WASHINGTON - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday declared the effort to ban military-style assault weapons politically dead, a setback for President Obama and gun-control advocates who are pushing the Senate to move quickly on bills to limit gun violence.
Reid, D-Nev., is preparing to move ahead with debate on a series of gun-control proposals when the Senate returns from a two-week Easter recess in early April. Although he has vowed to hold votes on measures introduced after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., in December, Reid told reporters Tuesday that the proposed assault-weapons ban isn't holding up against Senate rules that require at least 60 votes to end debate.
The proposed ban, "using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes. That's not 60," Reid said.
Still up for consideration are three other bills approved last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee:
• Bipartisan legislation to make gun trafficking a federal crime.
• A bipartisan measure to expand a Justice Department grant program that provides funding for school security.
•A Democratic proposal to expand the nation's gun background-check program.
"I want people to have the ability to vote on assault weapons, mental health, safety in schools, federal trafficking, clips - everything," Reid told reporters. "But I cannot do that until I get a bill on the floor, and it's been very clear that the Republicans want us to have bills coming to the floor that have gone through committee."
The assault-weapons ban is the most ambitious and controversial proposal backed by Obama. Introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the bill would ban almost 160 specific semiautomatic weapons and rifles and assorted military-style parts, and also limit the size of ammunition clips to 10 rounds, banning larger clips used in some of the more recent mass shootings.
The ban has 22 other Senate Democratic co-sponsors, including Feinstein.
A bill limiting the size of ammunition clips was originally introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., but was merged with Feinstein's measure and approved by the judiciary panel.
Feinstein said Tuesday that Reid has assured her the assault-weapons ban will earn an up-or-down vote in the full Senate, probably as an amendment to one of the other bills under consideration. A separate up-or-down vote can then be held on the ammunition-clip proposal, she said.
"Obviously I was disappointed," Feinstein said Tuesday, but she acknowledged that including her bill in any comprehensive package would sink the prospects of passing gun-control legislation this year.