Congress doesn't zero in on assault weapons ban bills
Even as he issued multiple gun control directives in his second term, President Barack Obama's promise to revive the federal assault weapons ban hit a wall with Congress.
Obama suggested reintroducing the ban during his 2012 re-election campaign. He had wanted legislation similar to the version in effect between 1994 and 2004, which had outlawed a broad range of semi-automatic weapons.
He included the ban as part of a set of executive actions in January 2013, following the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., in December 2012.
Some lawmakers did take up the cause.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced S. 150 in January 2013. Her bill would have banned the future sale, transfer, manufacture and importation of 157 semi-automatic weapons, as well as magazines that held more than 10 cartridges and other weapons with certain cosmetic characteristics. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., also introduced HR 4269 in December 2015.
Neither bill succeeded in the Republican-controlled Congress. Jaclyn Schildkraut, an assistant professor at the State University of New York at Oswego's Department of Public Justice, said that part of the reason was because the prior ban didn't stop mass shootings.
For example, one of the weapons used in the 1999 Columbine shootings, an IntraTec TEC-DC9, was on the list of banned guns, she said.
Stymied by gridlock and unable to order a ban on his own, Obama opted instead to strengthen current gun laws — a separate promise we've rated Promise Kept.
As some polls showed dwindling public support for an assault weapons ban, Obama curbed his call for a ban. He still worked to strengthen background checks, restart federal gun research, and provide more resources to federal agencies.
Since no ban went anywhere in either the House or Senate, we rate this a Promise Broken.
CNN, "Obama announces 23 executive actions, asks Congress to pass gun laws," Jan. 16, 2013
WhiteHouse.gov, "The President's Plan to Reduce Gun Violence," Jan. 16, 2013
New York Times, "Obama Announces Gun Control Actions," Jan. 3, 2014
Politico, "Poll: Support for assault weapons ban drops to lowest level in 20 years," Dec. 16, 2015
WhiteHouse.gov, "FACT SHEET: New Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence and Make Our Communities Safer," Jan. 4, 2016
Politico, "Obama reveals push for 'smart guns'," April 29, 2016
Congress.gov, HR 4269, accessed Dec. 7, 2016
Congress.gov, S. 150, accessed Dec. 7, 2016
Interview with Adam Winkler, UCLA law professor, Nov. 16-17, 2016
Interview with Jaclyn Schildkraut, State University of New York at Oswego's Department of Public Justice assistant professor, Nov. 18, 2016
Interview with Christian Heyne, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence legislative director, Dec. 7, 2016
Obama omits assault weapons ban from his 2016 gun violence reduction plan
President Barack Obama started out his final year in office with a lengthy plan to reduce gun violence. Notably missing from his proposal is a push to reinstate the assault weapons ban.
In response to a reporter question at a Jan. 6 press briefing, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama left out the assault weapons ban because he couldn't institute it on his own.
"It is not possible, using only his executive authority, for the president to reinstate the assault weapons ban, but it surely is something that the president supports," Earnest said. "Over the last couple of weeks -- or the last month or so, that's a position of the president's that I've repeated a couple of times, and it certainly is a position that the president continues to believe would make the country safer. But there continues to be entrenched opposition in Congress to reinstating that ban."
In his Jan. 6 remarks on his gun violence reduction proposal, Obama called on Congress to get "on board with common-sense gun safety measures" and to fund his executive actions. But he did not ask them specifically to reinstate the assault weapons ban.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., is the latest member of Congress to attempt to ban assault weapons. He introduced the Assault Weapons Ban of 2015 in December, but that bill has yet to go anywhere.
Some polling shows that public support for an assault weapons ban is dwindling, with just 45 percent of respondents favoring the policy in an ABC News/Washington Post survey published in December.
Because other gun control measures seem to have moved higher up Obama's priority list, we move this promise from In the Works to Stalled.
White House, "Remarks by the President on Common-Sense Gun Safety Reform," Jan. 5, 2016
White House, "New Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence and Make Our Communities Safer," Jan. 4, 2016
Congress.Gov, H.R.4269 - Assault Weapons Ban of 2015, Dec. 12, 2015
Feinstein introduces assault weapons ban
After the elementary school shooting in December 2012 in Newtown, Conn., President Barack Obama promised to elevate gun violence as a national priority. Vice President Joe Biden led a committee tasked with soliciting ideas from all sides of the debate and bringing recommendations to the president.
Obama introduced his proposals -- a combination of presidential directives, executive orders and law changes that would require congressional action -- on Jan. 16, 2013. Renewing the ban on assault weapons (which are called modern sporting rifles in the industry) was second on his list:
"Congress should restore a ban on military-style assault weapons, and a 10-round limit for magazines,” he said at the White House. "The type of assault rifle used in Aurora, for example, when paired with high-capacity magazines, has one purpose -- to pump out as many bullets as possible, as quickly as possible; to do as much damage, using bullets often designed to inflict maximum damage.”
As Obama indicated, a ban on such weapons is not something he can decree. Congress would have to pass a law. On Jan. 24, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced S. 150, which would upgrade an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. The bill would ban the future sale, transfer, manufacture and importation of 157 specific kinds of semi-automatic guns and impose the same restrictions on ammunition magazines that contain more than 10 rounds. It would also ban rifles, handguns and shotguns that accept detachable magazines and have certain physical characteristics, including a pistol grip or folding stock.
"The common thread in these shootings is that each gunman uses a semi-automatic assault weapon or a large-capacity ammunition magazine,” Feinstein said in a Capitol Hill press conference, mentioning other recent mass shootings. Her goal, she said, is to "dry up the supply of these weapons over time."
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., said she would introduce a companion bill in the House once it is back in session.
Feinstein herself said passing the legislation would be "really an uphill road,” but the bill's introduction moves the needle on Obama's promise. We rate it In the Works.
White House website, Remarks by the President and the Vice President on Gun Violence, Jan. 16, 2013
THOMAS, S. 150, introduced Jan. 24, 2013
CNN, "'Enough is enough,' Feinstein says in proposing new gun ban,” Jan. 24, 2013
CQ News, "Feinstein, McCarthy Unveil Strengthened Assault Weapons Ban,” Jan. 24, 2013