Feinstein's lonely battle to ban assault weapons

  • Article by: EDITORIAL , San Jose Mercury News
  • Updated: January 25, 2013 - 1:22 PM

A massive outcry will be needed to persuade legislators to defy the National Rifle Association.

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The assault weapons legislation introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., faces long odds even after last month’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

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California Sen. Dianne Feinstein knows passing the assault weapons ban she introduced Thursday could be the toughest fight of her career - an "uphill battle," she said, putting it mildly, with an aggressive and well-funded gun lobby.

She and her co-sponsors asked voters to call their representatives to express support. A massive outcry will be needed to persuade legislators to defy the National Rifle Association.

Voters who care about this - and polls show a majority of them do - have to make their voices heard. And they need to understand and be able to defend the particulars of this bill, as its opponents are already trying to deceive.

Interestingly, the opposition's arguments are self-refuting. Is an assault weapons ban ineffectual or tyrannical? It can't be both.

In this case, it is neither.

The previous assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, was widely viewed as ineffective. It had too many industry-requested loopholes that allowed gun-makers to refashion their weapons slightly and still sell them legally. Feinstein's new proposal closes those loopholes.

But it specifically exempts more than 900 firearms used for hunting or sport, along with weapons lawfully purchased before the ban. No one is confiscating any guns. No one is attempting to regulate weapons used for legitimate purposes.

That's the key here: legitimate purposes. No one needs an assault rifle to hunt. As Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said at Thursday's news conference, "How are you going to go hunting with something like that? You kill something, there's nothing left to eat."

Feinstein's ban is fully within the bounds of the Supreme Court's 2008 Heller decision, which established an individual right to bear arms. The ruling, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, made it clear that some restrictions on gun rights are constitutional. For example, private citizens cannot own machine guns, and we can bar felons and the mentally ill from gun possession.

Feinstein's bill also would ban high-capacity magazines, which would help blunt the impact of the millions of semiautomatic weapons already in circulation. That's an essential component of any attempt to reduce gun violence. And so is a groundswell of activism by the tens of millions of Americans who believe their government must respond to what is clearly a public health crisis.

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