Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) ended the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about her ban on so-called assault weapons Wednesday with a bit of political analysis: “It’s an uphill job all the way,” she said. “But I believe we’re right … and we will continue to fight.”
That pretty accurately sums up both the chances of a ban passing this year as well as the reasons why Feinstein, the White House and other gun control advocates continue to support one. Feinstein’s hearing may not result in a political victory, but it did provide an outlet for one of the more emotional discussions of gun violence in Washington since the schoolhouse massacre in Newtown, Conn.
On the gun rights side of the aisle, there was plenty to like at Feinstein’s hearing. The National Rifle Association has used Feinstein as its bogeyman after Newtown and said the latest iteration of her oft-proposed assault weapons ban is at best a waste of time and at worst an nefarious attempt to strip gun rights from Americans. Throughout the hearing, the NRA livetweeted with the hashtag #StopFeinstein, drawing greater attention to a hearing that wasn’t even broadcast on CSPAN (though the network did stream it online.) In the hearing room, the NRA’s allies fought back against the call for a ban.
Emotions ran high.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) sparred with Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn over prosecuting people who fail firearms background checks, a common line of attack from the gun rights side of things. The back-and-forth grew heated, requiring Feinstein to gavel in asking for order.
But it was from the gun control side where the strongest emotions came. Among the Democratic witnesses was Neil Heslin, a father of a boy killed in the Newtown shooting. He spoke about his recent testimony at a Connecticut hearing where gun rights advocates in the audience shouted out to him after he posed a question during his testimony, leading the chair to accuse them of heckling. Once again, Heslin asked why guns like the AR-15 that was used to kill his son should be in civilian hands.
“What purpose those serve in civilians’ hands or on the street?” he asked.
Democratic senators voiced their support for the ban, and questioned the opposition to it. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), for example, said he had never seen proof that an weapon like the AR-15 had been used in home defense, a scenario that opponents of a ban often speak about.
“What we’re really dealing with here is reality,” Franken said. “As I understand it, police are more often targeted by assault weapons and are the victims of assault weapons than other people.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) called the belief by gun rights advocates that the Second Amendment does not allow a ban on assault weapons “a suicide pact.”
Despite the support from people like Heslin and the backing of President Obama, an assault weapons ban is seen as one of the least likely legislative outcomes following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Gun control advocates have focused on universal background checks, which have proven to have some bipartisan support.
On Wednesday, though, it was the gun control advocates’ chance to have their say about assault weapons without concern about the political realities.