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Senate Democrats began their push yesterday for a new ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Gun control advocates acknowledged getting a new law on Capitol Hill will face big obstacles, which is why supporters are depending on the public outcry over the shooting deaths of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut to provide crucial momentum for a new bill.
NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The bill's author, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, started her remarks with a roster of tragedy.
SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson, Oak Creek - the common thread in these shootings is each gunman used a semi-automatic assault weapon or large capacity ammunition magazine.
JOHNSON: Senator Feinstein's new proposal tries to do something about both. First, the bill would ban the sale or import of about 150 types of assault weapons, including the ones shooters used in Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado. Second, the bill would prohibit ammunition feeding devices that hold more than 10 rounds. The proposal includes a carve-out for thousands of rifles used by hunters and sportsmen.
New York Democrat Charles Schumer tried to play down fears those weapons would be confiscated.
SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER: None of us want to take away the hunting rifle that Uncle Tommy gave you when you were 14 years old. We don't want to do that. Nor do we want to take away a sidearm that a small business owner feels he or she needs in a dangerous neighborhood.
JOHNSON: Two Democratic Senators from Connecticut, where 20 first graders were killed last month, took a more personal approach. Richard Blumenthal struggled to maintain his composure when he talked about what he saw at the Sandy Hook firehouse that day.
SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: I came there as a public official but what I saw was through the eyes of a parent. And I will never forget the sights and sounds of that day, as parents emerged from that firehouse learning that their five and six-year-old children would not be coming home.
JOHNSON: Senator Chris Murphy says people in Newtown are struggling. Murphy says kids in the area now have special words to use when they get into conversations about the shooting and they want to stop talking about it.
SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: It's not just the families who grieve. It's the trauma that just washes over these communities like waves in the weeks and months afterwards.
JOHNSON: It's going to take a while, just like the investigation into what motivated the shooter, Adam Lanza. In Connecticut this week, Lieutenant Paul Vance told me state police are preparing a huge report, hundreds of pages on what happened and why. That report won't be released before June.
The FBI lab in Quantico is still trying to rebuild and recover information from a hard drive Lanza smashed. And the medical examiner is doing some more work, perhaps toxicology tests and studies of Lanza's last meal to see if they offer clues about his whereabouts in the day before the attack.
Supporters of new gun control say lives could have been saved in Newtown if Adam Lanza had not had magazines that held 20 or 30 rounds.
Vice President Joe Biden in a Google chat.
VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: I'm much less concerned, quite frankly, about what you call an assault weapon than I am about magazines, and the number of rounds that can be held in a magazine.
JOHNSON: Banning magazines that carry lots of rounds can force shooters to reload more often and give law enforcement time to disrupt an attack, Biden says.
But the National Rifle Association signaled it would give no ground on new gun laws. The NRA says gun bans don't work and it's confident Congress will reject that approach. Senator Feinstein, the bill's main sponsor, says she's not sure what will happen next.
FEINSTEIN: This is really an uphill road. If anyone asks today can you win this, the answer is we don't know, it's so uphill.
JOHNSON: Feinstein says the American people need to speak up and lean on Congress. That's why gun control advocates are planning to bring families from Newtown to Washington next month, to lobby on the same day as the president's State of the Union Address.
Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
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