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US Senate panel approves assault weapons ban

Updated: March 14, 2013 12:44PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. Senate committee approved an assault weapons ban Thursday but the proposal is likely to fail in the full Senate. The ban also stands little chance in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The Democrat-led Judiciary Committee approved the ban on a 10-8 vote with all Republicans against it.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, conceded that the battle to enact her measure would be difficult and said, “I don’t see that as being bad. I don’t see that as harming Americans. Because we have so many guns.”

The United States has the highest number of gun owners in the world.

The assault weapons ban is one of the most controversial of the gun restrictions being considered in Congress. Its foes say law-abiding citizens should not lose the U.S. constitutional right to own the weapons, which they say are popular for self-defense, hunting and collecting.

President Barack Obama made an assault weapons ban part of the gun curbs he proposed in January, a month after a shooter with an assault rifle killed 20 first-graders and six educators at a school in Connecticut. Feinstein and others have argued that such firearms are used in a disproportionate number of mass shootings and should not be available to civilians.

The school shooting revived debate in the United States on whether stricter gun control laws are needed.

The Senate panel has already approved three other measures expanding the requirement for background checks for gun buyers; toughening federal laws against illegal gun traffickers and those who purchase weapons for people barred from owning them; and increasing aid for school safety.

The measure’s passage by the Senate panel has been a foregone conclusion for some time. It will be far more vulnerable in the full Senate, here Democrats are expected to need 60 votes for passage through the 100-member chamber. That is where the powerful National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups are working hard for the ban’s defeat.

There are 53 Democrats plus two independents who generally side with them. Republicans seem ready to oppose the ban overwhelmingly, and Feinstein cannot count on a half-dozen Democrats from Republican-leaning states who face re-election next year.

Several Republican senators argued that the most effective approach to curbing gun violence would be to improve how mental health records are sent to the federal system that checks backgrounds of potential gun buyers.

Feinstein’s bill would also ban large-capacity ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds, which she and her allies say allow shooters to inflict more casualties before pausing to reload, which is when they might be stopped. Adam Lanza, the Connecticut gunman, was said to have had 30-round magazines.

Proponents of banning the assault weapons cite studies showing that once the assault weapons ban took hold, the portion of gun crimes using those firearms dropped by up to 72 percent in six cities surveyed. They also argue that each assault weapon taken off the streets reduces the potential for mass shootings.

Opponents cite studies showing that assault weapons have been used in fewer than 1 in 10 crimes involving firearms and argue that eliminating those weapons would put only a minor dent in gun violence.

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