WASHINGTON — After a couple of false starts, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill Thursday that would ban assault weapons, restrict the size of ammunition clips and require universal background checks on gun sales.
But in spite of passionate pleas by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the bill's sponsor, it heads to the Senate floor with no Republican support, and it may not have the backing of every Democrat. The Republican-led House of Representatives is all but certain to reject it.
"As I've said before, the road is uphill," Feinstein said Thursday, after her bill cleared the panel on a party-line vote of 10-8.
Feinstein's critics, including the National Rifle Association, say that such laws do little to deter crime and infringe on the liberties of gun owners. But Feinstein, who once trained to use a gun to protect herself, said she has seen too many killings.
Thursday's vote came three months to the day after 20-year-old Adam Lanza walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and killed 20 children and six adults with an assault rifle before killing himself. He had shot his mother to death before going to the school.
Feinstein said her bill, which bans 157 firearms, still allowed people to buy plenty of guns.
"It exempts 2,271 weapons," Feinstein said. "Isn't that enough for the people in the United States? Do they need a bazooka?"
Feinstein's intensity was on display when Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the state's junior senator and a tea party favorite, raised constitutional questions about her bill. He and other Republicans regard it as an intrusion on the Second Amendment.
"Would she consider it constitutional for Congress to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books, and shall not apply to the books that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights?" he asked.
"Likewise," he continued, "would she think that the Fourth Amendment's protections against searches and seizures could properly apply only to the following specified individuals and not to the individuals that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the bill of rights?"
"I'm not a sixth-grader," Feinstein shot back. "Senator, I've been on this committee for 20 years. I was a mayor for nine years. I've looked at bodies that have been shot with weapons. In Sandy Hook, youngsters were dismembered."
Noting that she was not a lawyer, the four-term senator said: "It's fine you want to lecture me on the Constitution. I appreciate it. Just know I've been here for a long time. I've passed on a number of bills. I've studied the Constitution myself. I am reasonably well-educated, and I thank you for the lecture."
Feinstein later apologized to Cruz for the tone of her reply. "You sort of got my dander up," she said.