Feinstein (and many others who spoke at the press conference) conceded that passing the ban would require a hard battle, an "uphill fight," in her words, but, "we can win this." Said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who worked with Feinstein in getting the previous ban passed, "We owe it to our constituents and our country."
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said that if the proposed ban had been in place already, the Newtown elementary school massacre in December would not have occurred. That's because the shooter's mother would not have been able to buy the semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle and 30-round magazines he used to kill 20 children and six adults. Murphy said that, contrary to some claims, the 1994 gun ban—though weaker than what Feinstein has proposed—worked to reduce gun violence. The newly proposed ban would save lives, he said. To his left was a pegboard where more than 20 of the firearms that would be prohibited were hanging.
The details of what would be banned from sale, transfer, importation or manufacturing:
• 158 specifically named military-style, semi-automatic assault weapons.
• 2,200 specifically named hunting and sporting firearms would be exempted from the ban. (In '93, that number was 375.)
• Other semi-automatic rifles and shotguns with one characteristic of military assault rifles (such as pistol grips and telescoping or folding stocks) and detachable magazines. (The earlier ban required a firearm to have at least two such features to be proscribed.)
• Magazines that can contain more than 10 rounds
• "Slide stops" that can transform a semi-automatic AR-15 and its clones into a rifle that fires rounds almost at the speed of an automatic
• Firearms with fixed magazines containing more than 10 rounds
• Firearms with “thumbhole stocks” and “bullet buttons.” (These features were added by manufacturers to get around the 1994 ban.)
• Unlike the expired ban, Feinstein's has no sunset provision.
(Read more about the Democratic strategy behind the proposed ban and other gun legislation ...)
Feinstein noted that the proposed ban meets criticisms of 1994 ban by making it much more difficult for manufacturers to make small design changes to comply with the law without changing the basic functionality of their firearms.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, labeled the firearms slated for prohibition as "weapons of mass destruction." Since the Newtown massacre, Nutter said, 210 mayors have signed a letter asking for immediate action on gun control. At the top of their list is a ban on assault weapons.
The ban is one of three main pieces of legislation that Democrats have introduced or will introduce. These are universal background checks, tougher sanctions on gun trafficking (a bill introduced Tuesday by Sen. Patrick Leahy) and the assault weapons ban. Democratic strategists must decide which order to present these. They are pondering whether to start first with a law to require background checks for the sale of all firearms whoever is buying and selling, a measure that has widespread support across the spectrum as a means of building support for the other proposed laws.
But, as they say, the assault weapons ban won't be an easy sell. Numerous Democratic senators, particularly in red states and with good ratings from the National Rifle Association, have previously expressed opposition to most tougher gun restrictions, especially bans such as Feinstein is proposing.
Among them are Max Baucus of Montana, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Mark Begich of Alaska. But even senators like Al Franken of Minnesota and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire are not sure votes for the ban. All told, as many as a dozen Democratic senators could decide to oppose the bill.