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Senate panel approves bill to reinstate assault weapons ban

The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] has approved [press release] a bill to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition feeding devices capable of holding more than 10 rounds. Passed Thursday on a party line vote of 10-8, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 [S 150 materials] would prohibit the sale, transfer, importation and manufacture of 157 specifically named military-style assault weapons, and bans high-capacity ammunition magazines. The measure specifically exempts 2,258 rifles and shotguns frequently used for sport. Sponsor Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) [official website] and the bill's other supporters endorse a ban on military-style assault weapons partly because they have been the weapons of choice [Reuters report] in several recent mass shootings in the US, including the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting [WSJ backgrounder] that killed 26 children and teachers exactly three months to the day before Thursday's vote. Opponents criticize the bill as an infringement on the right to bear arms [Cornell LII backgrounder] that will have little overall impact on public safety because assault weapons are involved in small percentages of gun crimes [AP report]. The bill carries largely the same prohibitions as the federal assault weapons ban that Congress allowed to expire in 2004. A full Senate vote on the bill is expected in about one month.

Gun control has been the center of attention since the Newtown shooting in December. The Judiciary Committee passed two additional gun control measures [JURIST report] last week, one that would require background checks for private gun sales [S 374 materials], and another that would renew a grant to help schools improve their security programs [S 1460 materials]. A week earlier the committee also passed a bill that would ban straw purchasing of weapons [JURIST report] for someone who is not legally allowed to own one. Also this month US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] spoke before Congress to urge them to pass gun control legislation, and the Maryland Senate approved a bill [JURIST reports] that would make it harder to get a gun license in that state.

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