Feinstein Rolls Out Assault Weapons Ban as Biden Stumbles Over Its Purpose
The White House and the author of the long-expired assault weapons ban launched a coordinated strike in their gun-control offensive today.
Well, almost coordinated -- as Vice President Joe Biden declared Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) revived legislation "is not an answer to all the problems."
Biden answered a handful of questions on a "Fireside Hangout" on Google+, named so in an attempt to revive FDR's fireside chats with a social media twist. The host said Biden did not know the questions in advance, and half of them surprisingly put the veep on the hot seat regarding gun rights.
One asked why the administration was pushing for the assault weapons ban when it was proven ineffective the first 10 years it was tried.
"It is true that the vast majority of gun deaths in America are not a consequence of the use of an assault weapon," Biden admitted, arguing that it still doesn't answer whether such weapons "have any real utility" and further stating the bill makes sense "because police organizations overwhelmingly support it because they get outgunned."
"Fewer police were being victimized, outgunned when the ban was in existence," he said. "It is not an answer to all the problems but it is in my view a rational limitation on what type of weapons should be owned, could be owned."
"The fact of the matter is it does negatively impact on the health and well-being of police officers and others and in no way does it deny or entrench upon a legitimate restriction on the type of weapon that can be owned," Biden continued. "The idea that it doesn't solve every problem … you shouldn't do it -- I don't buy the logic of that."
Biden was further quizzed about how he, as a gun owner, interprets the 2nd Amendment.
"My interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is an individual right -- not a corporate right, not related to a militia -- you have an individual right to own a weapon both for recreation, for hunting, and also for your self-protection," he said. "You have an individual right to do that. But just as you don't have an individual right to go out and buy an F-15 if you're a billionaire, with ordnance on it, just like you don't have the right to go buy an M-1 tank, just like you don't have the right to go buy an automatic weapon."
"My view is that it is totally a guarantee, not negotiable, that I should be able to own a weapon for my own protection, sporting purposes, but there should be rational limits on the type of weapons I can own that exceed the need, that go beyond the need I need for my personal protection or legitimate sporting activities."
The vice president waxed about the "legitimate, respected tradition" of gun ownership in America and told a story of meeting a 78-year-old woman in southern Delaware who took potshots at her barn.
"It is not the problem, not the cause of the problems we have," said the chairman of President Obama's gun-control task force, adding, "I don't view it as gun control, I view it as gun safety."
Biden further blamed the majority of gun violence on "gangbangers, drug trade, stolen weapons, weapons that are on the black market" -- while claiming the reauthorization of the assault weapons ban wouldn't accelerate the sale of guns on the black market.
Then, in an interesting segue, Biden gave a bit of gun advice.
"A shotgun would keep you a lot safer – a double barrel shotgun – than the assault weapon in somebody's hand who doesn't know how to use it, even one who does know how to use it. You know," he said. "It's harder to use an assault weapon to hit something than it is a shotgun. So, if you want to keep people away in an earthquake, buy some shotgun shells."
As a lawmaker from quake country, Feinstein was packing a lot more than shotgun shells at her press conference today, though, as she received permission to mount an array of targeted weapons behind the podium and assembled a cast of supporters from Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey to victims of recent mass shootings.
She even brought in Gary Hall, dean of Washington National Cathedral, to open the presser with a prayer.
"Oh God, you've made human beings in your image and you've given us hearts with which to feel the pain of others and minds to create solutions for human suffering," Hall said. "…Bless our elected leaders with the wisdom and the courage needed to bring about the changes that their people demand."
Feinstein said she's "incensed" that "weak gun laws" continue to allow mass murders like the school shooting last month in Newtown, Conn.
"Military-style assault weapons have but one purpose, and in my view, that's a military purpose to hold at the hip if possible, to spray fire, to be able to kill large numbers," she said.
Her bill would prohibit the sale, transfer, manufacture and importation of assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition feeding devices that can accept more than 10 rounds. The prohibition would extend to 158 specifically named firearms.
Unfortunately for Biden, the list includes 10 shotguns.
"Since the 1994 law expired, there has been an influx of new models of assault weapons. These models are more powerful, more lethal and more technologically advanced than the weapons were in 1993," Feinstein said. "Our bill also prohibits other semi-automatic rifles, handguns and shotguns that can accept a detachable magazine and have one military characteristic."
"The bill also prevents and prohibits specific loopholes such as the slide iron stock which can be added to an AR-15 which essentially makes it mimic automatic weapons and it's legal. Thumb hole stocks and bullet buttons, these are all modifications that make it easy for manufactures to evade the law."
Feinstein's legislation would also eliminate the 10-year sunset provision that led to its expiration the first time around, as the "purpose is to dry up the supply of these weapons over time."
"It will not affect hunting or sporting firearms; instead, the bill protects hunters and sportsmen by protecting 2,200 specifically named weapons used for hunting or sporting purposes. They are by make and model exempted from the legislation. When we did this bill in '93, there were 375, today there are 2,200," she said. "Finally, the bill subjects existing or grandfathered weapons to a background check in the event it -- the weapon is sold or transferred."
Feinstein was joined by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Reps. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), and Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.).
"This just isn't a matter of -- an issue of Constitution, it's an issue of conscience, an issue of conscience," Durbin said.
"Times have changed, so have the capabilities of those who would do us harm. So I applaud Senator Feinstein for drafting an updated, smart and more robust version of the Assault Weapons Ban, which she has outlined," Schumer said. "…We have anti-pornography laws, we have anti-libel laws, we have liable laws, all of those are limitations on the First Amendment that are reasonable. Well, the limitations supported in Senator Feinstein's bill are reasonable limitations. We know that there is no inalienable right to own and operate hundred round clips on AR-15 assault rifles."
"You know what, to get off 100 rounds that day in about a 10-minute period of time, Adam Lanza had to reload twice. Two times he had to reload. Things would've been different if that was 9 or 10 or 11," Murphy claimed of the Newtown tragedy.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said in an off-camera press gaggle today that he wouldn't lay out a legislative strategy, but "we're obviously working with Senator Feinstein and other leaders in Congress on this matter."
"Not a single one of the president's proposals that he put forward last week would take a gun away from a single, law-abiding American citizen," Carney added.
Tomorrow Biden heads to Richmond, Va., for a "roundtable discussion" at Virginia Commonwealth University including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
"The roundtable discussion will include experts who have worked on gun safety issues in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting," the White House said.
Forty-three House Republicans hand-delivered a letter to Obama today declaring that new gun control measures would be met with resistance.
“The gun control proposals the president offered last week are a constitutional non-starter, and in fact, would have had zero impact in preventing the tragedy in Newtown," said Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), who led the effort.
"As members of Congress we have, like you, sworn to defend the Constitution of the United States. The seriousness of this public oath compels us to pursue the noble cause of defending individual liberty," the lawmakers wrote Obama.
"We will not support, and in fact we will strongly oppose, any legislation or executive order that prevents law-abiding Americans from responsibly exercising their Second Amendment rights, including any attempt to prevent ownership of certain firearms or ammunition. … We will not sit idly by while law-abiding citizens are stripped of their constitutional rights and turned into criminals by an overreaching federal government."