The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a controversial ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips on Thursday after a tense exchange between Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the author of the proposal.
“Would she deem it consistent with the Bill of Rights for Congress to engage in the same endeavor that we are contemplating doing with the Second Amendment in the context for the First or the Fourth Amendment? Namely, would she consider it constitutional for Congress to specify that the First Amendment should only apply to the following books and shall not apply to the books that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights?”
“I’m not a sixth grader. Senator, I’ve been on the committee for 20 years,” Feinstein said. “I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in, I saw people shot, I’ve looked at bodies that have been shot with these weapons, I’ve seen the bullets that implode. And Sandy Hook youngsters were dismembered… I’m not a lawyer, but after 20 years, I’ve been up close and personal with the Constitution. I have great respect for it.”
“You know, it’s fine, you want to lecture me on the Constitution. I appreciate it, but just know I’ve been here for a long time. I’ve passed a number of bills. I’ve studied the Constitution myself. I am reasonably well-educated and I thank you for the lecture,” Feinstein said.
Feinstein’s proposal bans 157 different models of assault weapons and magazine clips containing more than 10 bullets. The vote passed along party-lines 10 to 8, with all Democrats supporting it and all Republicans opposed. The bill will head to the Senate floor for a full vote, but is not expected to pass as it faces strong opposition from the Republican-controlled House.
In his final remarks, Cruz said he greatly respected Feinstein’s commitment to the bill, but that the hearing should be based on protecting the Bill of Rights. “Decisions in this body on everything, and especially this topic, should be driven by facts and the data and by the Constitution, not by passion.” Shortly after the hearing’s conclusion, Sen. Feinstein apologized to the Texas junior senator. “You sort of got my dander up,” she said.
A longtime champion of gun control, Feinstein sponsored the 1994 nationwide assault weapons ban which expired in 2004 despite efforts to re-authorize the ban. After the assassination of two San Francisco City Hall colleagues in 1978, Feinstein focused on gun violence and passing weapons legislation.
This was not the first time a Republican colleague attempted to undermine the senior California senator. Sen. Feinstein, a freshman senator at the time, clahsed with Republican Idaho Sen. Larry Craig in 1993 over an amendment to President Bill Clinton’s anti-crime package. During the Senate debate over the assault weapons ban, then-Sen. Craig suggested that “the gentlelady from California need[ed] to become a little bit more familiar with firearms and their deadly characteristics.”
“I am quite familiar with firearms,” Feinstein said. “I became mayor as a product of assassination. I found my assassinated colleague [Harvey Milk] and put a finger through a bullet hole trying to get a pulse. Senator, I know something about what firearms can do.”