display of assault weapons during a January news conference on Capitol Hill. Feinstein bill to ban assault weapons has passed a key Senate committee.
An assault weapons ban proposed by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein cleared a key Senate committee Thursday, but the measure still has a tough road before becoming law.
The vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee was 10-8, along party lines (Democrats voted in favor; Republicans opposed). The bill would ban the sale, transfer, importation and manufacture of more than 150 military assault weapons and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
Sen. Feinstein says the high powered weapons are being used by "grievance killers, the mentally unstable and others to kill significant numbers of people in our malls, our theaters, our workplaces and our schools." She says it's time "we step up and address this scourge once and for all.”
The bill is opposed by the National Rifle Association.
The battle to get 60 votes from the full Senate to pass the bill will not be easy. But clearing the Judiciary Committee improves its chances.
Senate Historian Don Ritchie calls Judiciary “probably the single most polarized committee” in the Senate, since both parties “stack it” with hard-liners to battle judicial nominations. But he says if you can get an agreement in a committee "that's polarized on a controversial issue like gun control, then you have a fighting chance to actually enact it when it gets to the floor."
There is no word on when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid might bring the assault weapons ban to the floor. Reid said he was meeting with Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy to work out a schedule.
The vote on the assault weapons bill is likely to come after the Senate votes on another measure requiring mandatory background checks for gun buyers. That bill is hung up over disagreements about how long the registration information should be kept.
Feinstein was the author of a previous assault weapons ban bill that became law. The measure was allowed to sunset a decade ago.